Select Board 02/05/2024

I apologize for the delay in completing this. This meeting was quite long and had numerous comments which I wanted to make sure I got right. Combine that with an inordinately busy week and this is how long it took!

Please note: as of 02/14 I have posted the first 9,000 words and there is still the last 40 minutes of the meeting I am continuing to verify.


In attendance: Chair John Cronin, Vice Chair Tina Hein, Clerk Ben Sparrell, Town Administrator Travis Ahern

John opened the meeting welcoming everyone. The SB accepted a new policy in January after two other meetings. The SB was contacted after the January meeting by various members of the community have asked to be heard and have petitioned the board to reconsider the policy.

Discussion of Flag Policy, per Citizen Request

Members of the community have asked us to hear their concerns and feedback regarding this policy so we can come up with a favorable outcome for everyone. John asks that speakers on Zoom  use the reaction button and reminds everyone (in room and on Zoom) that comments are limited to two minutes.

Public Comment

The following residents commented:

Andres Vargas – The first one is really a little bit about what the policy was missing. I thought what was missing was that it’s missing the fact that government speech should be clearly tied to our strategic plan. The flag policy should be a reflection of the town’s vision that was laid out in our strategic plan. The most important part of this is if the flag is a display of government speech, and this board will eventually change, the decision should not be up to the three members here but should be up to what was delineated by the entire town when they worked so hard to come up with this plan.

Think about it as the Constitution which works to protect us from the changes in Government. You’ve all come up with a great plan to protect the town from lawsuits, and now it’s time to protect free speech and the principals laid down in the strategic plan.

The second one is what I don’t think should not have been there, which is bringing the available poles to just one pole other than the flags explained in the town policy. The reason for this is you’ve limited yourself in your policy. For example, you may find tomorrow that a Holliston kid joins the Bruins and brings home the Stanley Cup and the day you want to honor him you can’t because you’ve limited your ability to do so in a policy. Fabulous 300 logo flag can’t be displayed because your policy says no.  Don’t limit yourself with a policy that is inflexible.

The third point is to make everyone’s life easier. For example, set a schedule which reflects a broader policy. For example, June the pride Flag will fly, Girl Scouts week the GS flag will fly. Having a specific calendar allows the groups in that calendar to not have to apply and the board would not have to approve each time, then you don’t have to be constantly looking at decisions on which flags to fly.

Fourth point is the City of Boston policy which is to own the flag. By having the flags owned by the town, then displaying them is government speech. You are then not flying an organizations flag; you are flying a town-owned flag.

The drafted form, that’s available right now, would require changes, because you’re not asking to display a specific flag, you’re considering asking the board to consider how government speech works in accordance with the strategic plan. This also allows for seven possible locations to fly it, and the option to make it a recurring event. Any flag that is flown becomes the property of the town in order to make it clear that it’s the town’s government speech that is being displayed. Then you’re not flying an organization’s flag, but you’re exercising government speech, you’re flying the town’s own flag.

The current form would also require a number of changes, namely that you’re not asking the board to consider flying a flag, you’re asking them to consider government speech in accordance with the strategic plan, reflecting the flying of the flag and allowing seven possible locations to fly it.

John: I am sorry to interrupt you because I know you’ve got a train of thought going. Could you be clearer on that? You lost me a little bit.

Andres: yes, edit it (the form) so that simple changes include where it is to be flown and whether it is recurring. Application should make it clear that it is for consideration of “government” speech versus the organization right to fly the flag.

John: we will probably have questions but in the interest of anyone else who might like to speak, an opportunity and then we may have further dialogue.

Natasha Marcuard – I am requesting the flag policy have more flexible and inclusive language. January 22nd stated that flying flags on town property represented government speech. You then further restricted the types of flags which will be flown on town properties with the exception of Blair Square.

While I appreciate the avenue outlined of Blair Square, the policy stripped away the opportunity to fly flags at other town properties such as town hall and the library. Perhaps the board thought of this as an exchange, however, it left us feeling like something was taken away from our community. Why limit ourselves?

What I understood from the December SB meeting was that DEI is an important element to consider when drafting the flag policy. Amending the flag policy to remove the limitations on locations for celebratory flags would preserve the opportunity for our town to visibly support for any number of groups. For me, the issue is personal. Having the opportunity to display the Pride flag at Town Hall is about my town’s governing body visibly endorsing a message that marginalized members of our community are hearing “we see you, you are welcome, you are supported here”. Holliston has an option here to lean into the mission statement laid out in Envision Holliston to reiterate a message from that plan that resonated with me, we are a small town, with a big heart.

Laurie Markoff – I know I’m sort of repeating what has been said. I also want to say that I have followed this via Zoom since the beginning.

