Category Archives: Meetings

public meetings

Too hot to handle: at Natick School Committee

In a classic 1938 film, Myrna Loy played Alma Harding, modeled after Amelia Earhart. Corey Spaulding–parent of a former student in Natick Public Schools–probably would not be mistaken for Loy. Last January 8, however, her message proved “Too Hot to Handle.” Natick School Comittee members walked out of their monthly meeting moments after she started to speak and then-Supt. Peter Sanchioni interrupted, calling her remarks “unfettered lies” along with other jibes.

According to public records, at the Natick School Committee on January 8 Spaulding began by saying, “I am the mother of a child who was mercilessly bullied into suicide here in Natick.” Outbursts at the meeting made other comments hard to follow. About two months later, Dr. Sanchioni resigned. The School Committee cited “personal, family and medical reasons.” Another two months on, he was hired as the school superintendent for Tiverton, RI, apparently at a lower rate of pay.

Freedom of speech: In the interim, Corey Spaulding and Karin Sutter–also a parent of a former student in Natick Public Schools–filed a civil rights lawsuit. Sutter had sparked another Natick School Committee walkout in February, telling members that “my boys and family…needed to move out [of Natick] due to the retaliation and retribution we received at the hands of the Natick Public Schools.”

Supported by the Massachusetts ACLU and represented by Benjamin Wish of Todd & Weld in Boston, Spaulding and Sutter won an order from a state court enjoining the Natick School Committee from enforcing rules against “improper conduct and remarks” and against “personal complaints” applied to comments at meetings. The court ruling stated that Natick policies and actions were likely to be found invalid under both Massachusetts and federal laws.

Over recent years, public comment became a regular feature at meetings of many local boards and committees. The Brookline School Committee adopted the practice in 1993. The Brookline Select Board later adopted it. Governing boards and committees in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and many other suburbs of Boston follow similar practices. The Massachusetts Association of School Committees publishes guidelines for public comment. Guidance is also available in other states and from national organizations.

What can one say to members of a local governing board or committee in a public comment? When and how does freedom of speech, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, apply? Boundaries of civil rights in particular situations are explored in court decisions, but so far few decisions directly concern public comments made to local boards and committees.

The Natick case: Members of the Natick School Committee rise to attention at the start of a meeting–like a McCarthy-era vestige–and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. In situations described in the recent court ruling, a committee chair led in squelching criticism. Interrupting Karin Sutter’s remark last February 5 about “retaliation and retribution…[by] Natick Public Schools,” the committee chair said, “…you cannot speak defamatory about the Natick…this is Open Meeting Laws…you are out of order.”

In such situations, the court ruling found “restrictions…aimed to prohibit…speech…critical of the Natick Public Schools…quintessentially viewpoint-based…[and exercised] on an ad hoc basis.” Citing the Open Meeting Law was merely a distraction, according to the ruling, because “First Amendment or Article 16 principles [of the Massachusetts constitution]…would take priority, and the statute would have to be read in a way that is compatible with the rights that they provide.”

To support and explain its findings, the recent court ruling cited several prior judicial decisions and opinions, particularly –

*** Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona, U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 13-502, 2015
In that case, a local ordinance regulating signs was overturned, reversing an Appeals Court, because it was found to be “content-based” and not “narrowly tailored to serve compelling state interests.”

*** Roman v. Trustees of Tufts College, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Case no. SJC-10822, 2012
In that case, an institutional policy was found to be content-neutral and viewpoint-neutral, and it was upheld against a free-speech challenge.

*** Draego v. Charlottesville, U.S. District Court for western Virginia, Case no. 3:16-cv-00057, 2016, memorandum of opinion and order
In that case, an injunction issued against a so-called “group defamation ban” by a city council, because under “strict scrutiny” it appeared likely to violate First Amendment rights to free speech and Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process.

Thomas P. Billings, the judge hearing the Natick case, was appointed in 2001 by former Republican Gov. Swift. He has heard several cases with interactions between state and federal laws, including DirecTV v. Massachusetts in 2012–involving issues of taxes, telecommunications and interstate commerce. The state ruling in the case was upheld when the Supreme Court declined a challenge. [U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 14-1524, 2014]

Were Brookline’s current School Committee policies subject to similar scrutiny, bans on “individual personnel issues” and on “inappropriate conduct or statement[s]” in public comments could prompt objections similar to those from Justice Billings about Natick School Committee policies, in his recent ruling for the Natick case. [Public comment and participation at School Committee meetings, Policy Manual, Public Schools of Brookline, pp. B.11-13]

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, June 12, 2018


Benjamin Wish obtains preliminary injunction ordering school district to stop suppressing free speech rights, Todd & Weld (Boston, MA), June, 2018

Decision and order (preliminary injunction), Spaulding v. Natick, Middlesex Superior Court, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Civil action no. 18-1115, June 5, 2018 (made quotable and searchable)

Marcia Pobzeznik, Superintendent appointed in Tiverton, Fall River (MA) Herald News, May 9, 2018

Susan Petroni, Mothers of former Natick students file lawsuit to defend free speech rights, Framingham (MA) Source, April 23, 2018

Caitlyn Kelleher, Natick superintendent of schools resigns, MetroWest Daily News (Framingham, MA), March 1, 2018

“Public Speak” at Natick School Committee, Pegasus (Natick, MA), February 5, 2018 (video with sound)

“Public Speak” at Natick School Committee, Pegasus (Natick, MA), January 8, 2018 (video with sound)

Natick Public Records (unattributed pages on a commercial Web site), 2018

Select Board’s policy on public comment, Town of Brookline, MA, 2016

Memorandum of opinion and order, Draego v. Charlottesville, U.S. District Court for western Virginia, Case no. 3:16-cv-00057, 2016

Reed v. Town of Gilbert, Arizona, U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 13-502, 2015

DirecTV v. Massachusetts, Suffolk Superior Court, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Civil action no. 10-0324-BLS1, 2015

Glenn Koocher, et al., Public participation at school committee meetings and guidelines for public comment, Section BEDH, Guide for Present and Future School Committee Chairs, Massachusetts Association of School Committees, 2014

Roman v. Trustees of Tufts College, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Case no. SJC-10822, 2012

What does free speech mean?, Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, 2007

Public comment and participation at School Committee meetings, Town of Brookline, MA, 2005 (in Policy Manual, section B, pp. 11-13)

United States v. Carolene Products, U.S. Supreme Court, Case no. 640, 1938 (Footnote 4, outlining what is commonly known as “strict scrutiny”)

Clark Gable, Myrna Loy and Walter Pidgeon (Jack Conway, dir.), Too Hot to Handle, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1938

Against neighborhoods: Brookline zoning for marijuana

This month–likely on Thursday, May 24–Brookline’s Town Meeting will vote on a risk-laden approach to marijuana zoning and licensing. A complex surface hides disorganized, hypocritical, neighborhood-hostile efforts. Two meetings on Thursday, May 10 showed confusions and lapses of community spirit: a review for some Town Meeting Members and a regular Advisory Committee meeting, both held at Town Hall.

