Conway ‘safe community’ bylaw vote on May’s town meeting agenda

Recorder Staff
Monday, December 04, 2017

CONWAY — Constituents will have a second chance to debate a proposed “safe community” bylaw — tabled during an October special town meeting — at next year’s annual town meeting.

The town’s three-member Selectboard unanimously voted to put the proposal on next May’s annual town meeting agenda “without need for a petition by citizens,” according to a page-long motion presented by Chairman John P. O’Rourke.

“With two weeks of thinking about it, this is a great motion. I would support it,” said Selectman Robert Armstrong, before the board approved O’Rourke’s motion at its Nov. 27 meeting.

The original “safe community” article was put on the town’s Oct. 30 special town meeting agenda through a citizens petition that garnered more than 100 signatures. Had it passed, the bylaw would have prevented Conway police from honoring noncriminal civil immigration detainer requests, and all town employees from acting as immigration officers.

Near the end of special town meeting, Police Chief Ken Ouimette and Selectboard Chariman John P. O’Rourke spoke against the proposal. Then, Ouimette immediately put forward a motion to table the article, seconded by O’Rourke, which subsequently passed by a three-vote margin, 59-56.

There wasn’t any public discussion, and the meeting ended soon after. Only O’Rourke, Nelson Shifflett, who authored the citizen’s petition, and Police Chief Ken Ouimette spoke regarding the article.

A shouting match broke out following the meeting, according to Town Administrator Tom Hutcheson. Controversy, centering around how the article was tabled, continued for weeks. Residents who felt slighted voiced their displeasure at public meetings. Others, including O’Rourke, wrote opinion letters published in the newspaper.

A second chance for debate

O’Rourke’s motion to put the proposal back on next May’s agenda outlines several reasons why the article should be taken up again.

First, it notes “there are different interpretations and understandings of the ‘motion to lay on table’ or ‘motion to table,’ and there may be differences among the rules of the proceedings.” Second, “citizens who supported the subject article stated that they had a different understanding” of procedural rules.

Finally, that “debate on the subject article was suspended due to the procedural misinterpretation of the ‘motion to table’ and (residents) were not aware that a ‘motion to take from the table’ could have been made.”

The motion recognizes two statements addressed to the board by residents Linda E. Driscoll and Phyllis K. Jeswald, and notes the proposal has received adequate support from town residents.

“They already had 100 signatures. Making them go out and get 10 more — I don’t see the need. It’s a procedural issue here. That’s what this motion is about,” O’Rourke said. At least 10 signatures are required for an article to be put on an annual town meeting agenda.

Before voting in favor of the motion, Selectman Robert Baker noted that it’s unusual for the Selectboard to put an article originally proposed by a citizens petition on another meeting’s agenda. The board highlighted that this is a one-time action because of circumstances surrounding October’s meeting. Residents shouldn’t expect similar actions to take place in the future, Baker said.

Next year’s annual town meeting is expected to take place May 14, 2018.