I was very interested when the Town Lawyer said the way to protect the town from lawsuits was to make the flags town speech. I thought that was very interesting and thought it was exciting that our flags could make statements which were government statements that are inclusive and I want to reference the strategic plan specifically where the goals says to embrace our differences by supporting internal and external diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, creating a welcoming inclusive community and attracting and entertaining a diverse pool of workers, residents and businesses. (please note this is somewhat garbled and I may not have captured this correctly)

And so, I see the flag as an opportunity for the town to make a really public statement and in particular, I think the flags on Town Hall which is our government body when you drive into town when you see a flag that represents you and you’re a marginalized person, either LGBTQ or black person you think to yourself this is a town which welcomes me — and we’ve actually heard that. I remember a meeting with someone who said they were anxious about moving here and then they saw the pride flag on town hall. I am hoping we can create a policy that will not prevent the flags that make people feel welcome from being in the town hall and that allows our government to speak in accordance with its own strategic plan about what our vision is for our town. Thank you very much for hearing us out.

Travis: IT person just pointed out that there are a number of people on Zoom.

John: Please use the reaction button on your Zoom and we’ll recognize you. Once recognized please provide your name and address.

Robert Principe –  I appreciate all the efforts being made here. I want to say this, — I keep hearing thee thing over and over again governance, governance…. I appreciate the discussion about the strategic plan — we have decided as a community to adopt this plan. I know this is an expansion to some extent, but I would like to suggest this is not about governance, it’s about culture. It’s about Holliston saying we are working to build a culture that is inclusive and that’s not an easy thing to do. We kind of have a majority framing and those that are visible are visible and those who are not are not. Those that suffer as a result of being part of being underserved and underrepresented, their voices are not being heard. So it’s relevant and again, we can argue that we are talking about policy and practice — I get it governance – but I am just adding that in my mind, 2024 any town that says we’re trying to build a culture that we want that is more inclusive and therefore protective and developmental in terms of the health and well-being of more of us versus less of us I say yes.

So I’d like to add the idea of culture here, we’re a work in progress and anyway we can build that out let’s do it. Thank you.

Mary Greendale – I have a question as much as anything. I came in at the end of the first person speaking. If in fact there are going to be other flags or public speech how will you create a process for that to be done and when will that be done.

From a personal standpoint, I would prefer that town hall not start having multiple flags but I don’t know how you do that for one and not for multiples. I worry that there are enough groups that I would not want to see out there – the Town Hall is the people’s government center. The other locations that’s fine but town Hall concerns me. But, no matter what my personal views are whatever you choose to do I do think you need to have a process in place that allows you to discern which flags are allowed and which ones are not.

Having done many of those things in my life I cannot imagine how you do that honestly. It’s like picking your favorite child from your children — … I think that will be hard….  Thank you.

Angela Page –  I want to read the text of the petition which was signed by 159* residents (* we think most are residents). The undersigned residents of the Town of Holliston request that the following agenda item be considered in the next Select Board meeting scheduled to commence on February 5, 2024.

Agenda item: To see if the Select Board will vote to – Re-open the opportunity for public commentary and participation in developing the Town of Holliston’s Flag Policy. The undersigned Holliston residents are specifically interested in an amendment to the Town of Holliston Flag Policy, voted into place during the January 22, 2024 Select Board Meeting. Amendment would include providing opportunities to display celebratory flags on town-owned flag poles and buildings, in alignment with government speech.

A suggested revision is included as Exhibit A, however we would expect that any amendment as done with collective input and visibility from the community being served, as well as reviewed by legal counsel.

As I said, 159 people, other members of our community have signed this petition, so I wanted to give them their voice.

EXHIBIT A

The first paragraph below is from the Holliston Flag Policy, voted in on January 22nd, 2024. The second paragraph proposes one alternative to the language that would be in alignment with our values.

Original

All Town-owned flag poles and buildings are restricted to the United States, POW/MIA, State and Town flags, with the exception of the flagpole located at Blair Square (Corner of Central Street and Railroad Street, specifically) for which an application form may be obtained. Any flag to be flown with the approval of the Board will be under the policy above.

Proposed Alternate

Any Town-owned flag poles and buildings may display, in accordance with federal and state policies, the flags of the United States of America, POW/MIA, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Town of Holliston or individual Town of Holliston Departments. In addition, the Select Board may opt to display, on any Town-owned flag poles and buildings, commemorative or ceremonial flags as a form of government speech.

The above proposal is one example of how we may consider amending the policy, however the undersigned are open to a discussion with the Select Board regarding alternate options. Any amendments to the policy we would expect is reviewed by the town’s counsel prior to final public commentary and Select Board vote.

Specific elements we feel encompass a successful flag policy, several of which the current Flag Policy contain, includes:

1. Town flagpoles are for the purpose of government speech and are not intended to serve as a forum for free expression.

2. Ceremonial or commemorative flags may be displayed by the town as an expression of government sentiment.

a. Sample text, borrowed from the town of Hamilton: “Select Board may authorize the display of a commemorative or celebratory flag to fly on Town-owned flagpoles. A “commemorative flag” as defined in this Policy shall mean a flag that is displayed in conjunction with official actions, ceremonial items, or proclamations of the Select Board, and may be related a specific historical event, recognized holiday, cause, or group that the Select Board chooses to honor or commemorate consistent with the Town’s mission and priorities.”

3. Provide an opportunity for the Library’s Board of Trustees to independently decide which commemorative or celebratory flag(s) to display.