Recreational marijuana regulation: At the 2018 Annual Town Meeting starting May 22, under Articles 17 through 22 Brookline could allow up to four retail shops selling recreational marijuana and up to four marijuana cafes. The Planning Board and the Planning staff, supported so far by three of the five Select Board members, propose to allow the recreational marijuana shops in Local Business zones as well as in General Business zones.

Brookline has five main General Business zones. They are mostly well separated from residential areas and schools: Commonwealth Avenue, Coolidge Corner, Brookline Village, Washington Square and the west end of Route 9 near the Chestnut Hill Mall. There are smaller ones near the north end of Harvard Street, bordered by Allston, and near the east end of Route 9, bordered by the Riverway.

There are seven main Local Business zones. Many thread through residential areas and near schools: the shopping center near Putterham Circle in South Brookline, the northern part of Harvard Street between Devotion School and Verndale Street, the middle part of Harvard Street between Pierce School and Marion Street, the northern part of Cypress Street near Washington Street, the middle part of Cypress Street near the High School and Route 9, the southern part of Cypress Street near Kendall Street, the east end of Beacon Street between St. Mary’s and Carlton Streets, and land near the west end of Beacon Street around Sutherland Road.

Threatened neighborhoods: Proposed zoning for marijuana includes so-called “buffer zones” extending 500 feet out from schoolyard boundaries. Marijuana shops are not allowed inside “buffer zones.” The maps that follow identify some of Brookline’s threatened neighborhoods–showing parts of Local Business zones outside “buffer zones.” Colored in bright blue are Local Business areas where marijuana shops would be allowed. “Buffer zones” around schools are cross-hatched.

Threatened neighborhoods near Harvard Street

HarvardStreetNeighborhoods

Source: Brookline Planning Department

 
 
Threatened neighborhoods near Cypress Street

CypressStreetNeighborhoods

Source: Brookline Planning Department

 
 
Threatened neighborhoods near Putterham Circle

PutterhamtNeighborhoods

Source: Brookline Planning Department

Information from Town Hall: Planning staff held a late-afternoon information session at Town Hall on May 10, sought by Precinct 5 Town Meeting Members. The two staff were Francisco Torres and Ashley Clark–hired in part to develop and promote plans for marijuana. They have fairly short spans of experience in Brookline, and they smile a lot.

At the Town Hall session were Betsy DeWitt–formerly a Select Board member–plus Phyllis O’Leary, Wendy Machmuller, Rob Daves, Andy Olins, Hugh Mattison and newly elected Cindy Drake from Precinct 5, John Bassett from Precinct 6, Craig Bolon from Precinct 8 and Regina Frawley from Precinct 16.

Precinct 5 Town Meeting Members generally opposed medical marijuana at the former Brookline Bank on the corner of Route 9, High Street and Washington Street. They spoke about keeping marijuana shops out of the Local Business zones on Cypress Street. Betsy DeWitt saw high profits from marijuana shops pushing out ordinary local business.

Planning has proposed no standards that support ordinary local businesses. Their proposals for zoning and licensing amount to a “first in the door” approach to zoning permits and business licenses. However, they propose no system to regulate how the timing of applications would be recognized. That could leave Brookline exposed to long and potentially costly “due process” lawsuits, claiming that results from its informal approach had been arbitrary and capricious.

Advisory Committee hostile to neighborhoods: Many of the 24 out of 30 Advisory Committee members at the evening meeting on May 10 seemed hostile toward Brookline neighborhoods. Because around 60 percent of Brookline voters opted to legalize marijuana, they claimed recreational marijuana shops could be sited without considering impacts on neighborhoods. Fisher Hill resident Clifford Brown of Precinct 14 led a charge for more marijuana revenue, while several others on the committee chimed in.

Critically examined, some claims about huge local revenues turn out to be fragrant BS when not flagrant lies. The budding marijuana industry had its friends at (the General) Court when Chapter 55 of the Acts of 2017 was being written: the ironically titled “act to ensure safe access to marijuana.” The access is particularly “safe” for marijuana dealers. Much of the potential local revenues come from so-called “community impact fees” that can be included in city and town contracts with marijuana dealers. However, when the revenue party is over after five (5) years, it’s done and gone–while all the problems the community may find continue indefinitely. According to Chapter 94G, Section 3(d) of the General Laws, as amended by the 2017 act:

“…a host community may include a community impact fee for the host community; provided, however, that the community impact fee shall be reasonably related to the costs imposed upon the municipality by the operation of the marijuana establishment or medical marijuana treatment center and shall not amount to more than 3 per cent of the gross sales of the marijuana establishment or medical marijuana treatment center or be effective for longer than 5 years….” [emphasis added]

Voters blindsided: Many of the Brookline voters who opted to legalize marijuana had been informed by the cautious, two-year process to zone and license medical marijuana. Medical marijuana dispensaries are not allowed in Local Business zones. The only current one is on Route 9. Hardly anybody would have expected “full speed ahead” and “open floodgates” for recreational marijuana–the approach from Brookline Planning, welcoming both marijuana shops and cafes to the Local Business zones threading through residential neighborhoods and near schools.

At Advisory Committee on May 10, vocal majorities rejected a motion to exclude marijuana shops from Local Business zones. They supported another motion to allow marijuana cafes. Hypocrites would continue to ban medical marijuana sales from Local Business zones, and they support a new ban on marijuana treatment centers. The outlook of hypocrites seems to be that medical marijuana would not yield as much in licensing fees and local taxes as recreational marijuana–so medical marijuana should be banned.

Those supporting neighborhoods by voting to exclude recreational marijuana shops from Local Business zones were committee members Harry Friedman, David-Marc Goldstein, Angela Hyatt, Alisa Jonas, Steve Kanes, Fred Levitan and Lee Selwyn. Thumbing noses at neighborhoods by voting the other way were Ben Birnbaum, Clifford Brown, Carol Caro, Lea Cohen, John Doggett, Janet Gelbart, Neil Gordon, Janice Kahn, Bobbie Knable, David Lescohier, Pamela Lodish, Shaari Mittel, Michael Sandman, Kim Smith, Charles Swartz and Christine Westphal. Committee chair Sean Lynn-Jones did not vote. Vice-chair Carla Benka and members Dennis Doughty, Kelly Hardebeck, Amy Hummel, Mariah Nobrega and Susan Roberts were absent.

Preventing needless burdens: The NETA medical marijuana dispensary on Route 9 is already in negotiations for one of the potential licenses as a recreational marijuana shop. Its success would leave only three licenses available. There are six more General Business zones to provide sites, leaving no need to burden neighborhoods near Local Business zones. A simple amendment to Article 17 at the 2018 Annual Town Meeting can keep recreational marijuana shops out of Local Business zones.

