Chain of events at Conway town meeting

Thursday, November 02, 2017

On the evening of Monday, Oct. 30, Conway voters attended a special town meeting that was called by the Selectboard to deal with a short-term moratorium on marijuana facilities and other minor financial transactions. Also included on the warrant was a bylaw to make Conway a safe community, drafted by a group of Conway residents and included on the warrant as a result of a citizen’s petition.

It is not my intent to argue the merits of our bylaw here. That should have happened within our community, at our town meeting. Rather, my purpose is to relay what happened at our town meeting that prevented voters, on either side of this issue, from asking questions, learning, debating and voting for, or against, our proposed bylaw.

The meeting was attended by approximately 105 registered voters. When the bylaw article was called, I read an introduction to it. Then, the chairperson of our Selectboard, John O’Rouke, made a statement against the bylaw that included comments about criminals and terrorists. Our Police Chief, Ken Ouimette, was immediately recognized and he read an impassioned statement that included comments about a meeting our committee had with him that were inaccurate, followed by inflammatory comments about ramifications of the bylaw that were also inaccurate.

Chief Ouimette closed his remarks by making a motion to table the matter. For those of you unfamiliar with this process, when a motion is made to table, there is no discussion allowed. Proponents of the bylaw were prevented from refuting Chief Ouimette’s comments or arguing the merits of their case. The motion to table immediately went to a vote. The motion carried, and the meeting was adjourned.

What happened at our town meeting was outrageous. To have our democratic process usurped by the most prominent elected and most prominent appointed official in our town is not only unacceptable, but inconceivable.

I want every Conway voter, regardless of their position on our safe community bylaw, to be aware of what happened at our town meeting, and I want the voters of Conway to ask themselves if this behavior, from an elected and appointed official, is acceptable.

As this story unfolds, and we search for a remedy, I would like to assure each person who attended our special town meeting, and others who wish the join the discussion, that even though the citizens of Conway were deprived of their opportunity to decide if Conway is to become a safe community, it will be the voters, not individuals, who ultimately make that decision. 

Nelson Shifflett