4. Make clear that any mechanism for the consideration of ideas from the community regarding commemorative or ceremonial flag selection does not imply the creation of a public forum.

a. The current Holliston Flag Policy contains an application process, of which we are concerned closely resembles the process that got Boston into legal trouble.

b. Many of the successful town flag policies we have reviewed in Massachusetts do not have an application process.

Barb Fritts-Warby – I want to thank everyone for the comments and questions and thank the SB for bringing this item back up for discussion.

I want to comment about the petition (it now has 176 signatures). I want to respond to Mary’s question in that because this was something that came up on the comments online where we were sharing the petition and our concerns.

A couple of people expressed concern about what happens if hate groups want to display a flag.  — We’d get ourselves in the same hot water that the policy was meant to address. I want to suggest that one way for the government to defend their choices for government speech is that all government speech should be about respecting and supporting people.

For our town, with our new strategic plan, which makes diversity, equity, and inclusion — this is about highlighting our love and support for groups who have historically been excluded and even criminalized just for existing as they are. For example, queer people for generations could not serve openly in the military; or who’s unions could not be recognized by our federal government. Groups who faced laws on the books criminalizing dress and people arrested and beaten for dressing the way I am tonight, a female in a sports coat.

Again, as millions of Americans in human slavery not even considered human in the eyes of the law. For hundreds of years, using Dred/Scott, the court case, as precedent, the Chief Justice at the time writing “Blacks have been regarded as inferior beings with no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” These are some of the more obviously disturbing examples in our history but that is what it means about celebrating groups that have been excluded.

Equity is not just about diversity being different being everyone, but specifically about making sure that we are clear about people who we cannot take for granted that know we care about them, that our government cares about them, that the town cares about them. And, in fact, people have said many times in our town, we don’t feel that and that’s one of the reasons we are focusing on that in our DEI plan as part of the strategic plan is to address that.

For me, as others have said, flying the Pride flag is personal. My 11-year-old wanted to speak tonight but I couldn’t figure out how to manage that while also speaking myself. So she and her best friend — she said if you don’t read anything else please say this — pride is a noun, but it’s also an adjective.  When you feel pride you feel happy inside. And she’s right. A universal experience of being a member of the LGBTQ community is shame, internalized shame. Transphobia and homophobia mean you are ashamed of who you are. Pride is a response to that shame. Many of us have felt in our families and our faith community and our town has pride in us. It’s not just about us, it’s about everyone. And so, the flags we fly should be inclusive and supportive of everyone. Thank you.

Nathan Detering – I am the Senior Minister at Unitarian Universalist Area Church in Sherborn and many of my congregants are residents of Holliston as well. I appreciate the complexity and nuance of this decision that you have. Given the information that I am aware of I want to share we have had a Pride flag outside of our parish since 2000, in response to a hate group we had in the Town of Sherborn. I have had people tell me what it means to have the Pride flag flying on town hall. Churchgoers have told me what it means to them.  This is a community which has been scapegoated because of their sexual identity, gender identity, and when they see the flag flying from their town they know they have a place here. This is a town I’ve raised two children in, and I just want to tell you it makes a difference.

Chinmaya Gogineni – Just to give you an idea of how important this is to me, I’m in India with my mom taking care of a medical emergency and I still felt it was important for me to join this call and voice my support and encouragement for what has been voiced so far.

This is a time for our town to show how inclusive we are as a community, and how the town is going to advertise and show it for the whole world and the neighboring Massachusetts towns to see.

Just think about it – I am here dealing with a family emergency and it’s 5am and I’m calling in because this is important for our town to use this moment to show that it is important to them as well.

John: I think it is time to pivot and for the board to ask questions and for that, I will turn it over to Ben. Before I do I just want to add that leading up to the meeting we were contacted by a couple of people.

You folks have shared some content with us, and I don’t know if you want to move in the direction of one singular item (– question for Travis) for amendment … That document you shared with the town represents collective wisdom or is that just your perspective.  How do you want to speak to that, do you want to pull it up, do you want us to address it, how do you want to move forward?

I don’t want to put you on the spot, but it was material you sent that has been referenced a couple of times.

Tracey McSherry – I was the person who sent it in, but it was a collective effort it was attached and reviewed by anyone who signed the original petition to put this back up for discussion and the additional petition to request the amendment.

This was a suggestion; I think a dialogue – I’m not an attorney and we certainly appreciate that anything may need to be reviewed by legal counsel. We just wanted to provide some guidelines for what we thought were good things to follow.

I know subsequently we shared several nearby towns and city policies that we thought might help.

John: thanks for doing that. When we were working on our policy, we had access to perhaps a half dozen other policies. (could not capture what the reference was to 5/22)

Many communities realized this was a hot button issue and we’ve seen a proliferation of various models, all different. There is no one falling in line with a singular policy that fits all. When we started examining them we saw the pros and cons of some application processes and I think during our December meeting we had the lawyer here and had a conversation that was pretty much the focus of the policy. We wanted to know what the extremes were – for example, Burlington had come up with something that had a lot of content to it, a lot of direction and was overly burdensome in my opinion. Then we looked at Middleton, a smaller town. The ones you sent to me today were new to me, I examined a couple of them, Amherst and another one – which I think were similar to what we were trying to achieve. (Hamilton) Those are similar to what ours is in terms of the makeup. So, for folks listening, there was a lot of effort put in, but this is a moving target. These policies are going to change. These three people sitting in front of you today, are not going to be the same people in a year, or three years, or six years. The whim of the voters dictates a lot of where this policy will go. That’s ultimately how I think the Supreme Court saw it.