VOTED: To amend the motion under Article 17 so as to change “Use 29A, Storefront Marijuana Retailers” from “SP *1,2″ to “No” for L (local business) districts.

As of May 17, an equivalent motion is being proposed by Neil Wishinsky (chair of the Select Board) together with Betsy DeWitt, a Precinct 5 Town Meeting Member (TMM-5), Cynthia Drake (TMM-5), Scott Gladstone (TMM-16), Angela Hyatt (TMM-5) and Kate Silbaugh (TMM-1). After several years of experience with recreational marijuana shops in General Business zones, Brookline could review the results and see whether it might make sense to allow them in other places.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, May 12, 2018, updated May 17, 2018


Recreational marijuana information, Department of Planning and Community Development, Brookline, MA, 2018

Locations for marijuana shops, Department of Planning and Community Development, Brookline, MA, 2018

Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA, 2018

Adult use of marijuana, 935 CMR 500, Massachusetts Code of Regulations, 2018

Public documents, Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, 2017-2018

Emma R. Murphy, Brookline’s NETA marijuana dispensary seeking recreational license, Brookline (MA) Tab, April 18, 2018

Business and functional requirements for the licensing, tracking and sale of adult-use marijuana (57 pp) Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, November, 2017

An act to ensure safe access to marijuana, Massachusetts Acts and Resolves of 2017, Chapter 55

Gintautas Dumcius, Brookline medical marijuana dispensary, operated by NETA, set to open in mid-January, Springfield (MA) Republican, December 24, 2015

Craig Bolon, Medical marijuana in Brookline: will there be a site?, Brookline Beacon, December 7, 2014

Trash metering: cheaper by the barrel

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen started at 6:15 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The main business of the evening finally began an hour and a quarter later: a public hearing on trash metering, repeatedly postponed for more than a year.

Melvin Kleckner, the town administrator, seemed to suggest he had played some role in the plans, saying his administration was “still early in the process.” While that might be, Andrew Pappastergion, the public works commissioner, had described the elements at a public meeting two years earlier: standard-sized trash carts replacing a wobbly approach that charges every participating household the same fee for unlimited refuse collection and disposal.

The gist of the new plan is that households can sign up for trash carts of different sizes and pay annual fees for weekly collection and disposal. They can also buy standard plastic bags, as many as they need, for either regular or overflow refuse collection. Bags are more costly to handle, so proposed fees per pound of refuse put out in bags are higher than fees for using standard trash carts. Mr. Pappastergion did not give a starting date for trash metering, saying it was still at least a year away.

The most recent twists on the plan were on display at the hearing: four sizes of standard trash carts with capacities rated at 18, 35, 65 and 95 gallons–all to be supplied by the town. Starting about five years ago, Brookline has been supplying bright blue plastic carts for recycling. They were originally all 65-gallon capacity. More recently, 35-gallon and 95-gallon capacity has been available on request. The 18-gallon cart is a new member of the line. It has about the same girth as the 35-gallon cart but is not as tall.

Refuse service fees, cheaper by the barrel: According to Mr. Pappastergion, several other communities in eastern Massachusets now operate refuse and recycling collections in similar ways. However, the rubber meets the road in pricing. The fees now proposed make refuse services much cheaper by the barrel, rather than by the bag.

type refuse, lb fee–weeks annual lb annual fee fee per lb
big bag 25 $3–1 1300 $156 $0.120
18-gal 24 $130–52 1248 $130 $0.105
35-gal 48 $180–52 2496 $180 $0.072
65-gal 87 $260–52 4524 $260 $0.057
95-gal 125 $340–52 6500 $340 $0.052

Proposed fees are also much higher for the smaller trash carts: about twice as much per pound for the 18-gallon carts as compared with the 95-gallon carts. Mr. Pappastergion did not provide the comparisons that the Beacon shows, above, and he did not offer any explanation of pricing. Multifamily buildings with space for the larger carts will pay much less for refuse services than buildings that lack enough space. A typical 3-family building would pay less yet get a bigger service quantity by using 65-gallon rather than 35-gallon trash carts:

size number carts annual fee annual lb
35-gal 3 $540 7488
65-gal 2 $520 9048

Public comments: Sean Lynn-Jones, a Precinct 1 town meeting member who chairs the Advisory Committee, urged that Brookline “maintain flexibility” and consider individual circumstances. Kenneth Goldstein, who stepped off the Board of Selectmen a year ago, recounted his experience using a single, 35-gallon trash cart for his family of four. They get along with it, he said, “It works.”

Nomi Burstein of Garrison Road told a different story. Space in her neighborhood is very limited, she said, not enough even for current recycling carts: “Last year we stopped recycling during the winter.” Susan Granoff of Vernon Street, a Precinct 7 town meeting member, agreed. “Lack of storage space,” she said, “is a big problem.” Anne McNulty of Claflin Road said her street is “littered with blue.” Brookline recycling carts are being kept in front of buildings for lack of space to store them elsewhere.

Ms. McNulty’s neighbor Harry Friedman, a Precinct 12 town meeting member, said Claflin Road neighbors will hold an exhibit on their street next Sunday afternoon, May 22, showing how difficult a situation the town-supplied carts are creating for their urban environment. Mr. Friedman sponsored Article 17 at the annual town meeting that starts Tuesday, May 24. It proposes a resolution seeking an “exception system” where use of trash carts would be “impractical.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, May 18, 2016


Warrant report for the 2016 annual town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, May 10, 2016

Department of Public Works, Hybrid pay-as-you-throw (trash metering) proposal, Town of Brookline, MA, May 17, 2016

Public Works: question time and complaints, Brookline Beacon, May 15, 2014

Craig Bolon, Recycling makes more progress without trash metering, Brookline Beacon, April 11, 2014

Diversity Commission: staying the course

A regular meeting of the Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission on Wednesday, February 17, started at 6:30 pm in the Denny Room at the Brookline Health Center. Once again the agenda included review of the commission’s recent statement on institutional racism in the Brookline work force. That statement had been read by Alex Coleman, chair of the commission, at a hearing–organized as more than two hours of “public comment”–held by the Board of Selectmen on January 5.

The commission meeting attracted some notice, with Ellen Ishkanian reporting for the Boston Globe. Aside from occasional visits to the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee, since the 1970s there has rarely been a Globe reporter at a town board or commission meeting. Bernard Greene, the first African-American ever elected to the Brookline Board of Selectmen and the board’s delegate to the commission, stayed for the full duration of this meeting. At the previous meeting, he left after making a brief statement.

Disputes and lawsuits: Disputes over racism in Brookline’s work force became stronger after a federal civil rights lawsuit was filed on behalf of Brookline firefighter Gerald Alston in December, 2015. Mr. Alston had truncated a previous state lawsuit and a state civil rights complaint that were begun in hopes, so far unrealized, of settling his charges about racial mistreatment.

