Greg Roach's Berkshires Blog
Sunday, December 09, 2007
  Folks from "The City" and Town Meeting

This is funny in an odd sort of way:
"The Curnins — property tax-paying, second-homeowners who are not registered to vote in Egremont — sued the town and several municipal officials last year. The couple claimed they were prevented from "speaking on issues important to them as taxpayers" — including a sewer project, a zoning law change, and a $350,000 fire truck expenditure — at town meetings in 2005 and 2006.

The couple, whose legal address is in Larchmont, N.Y., a New York City suburb, said that Egremont officials "unlawfully discriminated" against them and that the First and 14th amendments to the Constitution prohibited town officials from arbitrarily restricting the free speech of people at town meetings"
A Judge (the same one who smacked around the Artist Formerly Known a Buchel) has disagreed for the second time. I wish the same logic would apply to election law where the Supreme Court has indeed confirmed that money is equivalent to First Amendment Free Speech when it comes to campaign spending. The same goes for corporations being given the rights of individuals.

I get tired of those who try to buy influence being "outraged" when they hit a snag, so this story makes me smile.

More so, this story makes me wonder about our neighbor Williamstown and their policies. Does Williamstown allow 2nd Homeowners to speak at Town Meeting? Frankly, given the town's reputation for kowtowing to the whims of the uber-wealthy, I suspect that a wealthy landowner's tend to take a more effective path and "get a meeting" with Peter Fohlin.

More on wealthy Williamstown land owners later....
Oh come on Greg, it's not like they got to vote, they just wanted to be heard.

Kowtowing indeed.

:-) Amy
My first reaction is a knee jerk one. I'll admit that.

But all the same, Town Meeting is formalized process and the townsfolk voted against have non-voters speak. It's sorta like if City Council only met occasionally and let anybody put things on the agenda. Rules and limits have to be drawn somewhere and this couple is feeling a little bent.

Going to court eliminated all the goodwill that this couple might have gotten from me.

As for being heard, that appears to the be the one thing that this couple has been successful at; newspapers, radio, US District court, etc... just not at Town Meeting.
Being heard in town meeting may influence town policy where letters to the editor or interviews on radio may not. I wonder how many out of towners own property and pay property taxes and can't be heard at the meeting where policy is made that affects property tax owners. You can be heard elsewhere, but these venues don't set policy that may cost you.
There are many people including people here in the Berkshires who own property in other towns. For example, I know of two cases of people in Adams who own property in Florida and Savoy where they have summer camps. These aren't rich out of towners. Yet if both of these towns restricted who can speak at town meetings (Not who can vote, but speak up, and who, ultimately help pay the bills) our neighbors couldn't have input on something they help pay for. I don't know what the right policy is, but think this is more complicated than complaining about the rich. Many of the towns in South County rely on second homes for tax revenue. If this couple is only a part time resident, they may not utilize as many town services, such as schools. If such policy has a damping effect on home buying in the area, does the town suffer? I don't know, but it is an interesting question and issue.
To take a different approach at this problem, what if those wishing to speak had some information or knowledge that would help the town. An engineer, electrician, contractor, politician, etc - would they also be prevented from speaking at a town meeting if they were part-time residents?

This "process" sounds like taxation without representation. My feeling is that anyone who is helping to foot the bill should be able to speak to how that money is spent.

-- Da Snoop
The question is whether they have "The Right" to speak and the answer is pretty clearly no. Non-residents are invited to speak at different Town Meetings all the time depending on the issues.

My guess is that there is a back-story in Egremont that The Eagle is not reporting. This pair sound like pains in the rear and the townsfolk deliberately said "no".

Long gone are the days when property ownership automatically bought you a piece of "the franchise." For far too long property was a litmus test rather than residency/citizenship. Thank goodness the last vestiges of that system died out with Jim Crow.
I was referring to a non-resident who may be attending a meeting and find themselves in a position to possibly answer a question or help with a decision. Under this rule they would have to remain quite, no?