So just as a background, regarding the petition and the policy language, thank you — we also have others, and they are all very different. They’re like fingerprints, they are all unique. You do see some threads of commonalities, — I am sorry to cut you off.

Did you want to take the opportunity to take what we’ll call Exhibit A and have Travis put it up so we can share it (see above) and everyone can see what collectively the group think is if that’s fair.

Tracey McSherry – so it’s currently really only the last paragraph of the current flag policy (see above) – she described the current policy. and then presented the recommended changes.

I do think some of the things you heard today referring to the town’s strategic plan is broader and may be helpful to include that language. It’s a working dialogue.

John: As you look at Exhibit A the overall gist was to embrace the idea that a singular location not preferred over multiple locations within the town designated as government speech is that correct?

At this point, I’ll turn over to the board with some questions and some thoughts. I did communicate with Natasha that I don’t expect a vote tonight if you’ve heard what our speakers tonight have made reference to, this policy is very complex.

The frustrating thing about this is we try to do the right thing here. When we try to do the right thing so much you are opening the door to bad things. I remember talking to someone, I think it was you Andres about this. It’s frustrating and that is why communities are struggling with this policy.

They make lawyers for this reason. We didn’t invite the lawyer here tonight for a lot of reasons. We wanted to have an organic dialogue which I think is what you were all looking for and encouraging us to do so what we’ll do is take your feedback as well as the boards questions and answers and collectively go back to the legal counsel and see if a policy can emerge in a way that reflects some ground that can be used. So I think that’s the game plan. Does anyone else have any questions before the board weighs in?

In house audience: will the draft be made publicly available before the board votes on it?

John: that’s a good question. I would envision at this point … we’re heading into budget season. We have an all-day event on February 17 and the following week is school vacation and we’re taking Monday off. I’m thinking probably late February at the latest early March before we have a revisitation of this to …I don’t want to say clean up … but to suggest we get it all done at once is maybe naive but at the same time we’d like to get this finalized to a point where people understand how to proceed. If that answers your question, there will be a community dialogue as to what we are intending to do much like we did on the 22nd, and if there’s feedback we’ll see how it goes. Does that make sense?

Audience: So are you anticipating having a revised draft at that meeting?

John: yes, potentially if there are additional changes to the policy.

Audience: Will it be made available in advance of that meeting so we can digest it?

John: Likely not.

Audience: that was part of the issue…

John: It’s difficult to do that — we can explore that but the difficulty in that is your tilting the board business before the board has a chance to talk about it (I may have this incorrect, it’s at 33:37 in the recording but I could not make it out correctly after numerous playing’s). It’s a bit of a cart and horse situation. If there is enough consensus about what is seen that night, we’ll move to a vote. If not, and there is consternation, then we’ll hold off and move on. We don’t know.

Audience: I just request that it is displayed allowing people enough time to digest the information (especially those who are visually impaired).

Another audience member: I would also ask that a paper copy be available that day since I would be unable to read it on my phone.

Audience member: can that be well explained in the agenda that the policy be discussed and be talked about — again, thinking about the meeting where it was passed and a lot of us did not know there would be a policy to come and look at and talk about. That would help. Thank you.

Travis: that would be discussed before the SB members voted on it.

Robert Principe – I think it would be fabulo9us if in adjusting the language if the4 town said we’re doing this because and inserted the language from the strategic plan. This is where we lose. We created the strategic plan which says we’re going towards greater diversity, greater equity, and greater inclusion and then we go do policy and practice that is sans of that same language. I am suggesting that any change includes what we’re going here because we want to push this because these are our values as a community. First thought: one more thing: this is not individually driven. I hear you when you say that in three years there will be different people sitting where you are sitting. No, inclusion – greater health and well-being for more of us than less of us is not driven by an individual. It is driven by a community coming together to protect and support, safeguard, and grow what we need as a community. So whether there’s you there in three years, or someone else there, or anyone else, that’s our job. Individuals change or not. thank you.

John: I don’t see any other hands up at this point, so I’ll turn to Ben first for thoughts and questions and Tina if you have any thoughts that you want to address to people who may have spoken then we can certainly have them back up too so they can be part of this conversation. One other item – I just want to point out in terms of housekeeping our agenda this evening included an item at 7:30pm we had an FY25 water rate that was supposed to start at 7:30 we could not start earlier than 7:30 but we can start later than 7:30 so in case anyone is on the Zoom regarding that mater, that will follow this dialogue shortly so stay with us.

Ben: I’m sure everyone is going to stay for the water rate hearing ;).

I have a couple of comments, no questions because I think the people who spoke were very eloquent and I know coming before us can be nerve wracking, even being back here can be. Thank you for your thoughts and sharing them with us this evening, we appreciate that.