Racist practices had been tacit in Brookline since at least the Reconstruction era, following the Civil War. They became officially recognized concerns with creation of the former Human Relations Commission at the 1970 annual town meeting. Once tolerated practices became explicitly illegal after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [Public law 88-352], sponsored by former President Kennedy–a Brookline native–but enacted after Mr. Kennedy’s assassination and during the Lyndon Johnson administration.

While some media seem to be making sport from Brookline’s struggles–as though novel or surprising–that could be because a substantially upper-income community has been providing public exposure of situations similar to ones simmering–and sometimes boiling–in less wealthy places. Last year 12 New York City police officers filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, alleging racial targeting and arrest quotas.

According to Saki Knafo, writing in the New York Times, “The lawsuit claims that commanders now use euphemisms…pressuring officers to ‘be more proactive’ or to ‘get more activity’ instead of explicitly ordering them to bring in, say, one arrest and 10 tickets by the end of the month.” In Brookline, the town administrator was quoted, saying, “…use of sick leave and other accrued leave is carefully regulated,” after pay of a protesting black police officer had been docked.

Institutional racism: On February 17, Alex Coleman, chair of Brookline’s diversity commission, began the meeting by recalling that consensus on the commission had been to “stand by the statement” made January 5 about institutional racism but “provide additional information.” He said the January statement was “one town body expressing its opinion to another one.” Dr. Coleman noted that the commission “did not have formalized fact-finding…we don’t have the authority to do that.”

When replacing Brookline’s former Human Relations / Youth Resources Commission with its current Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission, authority to “secure the investigation of…complaints charging discrimination” was deliberately removed. A new “mission” statement was added, with an obvious effect of limiting the scope of the current commission. [previous and current Article 3.14 of Brookline general bylaws] Those changes were proposed by a committee that had been appointed by the Board of Selectmen, on which then and current board member Nancy Daly and current board member Bernard Greene served.

Commissioner Malcolm Cawthorne, an African-American Brookline native and Brookline High School history teacher, asked, “Are we going to have a statement tonight? I don’t agree we need to make a statement.” Commissioner Anthony Naro, a lawyer who works as a public defender, said, “The only benefit to a statement…is it can serve an olive branch.” Dr. Coleman recognized Martin Rosenthal, a Precinct 9 town meeting member and a lawyer, who also served on the committee that proposed the current commission bylaw.

Statements: Mr. Rosenthal presented a draft of an additional statement that he urged the commission to adopt. The intent, he said, was “to build bridges.” The January 5 statement, he claimed, contained “things that…were not factual findings but are being used that way…You won’t do well if you don’t have credibility in the whole community.” However, Mr. Rosenthal did not explain why, if he wanted the commission to conduct fact-finding investigations, he had opted to remove that authority when he was serving on the committee that proposed the current bylaw.

Mr. Greene took a hard line, as at the previous meeting, saying to commissioners, “You need to rescind the [January 5] statement…It’s not just destructive but wrong and incoherent…an embarrassment…starting out with a poke in the eye….” Like Mr. Rosenthal, Mr. Greene did not explain why, if he wanted the commission to conduct fact-finding investigations, he had opted to remove that authority when he was serving on the committee that proposed the current bylaw.

Mr. Naro responded, saying, “The commission always viewed [the January 5 statement] and presented it as an opinion…Attorneys might have tried to morph it into something else.” He described watching the January 5 hearing with his family, saying, “By the time Alex made his statement, my family were flabbergasted at what we heard…The town’s reputation was already in great disrepair…If half the [January 5] allegations were true, it’s disturbing…listening that night to all those people get up.”

Commissioner Enid Shapiro agreed, saying, “There is racism…It’s not hidden away some place…We need to pay attention to this. It’s time for us…[to be] coming forward with a description of what we might do.” Her reaction to the arguments from Mr. Rosenthal and Mr. Greene was firm. She said, “We need to move on from this discussion…We’re just becoming angrier…[We should] move beyond this discussion.”

Mr. Cawthorne concurred. “As a black man who chooses to live in the town,” he said, “being profiled…I ran into racism [growing up] at Devotion [School]…We stand by our statement, our statement that took at most one minute compared to the 1-3/4 hours before it…You walk into the shoes that were there before me.” After more discussion involving all the commissioners who were present, Ms. Shapiro and Mr. Cawthorne moved to table further review of the January 5 statement. The other commissioners agreed, in a unanimous vote.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, February 19, 2016


Saki Knafo, A black police officer’s fight against the New York City police department, New York Times, February 21, 2016

Ellen Ishkanian, Brookline officials spar over ‘institutional racism’ claim, Boston Globe, February 18, 2016

Jenna Fisher, Crowd rallies at Brookline Town Hall to support officers alleging racist treatment, (Brockton, MA) Enterprise, January 12, 2016

Jenna Fisher, Brookline selectmen flee public comment on alleged racism, (Quincy, MA) Patriot Ledger, December 22, 2015

Benjamin Weiser, Class-action lawsuit, blaming police quotas, takes on criminal summonses, New York Times, May 18, 2015

Jackson Marciana, Police abuse cases forced New York City to pay $428 million in false arrest and civil rights settlements, Countercurrent News, October 19, 2014

Wesley Lowery, Only 24 percent of population, blacks in Boston make up 63 percent of stop and frisk encounters, Washington Post, October 8, 2014

Slavery to freedom: escaping from Brookline, Hidden Brookline, Town of Brookline, MA, c. 2010

Diversity Commission: messengers and victims, Brookline Beacon, January 29, 2016

Board of Selectmen: complaints of racial mistreatment, Brookline Beacon, January 27, 2016

Board of Selectmen: hearing airs racial tensions, Brookline Beacon, January 6, 2016

Civil rights lawsuit: town and individuals accused, Brookline Beacon, December 14, 2015

Advisory Committee: neighborhoods, snow, human relations, Brookline Beacon, April 30, 2014

Craig Bolon, Human relations: more than advice?, Brookline Beacon, April 26, 2014

Human Relations Youth Resources Commission: coping with changes, Brookline Beacon, April 24, 2014

Federal civil rights lawsuit: motions to dismiss

Lawyers representing the Town of Brookline and the Board of Selectmen have answered the federal civil rights lawsuit filed on behalf of firefighter Gerald Alston with a motion to dismiss charges. A separate motion to dismiss has been filed on behalf of some defendants sued as individuals: Neil Wishinsky, board chair, Nancy Daly, board member, Ken Goldstein, Betsy DeWitt and Jesse Mermell, former board members, Joslin Murphy, town counsel, and Sandra DeBow, human resources director.

Representing the Town of Brookline, the Board of Selectmen and those sued in official capacities are Patricia Correa, the first assistant town counsel, and Douglas I. Louison of Louison, Costello, Condon & Pfaff in Boston. Representing those moving to dismiss charges against them as individuals are Mr. Louison and Joseph A. Padolsky of the same firm. As of January 15, no representation and no response had been filed for defendants Stanley Spiegel, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, and Local 950, International Association of Firefighters.

