The following is a Letter to the Editor from Arlington resident Stephen Harrington, a Town Meeting member from Precinct 13.
Three times in the past six months Arlington residents have tried to engage the Board of Selectmen with their concerns.
In May, the Landscapers Association asked the Board to place a non-binding question on the April ballot concerning the leaf blower ban. The Board refused citing the sanctity of a Town Meeting vote. The Association and more than 1,200 voters forced the Board to call a summer election where an overwhelming majority of voters, in an unprecedented vote, came to within a few hundred votes of rendering the Town Meeting decision irrelevant.
In July, I asked the Board to call a special Town Meeting to reconsider the ban given the results of the summer election. Not a single Board member responded. A petition of more than 200 voters forced the Board to call a special Town Meeting, a minor cost to the Town that returned millions of dollars to residents through reduced kindergarten fees and bond refinancing. Elected officials offered uncivil behavior, personal slurs and procedural shenanigans and Town Meeting failed to adequately represent voters by ignoring the election results.
On Monday, Dec. 3, the East Arlington Concerned Citizens Coalition asked the Board to place a non-binding referendum on the April ballot concerning the removal of one lane on Mass. Ave. The Board refused and chastised the residents. A petition of more than 3,000 voters will force the Board to place the question on the April ballot.
Although each of these three efforts was carried out by independent groups, they all have common trajectories. Citizens ask the Board for relief. The Board fails to engage those citizens and votes against their modest requests. Many thousands of voters then exercise their right to petition a wider audience than the Board of Selectmen, whether it be Town Meeting or the electorate directly through a ballot initiative, which alienates the Board members. Board members then disparage the petitioners and use their office to bully residents in an attempt to silence them. In addition, Board members actively work against the thousands of petitioners who want their concerns not just heard, but listened to.
Three time in six months residents have exercised their rights and forced the Board of Selectmen to allow voters to hear petitions. Three times, Board members don't just disagree with petitioners but chastise residents who have the courage to speak out. Elected officials in Arlington will proclaim that they work for the voters in Arlington, but their actions say otherwise. The bullying tactics and inappropriate public response to petitioners indicates to me that, quoting Shakespeare, uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
Precinct 13 Town Meeting Member