I believe I saw you (Greg) at the Reindog parade, where you there with the calves? You looked right me (if that was you) like you were going to say something, but then continued down the road.
If you oun property and pay taxes you should have the right to be heard. Doesn't matter if it is your 2nd, 3rd, or 4th home....If YOU PAY TAXES YOU SHOULD HAVE A VOICE, IF THE PROCESS EFFECTS YOU! Remember I said voice not a vote! That wasn't all that complicated now was it ...DAN?
Snoop - I Know your name, but not your face. Sorry. I would have said hi.

Jack - I theory I agree that most people *should* be heard, but when someone who is not a resident starts rabble rousing and gets told to take their seat at town meeting, I think it is perfectly appropriate.

Anyways, more of my federal tax dollars go to Mississippi and other "poor" states than Massachusetts. Do I have a *right* to be heard in their respective political process?

The Commonwealth could change the law, if they saw fit. But as it stands now, voters have the say on the agenda, not gadflies who are tossing their weight around.
greg.....after rereading the article it seems clear that "THE CURNINS" main objective is to have the same rights as a resident. Ain't gonna happin! We see this time and time again. Some busy body with a chip on their shoulder blows in from the Burbs someplace, buys a chunk of land or a building, doesn't use it but maybe one week a year. Thinks of their neighbors and the local town folk as Ignorant Bear Foot Country Bumpkins in need of their supreme guidance because, after all they are "THE CURNINS" and nobody tells the Curnins to sit down and shut the fuck up!
You still pay the same taxes whether you live there 1 week or 52 weeks and as such you should have a say on how that money is spent. It doesn't mean the "outsiders" would convince anyone to vote anyway they don't agree with, but their voice should be able to be heard.

Now if they act inappropriate at the meeting, they should be treated in the same manner as a resident who acts inappropriately (which they do often).

That's quite a racket in Egremont. A group of people pay almost half of the town's costs and yet have no say in how that money should be spent.
da snoop....I agree with you that the system seems screwed up. It creates a philosophical and legal question. If you have a financial interest in something, shouldn't you also have a say in how your money is spent? Then on the other hand, you invested your monies knowing full well the existing rules and by investing you give your acknowledgment to those rules. I believe the second one trumps the first does the courts...good call!
No one forced them to buy property in the town and they did so knowing full well that they were outsiders with no legal voice in town matters. That pretty much said it all! I don't know why Dan seems to think that it is a complicated issue? The rules are the rules are the rules. Seems real simple to me.....and the courts!
It unclear to me when the residents voted to silence the non-residents. Perhaps this property was purchased prior that vote. But at any rate, as both you and Greg have said, there is a difference between being allowed to speak and voting on an issue. It sounds to me like these people only want to heard on the issue, not vote on it.

If the rule was that blacks couldn't speak or vote at the meeting, would the rules still be the rules still be the rules?

I admit the residents were crafty, they have designed a system where their ruling cannot be reversed.
f the rule was that blacks couldn't speak or vote at the meeting, would the rules still be the rules still be the rules?

Of course not. The equal protection clause of the US Constitution forbids such behavior based upon race. However, this clause says nothing about those who wish to have influence in two separate towns and states. Their rights are not protected.

I admit the residents were crafty, they have designed a system where their ruling cannot be reversed.

The only people who can change it are a majority of residents, and should enough out-of-towners decide to change their voter registrations to Egremeont, they could certainly change it.

(or Beacon Hill could change the laws which set the process for town meeting and then the issue would be moot.)
We are bound by laws, which are rules by which we arrogantly associate with our being a civilized (?) society. That is the framework that we impose upon ourselves to maintain a semblance of peaceful order to our lives and to protect ourselves from chaos. Not that all rules are just or right or even fall within the bounds of protecting us from their supposed reasoning. Some are just plain stupid and some are just for those special influential few who can afford to buy legislation from our Representatives for their own greedy agenda. Those tactics work on a State level and above but when it is tried on a community level it goes down in flames. People don't like being cohered just because you think you are something special amd rich and there for should be at the top of the food chain, no questions asked. Lets look at Williamstown!
Just to be clear, I am only advocating the right to be heard. I think someone who pays taxes should have the ability to give their opinion on how that money is spent.

If they really want to vote on the issue then they can register to vote in that town.
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