Filed with the two motions to dismiss on behalf of defendants was an 82-page memorandum of assertions and arguments. It attacks Brooks Ames, the lawyer who filed the case for Mr. Alston, questioning whether he is eligible to represent Mr. Alston and indicating that the case relates to “a long-standing media campaign that has been waged against the Town and its officials” and it seeks to “revive long-standing policy debates.” [Memorandum, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, Document 11, Sections II.C and D, pp. 22 and 25]

Brooks Ames controversy: The defendants’ memorandum suggests Brooks Ames may not be eligible to represent Gerald Alston, citing Chapter 268A of Massachusetts General Laws. That might be so if Mr. Ames were to qualify as a former “municipal employee” who “participated” in some “particular matter” involving Mr. Alston.

An exhibit included with the defendants’ memorandum shows that while Mr. Ames was a member of the former Human Relations–Youth Resources Commission he chaired a meeting in September, 2013. The meeting heard a report about a racial discrimination lawsuit that had been filed on behalf of Mr. Alston in Norfolk Superior Court–not by Mr. Ames. [Memorandum, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, Document 11, Exhibit 11, pp. 3-6]

According to meeting minutes, a discussion developed around Mr. Alston’s situation that also considered racial incidents involving other town employees. Actions taken at the meeting were to invite the chiefs of the police and fire departments to a future meeting and to send a letter to the Board of Selectmen seeking information about Mr. Alston’s complaint.

In Section 18, Chapter 268A of Massachusetts General Laws makes it illegal for a former “municipal employee” to act “as agent or attorney for or receive compensation” in connection with a “particular matter” in which “the city or town is a party or has a direct and substantial interest and in which he participated as a municipal employee.” In Section 1(g), Chapter 268A defines “municipal employee” broadly: “a person performing services for or holding an office, position, employment or membership in a municipal agency, whether by election, appointment, contract of hire or engagement, whether serving with or without compensation, on a full, regular, part-time, intermittent or consultant basis.”

However, neither the motions to dismiss Alston v. Brookline nor the supporting materials appear to show whether Mr. Ames “participated” in investigating Mr. Alston’s complaint on behalf of the Town of Brookline. Events from the period suggest that the Board of Selectmen did not support his involvement. Lack of participation in such matters was instead a factor alluded to by Mr. Ames when resigning from the former commission in 2014.

Claims of wrongdoing: The motions to dismiss respond to only parts of the original complaint in Alston v. Brookline, highlighting relief sought under federal law in 42 USC 1981, originally from the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and most recently the Civil Rights Act of 1991. However, Mr. Alston’s complaint also cites equal protection and due process violations under the Fourteenth Amendment, free speech violations under the First Amendment and issues under 42 USC 1983, originally from the Civil Rights Act of 1871, and under 42 USC 1988, from the Civil Rights Attorney’s Fees Award Act of 1976. [Complaint, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, paragraph 29]

The memorandum in support of motions to dismiss objects to only some of the allegations of unlawful harm in the original complaint filed for Alston v. Brookline. It says, for example, “allegations regarding the promotions of [Mr. Alston's supervisor, accused of a racial insult]…did not amount to constitutional misconduct against [Mr. Alston] and…do not state a claim.” [Memorandum, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, Document 11, Section II.C, p. 23]

The original complaint filed for Alston v. Brookline said, in part, that the Board of Selectmen “did not investigate [the supervisor's] intimidating and retaliatory conduct towards Mr. Alston after learning of Mr. Alston’s complaint [about the racial insult]…it “promoted [the supervisor]…just months after he [made the insult].” [Complaint, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, paragraphs 6 and 7]

A related claim filed for Alston v. Brookline said, in part, “The Town Defendants violated the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection and freedom from racial discrimination by…engaging in…favoritism towards white…employees…The…unconstitutional…practice…caused Mr. Alston to suffer damages compensable pursuant to 42 USC 1981 and 1983.” [Complaint, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, paragraphs 149 and 151]

The memorandum in support of the motions to dismiss also objects to relitigating previous rulings. [Memorandum, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, Document 11, Section II.D, p. 24] However, the memorandum does not include evidence of relitigation. For example, the action that Mr. Alston filed in 2012 with the state Commission Against Discrimination complained about behavior within the Fire Department and the Human Resources Office. It did not allege wider discrimination tolerated or practiced by the Board of Selectmen. [Memorandum, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, Document 11, Exhibit 5, p. 2]

Although the motions to dismiss might be partly successful, they do not appear to resolve key elements of the lawsuit, including alleged involvement in discrimination by current and former members of the Board of Selectmen.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 15, 2016


Memorandum in support of partial motion to dismiss, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, filed January 12, 2016

Complaint and jury demand, Alston v. Brookline, Federal case 1:15-cv-13987, filed December 1, 2015

Civil rights lawsuit: town and individuals accused, Brookline Beacon, December 14, 2015

Human Relations: harassment complaints and resignations, Brookline Beacon, June 12, 2014

Board of Selectmen: hearing airs racial tensions

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, January 5, started at 7:05 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. While North Korea was testing its first thermonuclear bomb, the board conducted a public hearing about what it called “diversity issues involving the town”–also an explosive catastrophe, at least on a local scale.

A standing-room-only audience of around 200 gathered in a hearing room with only about 100 seats. For many Brookline residents it was an evening of despair–airing incident after incident of racial discrimination, targeting and harassment–lasting more than two hours.

Commission statement: At its meeting the previous evening, the Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission had reviewed testimony and reports it received about racial issues affecting the Brookline work force. Alex Coleman, chair of the commission, read a statement to the Board of Selectmen that the commission had authorized.

Dr. Coleman said the commission, which began in January, 2015, “spent the last year trying to move forward.” Hopes for progress had been dashed at a December 16 meeting, when two Brookline police officers testified in open session that their department was afflicted with racial tensions, from which they personally suffered. Town government, according to the commission statement, has “a culture of institutional racism” that “the Board of Selectmen…allowed.”

The statement read by Dr. Coleman called on the Board of Selectmen, “as the elected leaders of the town, to exercise your responsibilities and duties, as commissioners of the Police and Fire Departments…to stamp out this culture. This is a matter of extreme urgency, which the Board of Selectmen needs to address with actions, not words, now.” Members of the board listened but did not comment.

Police testimony: Prentice Pilot, one of the two African-American police officers who spoke out on December 16, told the Board of Selectmen he had worked on the force for 17 years. He recalled another minority police officer who “went to the chief about racial incidents” a year ago, apparently joining Officers Pilot and Zerai-Misgun then, but got no action. In response to his recent complaint about a racial insult, he said, “the chief had a preliminary investigation” but called it “inconclusive.”

