Conway Selectboard Chairman O’Rourke calls for the repeal of ‘Safe Community’ bylaw

  • Conway Town flag Recorder file photo/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Published: 5/28/2018 7:59:08 PM

CONWAY — The controversial “Safe Community” bylaw passed at annual Town Meeting earlier this month might be under attack.

Selectboard Chairman John O’Rourke says he hopes a citizen’s petition will come forward to repeal the bylaw. Backers say the bylaw is intended in part to protect undocumented immigrants.

If a resident does not initiate such a petition, O’Rourke said he’ll take it upon himself to bring the issue back before a Town Meeting.

The issue has sparked a fair amount of discussion, from questions of ethics to debates on federal versus state jurisdiction over immigrant-related law enforcement.

At the Town Meeting earlier this month, Police Chief Kenneth Ouimette said the bylaw didn’t matter because a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling essentially established the same legal standard: that local law enforcement does not have the authority to detain a person solely at the civil request from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials.

The bylaw establishes that anyone, whether “visitor, or are just passing through town” is “welcome here.” It further calls for Conway police to not act as immigration officers.

In a statement sent to the Greenfield Recorder in response to the Town Meeting decision, which passed 104 to 71, O’Rourke said he views the bylaw as “inconsequential.”

“Any local law that conflicts with federal law, including immigration law, is unconstitutional and has no effect,” O’Rourke wrote in a statement. “I expect that our law enforcement officers and municipal officials will continue to act in accordance with their oaths of office ‘to support and defend the Constitution of the United States’ and will enforce the appropriate law in immigration matters.”

O’Rourke, a former Marine, holds a number of high-ranking positions beyond chairman. He is the chairman of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments’ council, sits on the board of directors for the Massachusetts Municipal Association and is appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker as one of eight Selectboard members to serve on the Local Government Advisory Commission.

O’Rourke said in his statement that he received several comments from residents in nearby areas who O’Rourke said were “shocked” by the decision in Conway.

“It is clear that there are at least 104 registered voters in the town of Conway that do not support the US Constitution and the rule of law but would rather support those who have illegally entered or who are illegally present in our country and hold Conway out as a ‘safe’ place for illegal aliens,” O’Rourke said.

It was the case of a “small, vocal minority” who “managed to stack the meeting attendance to swing a vote,” he said.

“By all indications and information I have, it is not the will of the majority of the citizens of Conway,” O’Rourke said.

At the Annual Town Meeting, in a somewhat unusual move, copies of O’Rourke’s “My Turn,” essay that had been published in the Greenfield Recorder earlier that week were placed on the roughly 200 seats in the gymnasium of the Conway Grammar School. In the opinion piece, he called for his fellow residents to vote down the bylaw.

All but one person who addressed the issue from the floor voiced strong support for the bylaw, which was prompted by the national conversations around immigration, including the rhetoric and actions of President Donald Trump.

“Because of my strong support of the U.S. Constitution, the rule of law, and my primary concern for the welfare and safety of the citizens of Conway, I was lectured to and chastised by a couple of liberal attorneys and one other resident from the Town Meeting floor who favor illegal alien ‘rights’ over the law,” O’Rourke wrote.

“These radical rants meant nothing to me, since I do not pay any attention to any of these individuals,” he added.

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

413-772-0261, ext. 264


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