I wanted to mention a couple of things from my own personal perspective. The first thing I want to mention is why I voted for the policy as it was. From a personal perspective I look at the Pride flag as being very important. It is part of our values as a community and something I personally would like to see every June how that happens. One of the things I do not want to see is that we put up symbols that are contrary to our values. So that was the impetus for me accepting the policy as presented. We had a conversation with our counsel on 12/18, and then the final vote in January. I don’t recall when we had the additional conversations but during that time, we did not get any additional comments about the policy … I understand that it wasn’t available, but I didn’t get any comments about it being discussed. So when we’re making these kinds of decisions, we are beholden to the information we have at the time we’re making them.

With that in mind, I would strongly encourage people to if you want to know what’s coming up, or what things are coming up on our agenda which may be of interest there’s a way on the website to subscribe (https://www.townofholliston.us/subscribe) to our agenda so you can see when the agenda is published and you can take a look and see if it’s something you want to participate in, I know we move all over the place (e.g. water rate hearing), sometimes we talk about the fire department, the police, there’s a lot of places that we’re going, but I encourage you to subscribe to our agenda  so you can see what’s coming up and can see how things are out there, that way, when those things come up, you can give us feedback and we would love to hear those kinds of things which brings me to my third point which is I like this. I like having feedback and this is very valuable to be able to have that and to have this opportunity to hear from people directly. That does not just apply to this kind of setting, if you are comfortable sending us or me emails, please reach out and if you uwant to have a dialogue we can meet at Coffee Haven if you want to talk, have a phone conversation, or any of those kinds of things. I’m open and I want to make sure people understand that I recognize that sometimes coming up in front of the microphone can be a little intimidating, but I do want to hear from you, I want to have that dialogue, that opportunity to talk to you and for you to participate. We’re your neighbor. We all live in this town, and we all want to make sure it’s a tolerant, accepting place for everyone. I think that’s very important and want to make sure those values are carried on and I appreciate the feedback we received this evening. We will explore other options, potentially to see if we set the best policy.

Tina: I have a couple of comments and a specific question John if you’re all right with that. I’m not sure who will answer it from the group, but it’s proposed to the group.

First I want to say in my family we fly the Pride flag for the entire month of June. It’s important in my personal life that we show our family members that we show our community members the love and support that we have.  I hear the passion in the room and I applaud you all for coming forward to share your comments with the board, it’s not something that goes unnoticed. Obviously you are a big group, and your words are very meaningful to me, and I think you can see with the other board members, this means a lot to us to have this level of interest. This is a very important and serious, weighty policy that we are discussing here.

Now I will get into some general comments based on what I heard tonight.

I definitely hear from what has been said tonight that location matters. There are multiple options and the limits on those options are a problem for the group. In the amended language that was presented and that may not properly reflect the final language, but it doesn’t really offer a solution for how a board in the future would choose. I don’t see how in the future, even if that were to be amended, I see don’t limit us, how that process would work. I see, personally, the same issue being presented, don’t limit it to one, but then don’t define for me how you are going to choose which one. So, I’m just putting that back out as something that I take away from the comments. I absolutely hear the comments about a policy that the addresses defining flags that define flags as government speech more broadly and that the Pride flag which I think was discussed as part of the Framingham policy that was shared yesterday or today is interesting to me. I also take Mary’s point that what is the process to discern what is government speech. That is a question mark.

I hear mention of the strategic plan, the Town of Holliston’s strategic plan and when I review that document in detail, both as it was being developed, and as it was finalized, and again tonight in preparation for this conversation and what I see there that relates to me most specifically what we’re talking about here tonight is the intention through objectives and measures to use priority areas to form an advisory board at some point in 2024 that would then review all town policies by June of 2025. So I have to admit, I’m not sure how we’re failing to meet the strategic plan. That stands out to me.  I don’t see how we have failed to meet the strategic plan. So I come back to that – we’ve identified objectives and measures through the strategic plan – those deserve to have the process play out. I wonder if through that process, as again defined in the objectives and measures we don’t get to a better policy. So that’s another comment I would like to share.

The final one would be I think John mentioned this is an interim solution. I think the evolution of ideas coming forth is important, and we need time to explore all of the ideas we are hearing to avoid any opportunity by which someone might exploit what’s happening. I think we’re learning about some of the downsides. I think everything we’ve heard in the room tonight, and the public comments seems to recognize the intention was to serve the greater good, and I would like to make sure that through any policy that this board ever makes or amends in the future that we’re making sure we’re going that — that we’re not deviating from that. So I’ll get to my question now. I believe and I’m happy to be corrected if I’m wrong, we have a majority of Diverse Holliston in the room and I am very interested in knowing whether or not there’s a goal or priority that a civic organization like Diverse Holliston is tethering the comments tonight to, because it’s very helpful as a member of the board to know that you’re trying to align with the organizations position. For example, the tree policy that the town adopted, we worked closely with the Garden Club. They were a civic organization that had a goal. They had a priority they were trying to accomplish, and they collaborated with the SB to pass the civic tree policy. That’s my question to the group, if you don’t want to answer that tonight, that’s fine, but that’s where I am with public comment and the question I have tonight which I’d be interested in hearing at some point if not tonight. It is helpful to have civic organizations that are speaking out about a policy to help the board understand what their goals are.