After his recent testimony to the Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission, Officer Pilot said, the commission “asked Selectman Greene to get more of the story…I haven’t heard anything from him.” Mr. Greene, the first African-American ever elected to the Board of Selectmen, became the board’s delegate to the commission and was present when Mr. Pilot testified on December 16.

Officer Pilot said a recent report on the racial climate in the Police and Fire Departments, sent to commission members, offers “insights from the Police Department leadership: no major incidents” in the department. “The chief,” he said, “had a free diversity report when the three of us went to him in December of 2014.” Applause from the audience lasted most of a minute.

Estifanos Zerai-Misgun, the other African-American police officer who spoke out on December 16, described “the chief’s assurance” of respect in the department. “He gave me his assurance a year ago,” said Officer Zerai-Misgun. “Nothing has changed…All you say is that you’re waiting…Nobody has contacted me.” He told the Board of Selectmen, “It is not a safe environment there. The chief failed me last year…Now you’re failing me today.”

Lee Smith, an African-American former police officer in Brookline, told the board about experiences starting in April, 1998. He also left a much longer version of his remarks in writing. As a beginning Brookline officer, he said, after he wrote a parking ticket a superior officer “chewed me up,” telling Mr. Smith, “That ticket belongs to a friend of mine.” Mr. Smith explained that there was a covert system of marking tickets to indicate they were supposed to be discarded and ignored, which he had not followed.

At a “diversity meeting” held more than 15 years ago, Mr. Smith said, fellow officers ridiculed the training, “complaining, ‘why do we have to be here for this?’” Written materials were distributed at the training, according to Mr. Smith. “I saw guys ripping it up, tossing it in the trash.”

Harassment complaints: Leslie Epps, who operates Finesse Florist on Washington St., told about experiences as an African-American living in Brookline and running a retail business. “I’ve experienced such racism,” said Ms. Epps. “I have filed complaints. These complaints have disappeared. There has been intimidation: ticketing my vehicle falsely, targeting my shop.”

Ms. Epps described herself as “keynote speaker” at the most recent Martin Luther King Day event in Brookline. Now, she said, “I have stress disorder…at the hands of Brookline police.” Not one to give up. Ms. Epps told the Board of Selectmen, “This is my country. I will not be moved…I am looking for restorative justice.”

Cruz Sanabria of Rice Street, a Marine veteran and a public school teacher in Boston, who was a member of the former Human Relations Commission, described harassment from neighbors and antagonism from Brookline police officers. In one incident, he said, he was falsely cited for a crime.

According to Mr. Sanabria, he was charged with “assault with a dangerous weapon…It was dismissed.” Mr. Sanabria told the Board of Selectmen, “The horror I went through is worse than anything else I have had in my life…You put me in a position that I shouldn’t have been in. Why? Because I’m Puerto Rican.”

Reactions: Brookline residents who are not members of a minority had strong reactions. Bob Miller of Copley St., a Precinct 8 town meeting member and a teacher at Heath School, told the Board of Selectmen, “I’ve heard talk about racism in Brookline,” calling it “an issue that can destroy the town that I love.” He urged “the strongest possible actions to let it be known that this will not be tolerated.”

Pat Bartels of Wolcott Rd. said her family “moved to Brookline because we believed it was going to be a caring and liberal community.” Her two children, she said, are graduates of Brookline High School. “Their friends were from Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Korea…from all over the world…Those are the values they shared.”

Shifra-Lilith Freewoman of Longwood Ave. was less forgiving. In Leslie Epps’s shop, she said, “She treated me like gold…It breaks my heart. Everybody black that I know has encounters with police in this town.” The problem, according to Ms. Freewoman, has been that “words don’t translate into clear action.” She told the Board of Selectmen, “If this board can’t do it, then let’s elect another board.”

Years ago: Andrew Leong of Marion Terrace described his experiences inside the Brookline Police Department many years ago. He is a professor of law at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. “We are sick and tired of more studies, more training,” said Prof. Leong. “I did that training 27 years ago.”

At the time, he said, “a black officer told me, ‘I’m so glad you came and spoke…All those racist things [are] happening to me on this police force.’” Referring to Officers Pilot and Zerai-Misgun, Prof. Leong said, “They are risking their jobs. What do we want? We want them to be on paid administrative leave.” Applause from the audience again lasted for most of a minute.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 6, 2016


James Pearson and Tony Munroe, North Korea says successfully conducts first H-bomb test, Reuters (UK), January 6, 2016

Statement to the Board of Selectmen on institutional racism in the Brookline work force, Commission for Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations, Town of Brookline, MA, January 4, 2016

Lee Smith, Statement at Brookline Board of Selectmen hearing, January 5, 2016

Diversity Commission: police and fire department report, Brookline Beacon, December 20, 2015

Diversity Commission: police and fire department report

A regular meeting of the Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission on Wednesday, December 16, started at 6:30 pm in the Denny Room at the Brookline Health Center. The agenda, mostly a series of reports from working committees, gave little hint of fireworks to be set off.

Consultant report: A consultant engaged by the Board of Selectmen has submitted a report on workforce diversity and related issues in Brookline’s police and fire departments, and the report has been distributed to the commissioners. Under agenda item 9, Bernard Greene, a member of the Board of Selectmen who regularly attends commission meetings, was to lead a discussion.

A major impetus to the report has been the dispute involving a Brookline firefighter who has been on extended leave, following a racially charged incident starting with an alleged insult by a supervisor. That was also an influence for organizing the commission.

Town management and members of the Board of Selectmen opted to abolish the former Human Relations Commission and set up a new group that would be excluded from most issues involving town workers. After a long series of reviews, they accomplished the goal under Article 10 at the annual town meeting of 2014.

Complaints: The commission’s review of the police and fire report was punctuated by comments from the public–notably from two police officers. According to them, the department has been afflicted with racial tensions. Unlike the departments of forty and fifty years ago, today’s Brookline Police Department includes several minority and women officers, although senior leadership are white men.

One officer, who was recorded on video later distributed to the public, said he had worked in the Police Department “for about three years now, and as a black man I don’t feel safe working in this town. I’ve had racial comments said to me from the supervisor, from fellow patrolmen–and I just don’t feel safe here.”

Another officer, also recorded on video later distributed to the public, said, “I’ve been a police officer in Brookline for [over 16 years]. On December 4, I was in a marked cruiser in uniform and pulled up to a member of the Brookline Police command staff to speak with him. What he said to me when I rolled the window down was basically, ‘Pull your car up on the sidewalk or on the corner, go up on the sidewalk and do some ni***r jumping jacks for me, and I’ll put in a good word for you.’”

The Brookline Police Department has attracted sharp criticism from both residents and visitors to the town, receiving a poor Internet rating. Brief excerpts from recent comments indicate some typical complaints:

From a visitor: “I know someone who was arrested for an unpaid speeding ticket…In the squad car, he overheard two officers making inappropriate racial & linguistic comments about people who had immigrated to the US.”

