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Controversial “All Are Welcome” markers on the way in Groton

It was standing room only at the June 5 Groton Board of Selectmen meeting. The controversial topic of the evening was the “All Are Welcome” road markers approved at Town Meeting.

By Anne O’Connor

GROTON — Selectmen voted unanimously to proceed on a Town Meeting vote which approved $1 to demonstrate support for the installation of privately-funded “All Are Welcome” markers at the road entrances to town and to support the Highway Department to perform installation.

The discussion during a selectmen’s meeting was held on June 5, more than a month after the Town Meeting vote. The discussion ranged from what actions the board could take to the wording on the markers.

Before the floor was opened to residents, Chairman Josh Degen spoke.

The ultimate governing authority is Town Meeting, he said. The board does not have the authority to overturn it.

“Please treat each other with respect,” he said.

Resident Jack Saball spoke at length. The article did not receive a fair and open discussion at Town Meeting, he said.

This was refuted. Only one voter got up to speak and there was plenty of time for others, Selectman Jack Petropoulos said.

The timing of the markers was questioned. Saball referred to a letter written by a member of Indivisible Groton, a group formed after the Women’s March in January, which supported the markers.

The board began to discuss the markers over a year ago, Petropoulos said. This was well before the presidential election and the creation of Indivisible Groton.

The markers could set the town up for liability, by welcoming everyone including criminals, said resident Helen Magee. “At some point, this is going to come back to haunt the town.”

An attorney provided very short letter, Petropoulos said.

“In my opinion, placement of signs with those words alone, in light of the relevant circumstances, would not be a basis for imposing liability on the Town in connection with criminal acts that may be committed within the Town,” David Doneski of KP Law wrote.

He referred to an earlier email from Helen and Dennis Magee that said the markers “could be an invitation to those with a criminal or terrorist background who may want to do harm to the Town” and “could make the Town vulnerable to potential future lawsuits.”

Selectmen Barry Pease compared the signs to a welcome mat at a home. Even if the mat said “All Are Welcome,” that does not mean there is an open invitation for thieves.

“Who is it that you are not welcoming?” asked Deborah Santoro, founder of Indivisible Groton. “It’s a bit empty if we don’t all support it.”

The word “all” recalls the Declaration of Independence, “all men are created equal,” said Stewart Schulman, a former selectmen. He asked for common sense.

Hostility, fear, mistrust and contempt need to be addressed, said the Rev. Elea Kemler minister of the First Parish Church. There needs to be more dialog.

Town Meeting already approved the signs and the selectmen need to respect that, she said.

The issue is the word “all,” Petropoulos said. It includes “me,” “us” and “them.” “What we’re afraid of here is them.”

Others spoke to the responsibility to follow precedent.

The selectmen cannot willy-nilly ignore Town Meeting, Pease said. The issue was hot enough in advance of the meeting, that written amendments could have been prepared.

Because someone had requested information on how to petition for a Special Town Meeting to address the sign issue, Pease said he would rather not vote that night.

“You’ve got to take a leadership position,” Degen said. If a Town Meeting votes against the markers “I will gladly put one in my front yard.”

“Town Meeting said to do this,” Selectman Alison Manugian said. “It will not hurt anyone. Let’s do this.”

“I absolutely cannot see any way to vote to override Town Meeting,” Selectman Becky Pine said. “That’s just the way it is.”

“What we really need in this town is a lot more dialogue,” she said.

Town Clerk Michael Bouchard said in an email that petition papers were issued by his office to Don Black the week of May 29. They have not been returned.

Follow Anne O’Connor on Twitter @a1oconnor.

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