John: is there an answer in the room?

Barb Fritts-Warby – I think I can answer this. Tina to answer your question – is there a majority of Diverse Holliston here tonight? I don’t know who is on the computer, there are a few members in the room, but the majority of the people in the room did not work together and collaborate and talk about what we were going to say. I can’t speak for most of the folks who are here, but I think as someone who has spoken on behalf of Diverse Holliston and Pride in the past, the goal of that group is to continue to push forward, respect and dignity, and a policy that would support more of us and not fewer of us. Part of why we feel we need to exist is not that you don’t all care about that, but if you’re not a member of groups at question which have been marginalized or left out as I stated earlier in some of the most disturbing examples, then it’s just hard to see.

I appreciate your mentioning you can get email reminders about the agendas, and one member of our group does get them, and she’s the reason that several people showed up two weeks ago. But it wasn’t clear from that agenda that you would be voting, or that there were policy questions. So there really wasn’t a way for us to prepare or collaborate with you. I have been speaking with Travis for years, I’ve asked for the Pride flag display which you have brought to the board, and we appreciate it has always been approved. We talked last summer about what a flag policy would look like. It’s surprising to me that I wasn’t contacted when a policy was being worked on. We could have brought some of this forward at that time.

I don’t know if I’m answering your question but it’s what our mission has always been, and this is a part of that.

John: Can I speak to something you just referenced? There is no delicate way to put this. One of the take-aways from tonight is how a conversation needs to happen. I appreciate your respectful comments tonight and allowing us to dwell on what you’re offering us. There’s a part of this that makes me a bit defensive. There was a public process. I hear from  you that you’re not happy with that. You didn’t feel that it got into your hands early enough. You didn’t have enough time to evaluate it. It was discussed in a public forum, we did have a public comment period, there were two members of Diverse Holliston on Zoom. I stared at that screen expecting them to say something, anything. Just like this: put your hand up, just like people have done tonight and speak. They could say this is the first we see of the flag policy, and I’m concerned that members of my committee may have some comments on it, is there any way to delay a vote on this until people have had a chance to do so. We heard nothing – and that’s the action we have to take as elected officials. So again, I know I’m being defensive so hear me out, we did not act rashly or abruptly. We acted in the public forum to develop a public policy. We got NO feedback. Nothing. Two people were on the call. They listened and did not respond. Nothing, so there’s that.

Barb Fritts-Warby – so I’m going to ask if those people would be interested in speaking about their experience that night, because I think their experience was different.

John: this is not a “money” moment, I just think the board, as a public face of this community we have a responsibility to work with all of you.  For the people listening I think it’s important to understand this was not done with a heavy hand. This was not done rashly. We are willing to listen and adjust if we see fit. But, the moment when the vote was taken, you started to suggest this was done quickly without giving you folks an opportunity to look at it, and I’m saying there was an opportunity, and it was not taken.

Barb Fritts-Warby – I wasn’t at the meeting because I didn’t know there was going to be a vote. The agenda said continue flag discussion which is what it said in December so when a few of our members looked they said well it looks like they’re going to continue to discuss the flag policy so someone should go. Generally people felt they were not going to make a point to go since there was no scheduled vote so that is how we made that decision. We had representation, but we didn’t know there would be action taken. I wasn’t here so I …

Tina – if I may John, I am not looking to challenge you, only clarify the question I was asking. I do follow all of Diverse Holliston and I follow your FB page. I see the agendas for your meetings, and I do review them and take them seriously. We all take them seriously. I understand your frustration about no one reaching out to you given you were the one making the request four years in a row. I understand how that would make you feel. That said, I am not seeing any of this discussed in your emails, newsletters, or feeds. I’m not even seeing it in the strategic plan, that flying is of significance we’re hearing tonight. That doesn’t mean that it’s not significant, but in terms of a two-way communication, it’s a challenge from where I am to get that information back to me.  As John said, that open public process is another way for us to get that feedback. Even when that feedback is to tell us this is something you need to slow down on, dive into more. I’m not getting it through the public process, and I’m not getting it from the communication outs. I may be off. … maybe it’s a reach to think Diverse Holliston is going to put their hand up on an issue like this. Maybe the tree policy and the Garden Club was a bad example. I’m not getting that communication back and so as a public official, the best decisions are made with two-way communication.

Barb Fritts-Warby – I just want to say one more thing – we have had – we had our flag raising ceremony three years in a row – you’ve been at them. It is really well atended, it’s huge deal for the community. It was a huge deal when that flag went up the first year. That’s part of why we had people come tonight, and why I spoke about what it meant if that wasn’t clear. I think if we had known that there was going to be action taken two weeks ago,  we would have had our say then.

Natasha Marcuard – I was on the meeting two weeks ago, I was not aware there was going to be a policy I joined the hour when the session was already going. The flag was already on the screen. I don’t want to rehash what happened two weeks ago, but it got put up on the screen, I could barely read it let along digest in the time it was available. I could have used some interpretation of some of the language personally I was actually afraid that I had missed it and it was publicly available and I just had not seen it. Bottom line was I was not prepared. So when public comment was opened, I was panicking because I could not find it, I did not know where it existed, and then public comments were closed in no less than 10 seconds. There wasn’t a lot of time.