From a resident: “The cops are racist, I’ve been followed plenty of times, stared at like I’m committing a crime, and harassed. I love being followed while I drive down the street to my house by a cop car so they can check and see if I’m driving a stolen car….”

From a visitor: “The Brookline Police function primarily as an extortion racket. They are claiming that I have an unpaid parking ticket from *ten years* ago, and my license has now expired because I couldn’t renew it. Trying to pay this ticket has been a Kafkaesque nightmare….”

Commission duties: The Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission looks to have plenty of work ahead. Although left without a major role in labor issues of the town’s workforce, it has responsibilities to investigate and report discrimination and bias incidents in Brookline. According to Article 3.14 of the general bylaws of Brookline, revised as of June 2, 2014:

3.14.1 …The Purpose of the Commission and the goal of the Town shall be to strive for a community characterized by the values of inclusion…justice in a community requires, at a minimum, monitoring and enforcing civil rights laws as they apply to all persons who come in contact with the Town…regardless of their race, color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, age, religion, creed, ancestry, national origin, military or veteran status, genetic information, marital status, receipt of public benefits (including housing subsidies), or family status…herein, “Brookline Protected Classes”….

3.14.3(A)(viii)(3) …the Commission…shall have the following responsibilities:…Receive complaints, according to procedures developed by the Commission and as approved by the [Board of Selectmen], and initiate preliminary review of the facts, without drawing any legal conclusions, from any person who comes in contact with the Town, concerning allegations of discrimination or bias against a member of a Brookline Protected Class. The Commission shall also have the authority, in its discretion, to…Present any results of preliminary review of the alleged facts to the Town Administrator and/or the Board of Selectmen, in an appropriate case, for action….

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, December 20, 2015


Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission, Agenda for December 16, 2015

Brooks Ames, Brookline Justice League filed class action lawsuit to put an end to racial subordination in Brookline, plus other posts, Twitter, December 2-20, 2015

General bylaws, Town of Brookline, MA, as of May 26, 2015

Civil rights lawsuit: town and individuals accused, Brookline Beacon, December 14, 2015

Board of Selectmen: firefighter Gerald Alston, Jr., speaking, Brookline Beacon, December 6, 2014

Annual town meeting: human relations, regulations and zoning, Brookline Beacon, May 31, 2014

Human Relations Youth Resources Commission: Coping with changes, Brookline Beacon, April 24, 2014

Civil rights lawsuit: town and individuals accused

The Board of Selectmen scheduled a special, closed session to start at 5:00 pm on Tuesday, December 15, well in advance of a regular meeting starting a 7:30 pm. The purpose, generally lawful for a closed session, is litigation strategy. In a departure from usual practice, the board’s agenda specifies the focus: a civil rights lawsuit recently filed against the Town of Brookline and others, including individuals.

Gerald Alston, a Brookline firefighter who has been on extended leave, began disputes with the Town of Brookline more than five years ago, after his supervisor allegedly made an insulting comment that was recorded in a telephone message. The case has gone from an internal report to a complaint filed with a state agency, to a suit filed in a state superior court and most recently to a federal civil rights suit.

Parties: Mr. Alston’s civil right lawsuit was filed Tuesday, December 1 by Brooks A. Ames, a Brookline lawyer whose wife, Mariela Ames, is a Precinct 15 town meeting member. It is directed at the town, at the Board of Selectmen, at an employee union, at two town employees and at six Brookline residents who are or have been involved with town government–as follows (from official court records):
• Defendant, Town of Brookline
• Defendant, Board of Selectmen of the Town of Brookline
• Defendant, Betsy DeWitt, In her Individual and Official Capacities
• Defendant, Ken Goldstein, In her [sic] Individual and Official Capacities
• Defendant, Nancy Daly, In her Individual and Official Capacities
• Defendant, Jesse Mermell, In her Individual and Official Capacities
• Defendant, Stanley Spiegel
• Defendant, Sandra DeBow, In her Individual and Official Capacities
• Defendant, Joslin Murphy, In her Individual and Official Capacities
• Defendant, Local 950, International Association of Firefighters
• Defendant, Neil Wishinsky, In his Individual and Official Capacities
• Assigned to: Judge George A. OToole, Jr.
• Cause: 42: 1983 Civil Rights Act

Ms. DeWitt, Mr. Goldstein and Ms. Mermell were members of the Board of Selectmen during some of the events alleged in the complaint filed in federal district court. Ms. Daly and Mr. Wishinsky are current members of the Board of Selectmen. Dr. Spiegel is a Precinct 2 town meeting member and a member of the Advisory Committee. Ms. Murphy is the town counsel. Ms. DeBow, now Ms. DeBow-Huang, is director of the town’s Human Resources office. Local 950 represents Brookline’s firefighters in collective bargaining and labor disputes.

Court filing and allegations: Mr. Alston’s court filing alleges that the Town of Brookline has a longstanding pattern of racial injustice in labor practices. [Court filing, paragraph 1]

“He brings this case on behalf of himself and all others who have been damaged by Brookline’s longstanding and well-established policy, custom and practice of opposing racial equality, enforcing racial subordination, engaging in affirmative action and favoritism towards white residents and employees, and retaliating against persons who protest racial discrimination.” [Court filing, paragraph 1]

Mr. Alston’s court filing alleges the insult that it says began a sequence of disputes occurred when his supervisor in 2010 “was upset that Mr. Alston had gone out on an injury leave.” It says that the former supervisor had believed, “without any evidence or basis in fact, that Mr. Alston had faked an injury.” The injury in 2010 was confirmed by medical records, it claims. [Court filing, paragraphs 2 and 77]

After Mr. Alston wrote a report about the incident, the court filing says, “Brookline took no action except to inform [the former supervisor] that Mr. Alston had made a complaint.” Afterward, the court filing claims, “Brookline’s Board of Selectmen protected [the former supervisor] from any adverse consequences, pursuant to policy.” [Court filing, paragraph 5]

The remainder of the 55-page court filing recounts a perverse litany of protests and rebuffs that it says illustrates a longstanding pattern of racial injustice in labor practices. For example, it claims that “Brookline fought to prevent the civil rights commission charged with enforcing the Town’s bylaw against racial discrimination from fulfilling its charge to investigate and resolve complaints.” [Court filing, paragraph 12]

“The Town of Brookline’s policy of disregarding the Fourteenth Amendment [due process and equal protection] is enforced by the Brookline Board of Selectmen through their agents in the Town administration, including but not limited to the office of town counsel, the town administrator, the department of human resources and other town department heads. The Town of Brookline’s policy is also enforced by the town moderator, town meeting, the school committee and the superintendent.” [Court filing, paragraph 32]

The former Human Relations/Youth Resources Commission was disbanded through actions at the 2014 annual town meeting under Article 10. A replacement group created under that article is called the Diversity, Inclusion and Community Relations Commission. There is a correspondingly named town department. Unlike the former commission, the current commission lacks authority to investigate labor complaints such as Mr. Alston’s.

