GROTON -- The small stones recently installed on the side of the major roads coming into town bear a friendly message: "All Are Welcome."
But months after a spring Town Meeting vote approved of the stones placement -- with the symbolic passage of a $1 expense -- hackles are still raised.
Townspeople never had an opportunity to discuss the message during the May meeting, said Jack Saball. He filed a citizens' petition for the Fall Town Meeting to change the message to "Welcome."
"It should be politically neutral," said Saball, a former police officer and selectman. "This was their response to Trump."
The article called for installing stone markers which include the words "All Are Welcome" on the side of major roads coming into town.
"We're not against all people being welcome to Groton," Saball said.
The stones are a "response to the growing divisiveness that's we've seen in our country and an effort to do our small part as a town to try to address that," Selectman Jack Petropoulos said during the May 1 Town Meeting.
They are not political or religious, he said.
Saball doesn't agree. He also sees a problem with the way the article was passed.
"The petition from Special Town Meeting passed without any input by error of the town moderator, Jason Kauppi," Saball said. "It did not get a proper discussion."
Town officials disagree.
After Petropoulos made the motion and spoke about it, Bruce Easom spoke on behalf of the Sustainability Committee, which voted in support, a review of the Town Meeting video shows.
Then, the moderator said, "Are there any questions?" After a few beats, he put it to a vote. The original article passed 140 to 113.
"No one was standing at the microphone ready to speak, and no one stood or said they wished to speak," Kauppi wrote in an email. "If they had, I would have waited for them to get to a microphone, as I did numerous times during the spring town meeting."
"In my opinion there was no problem with the way the moderator handled the article," said Town Manager Mark Haddad. It was "the way he's handled a thousand articles."
"I can let people speak," Kauppi said in a phone conversation. "I can't make them."
The citizens' petition specifies that money needed to change the wording would be contributed by individual "citizens who wish to avoid the divisiveness caused by the existing and planned markers."
That could get expensive.
The town has four hours of labor into the project, Haddad said. That was the time needed to put six of the eight stones in place. One more needs to be installed. The one planned for Route 119 near the Littleton town line is waiting on approval from the state.
The stones were surplus at the DPW yard. They were privately transported to and from the engraver. More than $2,100 was raised in donations to pay the stone worker.
If the wording is changed, the stones would need to be transported, sandblasted and re-engraved.
"I have no idea what that would cost," Haddad said.
Saball has voiced his concerns since the spring Town Meeting. He said he presented his case to selectmen individually and during a meeting but his requests were denied.
He is prepared for any outcome at the fall Town Meeting, scheduled for Oct. 23.
"Once it's heard, our group will be happy it's heard," Saball said.
The certified petition has 13 signatures. Ten are needed to place the article on the warrant.
Follow Anne O'Connor on Twitter @a1oconnor.