John: Again, I’m going to be defensive; why was it closed within 10 seconds? No one said anything at all. I am not sure how long we’re supposed to wait. We prompt people to respond and nothing. I want to be respectful.  I appreciate your honesty, but I want you to hear our honesty too. This was not a rush to judgement. We are not a heavy-handed board, we listen. One of the things that is important is we follow the rules of engagement, and that evening we did, and I maintain 100% that we did. I think any assertion that we didn’t will put me on the defensive. We did the right thing that night, and we also did the right thing in listening to you and others appeals to us subsequent to have further conversation and here we are and that’s a good thing, a very good thing. I just want to be very clear – I don’t want anyone to think the board did something wrong. The board did its job. There was an opportunity to speak, it wasn’t taken.

I understand why. I used to be just like you – I didn’t understand how town government worked. Please put your hand up, don’t be afraid to talk, it’s an important part of the engagement and we don’t bite.

Tina: Laurie as also at the meeting, I didn’t mean to say just Natasha.

(missed name) – I just want to say I love open dialogue. I want to say that some of my friends just want to be seen. I feel they shouldn’t have to be on the lookout for emails and be watching for a policy to change that’s going to make them not safe. That is why I feel it is so important to allow these flags to be flown. These are people I have come to know and love, and they have other lives outside of fighting for their lives. Everyone has a right to be seen and accepted.

(missed name) – I just wanted to say the reason  — so I went to the first meeting and I heard what the lawyer said about government speech. When the second meeting was coming up, I absolutely trusted you to do the right thing. I was four minutes late to that meeting. when I got there, the policy was on the screen but not the part that said the limits on the flags. I didn’t see that. Then it was over. I logged in at 7:04 and I remember that because I looked up and realized I was late and 7:06 it was all over. I would have said something but I actually missed that paragraph until it was all over. I assumed you had done what I thought you were going to do until later someone pointed out that paragraph and I said oh, but I didn’t see that and that’s what happened. If I had seen it I would have said something then.

Robert Pricipe – I have to say, this body, this group. I have seldom attended such an open and honest dialogue in this town.  as this yet. I appreciate that – people’s input or lack thereof. That kind of transparency barring people making decisions is just as valuable as making decisions. Which is the harder part which you have making decisions based on input or lack thereof. Please understand your willingness to have this back and forth is a powerful entity for this town. It might not bear fruit tonight, but it may down the road. It may change how other groups communicate. I want to affirm that first and foremost. I am affirming your willingness to have this discussion in the first place and be willing to be transparent about your own challenges and feelings in the process. That is pretty powerful.

Things can’t always be clean, we’re all human beings as you pointed out. My second and final point, is with that being said, if there is two people from Diverse Holliston or five or ten, that’s not the issue. It’s that we have come to a decision to take care of the health and well-being of this town that is more inclusive. This raises up to that level of leadership, and I’m saying this for me – as part of that – we need to because that’s what our charge is – your charge as a governing body – but our charge as citizens – and oh, by the way, we need to get a whole lot more citizens involved and feeling like they have a charge in this work. We need to have a separate conversation about that. If we get more people engaged and involved, we need them versus sitting on the sidelines and ignoring or not because they are not affected. So those two points. Thank you for your transparency, thank you for your engagement and we’re in this together.

Chinmaya Gogineni – I just wanted to follow up with Tina regarding engagement within Diverse Holliston regarding engagement with other groups (apologizes for choppy signal, he’s on the road). If this is the mode of engagement going forward, then we need to make sure it’s front and center and very well published in the town that this type of engagement is supported and encouraged and to some degree demanded by the community members. That is led by the board.

To Robert’s point, this is the first time in a while we have had such honest engagement. I think this is the model to replicate going forward. It engages the people who feel left out or unheard. Even if one of us shows up, and talks about it, we will be heard. We don’t have to mobilize hundreds or thousands to be heard. That is a powerful movement and shift. Thank you to the SB for listening. I think this is a point we need to continue (garbled) ….

John: Chinmaya you are breaking up there at the end. If you have additional thoughts to share I’ll circle back to you.

Doreen Martel – I have sat through the meetings in question as the representative of the Holliston Reporter. However, tonight I’m responding as a resident. I think that the board as a whole agreed the board would make the decision as to which flags would fly and unless I’m not recalling correctly, the board as a whole agreed if one board member suggested a specific flag it would be accepted by the rest of the4 board. So in defense of the board, if you followed all of the meetings in a row, Travis supplied the language that was going to be used back in December.

Cynthia Burrow – I want to say I think that unless there is some type of prohibition to including language in your agendas that you intend to discuss and especially vote on I would really recommend doing that. It doesn’t seem like it would be that hard to do even if you add it to the agenda right before the meeting. Correct me if there’s some parliamentary deal that I don’t know about.


Andres Vargas – I just wanted to make the same point as Cynthia, to make things available unless there’s some law that prevents it. I did the exercise of sitting myself in front of the computer and listening and watching the screen – the six minutes it took to do this. I was completely unable to read the policy. Probably a combination of my screen and my eyesight just isn’t good enough for that type. In the interest of inclusivity and making sure those of us with poor eyesight I think you need to take steps to make sure that every policy is made available to those with an interest. For those of us with bad eyesight, having it on the screen is not sufficient.

Displaying it on the screen also does not provide enough time to process the information. I consider myself a smart person and there’s np way I could have processed that information in four or five minutes, even if the font were larger. Such important documents really need to be made available the general population before the meeting.

John – OK I think we’ve heard from all the Zoom, the room, Tina, and Ben do you have anything else? I just want to make a few comments.

Regarding the petition, for individuals who signed the petition and those who created the petition where they aware that the SB created an alternative place to fly the Pride flag for the first time. I spoke with two people who signed, and they were under the impression that the SB was taking away the benefit of flying the Pride flag and that is why they signed it because they wanted to endorse the action of the town doing that. The petition …

Audience: the policy was provided to everyone who signed, whether they read it or not, we can’t say.

John: These were people that were approached in public. They were just approached and told here sign this.

Audience: They were given copies of the policy.

John: Again, they signed it thinking the town was removing something as opposed to understanding..

Audience: Again they were provided with the language, I can’t speak to whether they read it or understand what they were signing.

John: Well that’s good, at least you’re showing all sides.

Audience: John can you please clarify the alternate location you’re talking about Blair Square?

John: Yes

Audience: We don’t consider that sufficient.

John: OK did you want to come up and talk about that?

Regarding the next steps. There’s a few takeaways I have. Andres talked about the calendar .. and I think that is an area where we have some work to do.

The application which someone referred to earlier is again sort of unique to what we’re doing. I think it is similar to what another community is doing, I think it’s in Burlington. It’s a cross between an application and a calendar regarding public notice of what the board intends to do to express government speech that I think we can harden up and shine a little bit more.

Andres you also mentioned the flag ownerships as done by the city of Boston – we’ll ask counsel to look at that a little bit more. That’s the first I’ve heard of that, I wasn’t familiar with that part of it at all. Unlike you, I’m not an attorney so I am not clear on that.

Andres: I’m not an attorney.

John: No, but you brought it out and it may be something we can consider.

You know, there has been a lot of emphasis and Tina brought this in about connecting the goals of what the flag policy can do for us and our town and the strategic plan. Again, I have my defensive button on, a little bit, not a lot, because I’m very mindful of everybody’s feedback. I feel like this board has been more committed to diversity than any board in Town Hall in history. The progress we’re making is very, very good in my estimation. Any sense that we are retreating from that I rebuff.

I don’t feel that way. I know what the strategic plan says, I understand the commitment to DEI that are part of the whole plan. We intend to uphold that. I think when we took the vote, on the 22nd we had a spot where 10,000 people in the month of June 2023 past we were displaying the Pride flag on a pole for the first time. It’s never been on a pole in Holliston and I think that was a step in the right direction. That was our group thing in relation to what I was thinking when Ben was commenting.

Tina: John please reference the 10,000 people, I’m not sure everyone understood.

John: passing through Blair Square – that’s the foot traffic in the month of June 2023. It’s become quite a center of community business.

I am struck by Natasha’s comments. Actually Natasha, I’ve really enjoyed reading your emails, exchanging thoughts with you. I was struck by your remarks about the library, you call it a cultural center, or cultural … You imparted some thoughts about how these things especially in certain spaces mean a lot more so that was impactful.

Robert, I always appreciate your contributions, I will say you have a voice for radio.

Overall, excellent feedback, I would expect the board to have some further dialogue as I said at the beginning about modifying or revisiting this policy in a few weeks after we get past our budgeting bubble. I think the town took an enormous step forward ahead of several others in defining a policy. I hope that when you see our actions, and we have further dialogue about this, you’ll understand this board’s commitment is to all of the citizens of Holliston. Those that are marginalized, those that have been here their whole lives and everyone in between, so that’s our goal, that’s our what we’re trying to achieve. We look forward to advancing this conversation further and we’ll do our best to advance attachments regarding policy product ahead of time as permissible. We’ll have a conversation with counsel about that.

Again, if we don’t my reaction is only because we’re advancing something the board has not seen yet and that’s always kind of problematic. That doesn’t mean we will vote on it, or not keep you informed.

Any final comments from anyone in the room?

Barb Fritts-Warby – I appreciate the good intentions. The fact the board never batted an eye at approving the flying of the flag over the years told me that. I know you’re supportive of us, I know you’re supportive of us displaying the Pride flag. I just want to remind you that — John you said you were feeling defensive and if that’s how you’re feeling, ask a question if you’re curious (John: that’s what I did). I appreciate the work you are doing and even though you thought that you thought it was going to be a step forward, to put it on a pole in Blair Square, none of you are gay. If you had asked people who were gay, to put it bluntly we would have told you we don’t feel that way. That’s why we wanted you to engage us. That’s why we felt frustrated that the process seemed so quick and short, and it felt like we were not included. That’s why representation matters, that’s why engaging people matters, that’s why I appreciate tonight, and I hope there’s a lot more of it so thank you.

John: OK we’re going to move onto the next thing on the agenda and thank you again.

Doreen Martel

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