In the course of working through administrative channels, the court filing alleges that Mr. Alston met with resistance, saying, “While the investigation was ongoing, the Town pressured Mr. Alston to agree to drop his complaint…Mr. Alston told the director that he wanted the Town to follow its policies. The human resources director called Mr. Alston an ‘asshole’ and hung up on him.” [Court filing, paragraph 87]

“Several years later…based on public pressure, the Town relented and placed Mr. Alston on a paid administrative leave. That paid leave has now extended for nine months and constitutes an acknowledgment by the Town that the Town’s racially hostile environment is the fundamental obstacle to his safe return to work. [Court filing, paragraph 100]

In the court filing, Mr. Alston is seeking from the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts a declaration “that the Defendants violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.” He also seeks “damages sufficient to compensate Plaintiff, in an amount to be proven at trial” and punitive damages. The filing seeks class action certification and “a reparations fund for persons harmed by the Town’s policy.” [Court filing, Relief Requested]

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, December 14, 2015


Complaint and jury demand, Gerald Alston v. Town of Brookline, et al., case 1:15-cv-13987, U.S. District Court for Massachusetts, filed December 1, 2015 (1 MB, as obtained from court records)

Agenda, Board of Selectmen, Town of Brookline, MA, for December 15, 2015

Cases of interest, U.S. District Court for Massachusetts (PACER registration needed for docket access)

Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER), United States Courts

Brock Parker, Brookline firefighter sues town over alleged racial slur, Boston Globe, August 30, 2013

Human Relations Youth Resources Commission: Coping with changes, Brookline Beacon, April 24, 2014

Board of Selectmen: firefighter Gerald Alston, Jr., speaking, Brookline Beacon, December 6, 2014

Board of Selectmen: marijuana dispensary license

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, December 8, started at 6:00 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The early start left ample time for a final hearing on the registered medical marijuana dispensary being proposed at 160 Washington St. in Brookline Village–the intersection with Boylston St. (Route 9).

Minutes: Neil Wishinsky, the board’s chair, announced that minutes of closed sessions that were held this year on January 20, May 12, June 9 and September 8 will be released. They all concerned “real property,” a lawful topic for a closed session. The session on January 20 was described as reviewing a “lease agreement.” The ones on June 9 and September 8 were held jointly with the School Committee.

The four sets of minutes were not online as of December 12 but are available on request. Under the state’s open meeting law and regulations, the board must release minutes of closed sessions when the matters are finished and the reasons for confidentiality no longer apply. In practice, the board has reviewed and released minutes of closed sessions only on request. There are hundreds of closed meetings with unreleased minutes.

Marijuana dispensary: A long review of a registered dispensary for medical marijuana is nearing an end. Voters approved medical marijuana in the fall of 2012. A town meeting authorized zoning and local licensing in the fall of 2013. The next year, New England Treatment Access (NETA) filed for a zoning permit, reviewed by the Zoning Board of Appeals, and a local license, reviewed by the Board of Selectmen.

After exploring a potential site near the corner of Beacon St. and Summit Ave., NETA negotiated an agreement for the currently proposed site in Brookline Village. In December, 2014, the town’s Licensing Review Committee began a series of five public meetings and one public hearing. The Zoning Board of Appeals held a hearing April 23 of this year and granted a zoning permit.

The NETA proposal to use the former Brookline Savings Bank building at 160 Washington St. attracted strong neighborhood protest. Opponents filed an article for the fall town meeting last year, seeking zoning changes that would have struck out the former Savings Bank building as a potential site. They lost 60-146, in an electronically recorded vote.

The Licensing Review Committee developed a fairly stringent set of recommended license conditions, completed last April. On April 25, the Board of Selectmen adopted general regulations for registered marijuana dispensaries, based on those committee recommendations.

Until May, the committee was headed by Betsy DeWitt and Kenneth Goldstein, former members of the Board of Selectmen. They did not run for new terms and were replaced by Nancy Heller and Bernard Greene. The Licensing Review Committee’s findings are advisory; the Board of Selectmen is not obliged to follow them.

Headwinds: Signs of dissent emerged last month. As a regular meeting Tuesday, November 3, the Board of Selectmen was to discuss “the process for reviewing the application” from NETA for a local license. As minutes of the meeting show, the discussion soon veered from process into substance. Mr. Wishinsky suggested that any license be for a “trial period.” Board member Ben Franco questioned sales of edible products containing marijuana.

Nancy Daly, now in her tenth year on the board, called for monitoring “excessive prescriptions.” She did not say how that might be achieved but did propose several added conditions on a license for the proposed medical marijuana dispensary. They included:
• No walk-in business, service by appointment only
• A maximum number of appointments per hour
• On-site dispensing limited to 20 percent of state limits
• Home deliveries for balances of sales above local limits
• Hours of operation 10 am to 7 pm except noon to 5 pm Sunday

So far, the board is not known to have proposed similar limits on local businesses that sell other medical products. Although medical marijuana has not been identified as a significant cause of death in the United States, most pharmacies stock prescription drugs involved in a long, horrible trend of U.S. drug deaths.

U.S. drug deaths, 1999 through 2014

CdcDrugDeathDate1999to2014
Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Contrary to many, uninformed news reports, rapidly rising deaths from drug use are not a recent trend. Data from the federal government that span 15 years show major growth in drug deaths of U.S. residents over that entire period. Prescription drugs–not black-market drugs–caused an average of about two-thirds of those drug deaths. Currently, the U.S. rate of drug deaths exceeds the U.S. rate of deaths from motor vehicles. Prescription drugs are responsible for about 60 percent of current U.S. drug deaths.

Public hearing: The board’s public hearing on a local license continued for over two hours but produced little that had not previously emerged from several related hearings held this year and last year. Those occurred at the Licensing Review Committee, the Advisory Committee on Public Health, the Planning Board, the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Zoning Bylaw Committee and the Advisory Committee and its subcommittees.

Following its November 3 meeting, the Board of Selectmen released an unsigned document titled “Proposed conditions for a registered marijuana dispensary license (2015-11-20 Draft)”. Footnotes tell who on the board proposed some of the conditions but give no explanations. At the hearing, Amanda Rossitano, who has been named manager of NETA’s Brookline dispensary, objected.

The NETA dispensary now operating in Northampton, Ms. Rossitano contended, has had no problems that might justify added license restrictions. She objected to proposals for business by appointment only, for an on-site sales limit lower than the state limit and for home delivery requirements applied to larger sales.

Mr. Wishinsky, the board’s chair, asked for a police report. Mark Morgan, a deputy superintendent, responded: “No traffic or police issues experienced in Salem, Brockton or Northampton”–three of the four communities with dispensaries now operating. The board spent substantial time questioning pharmaceutical properties and testing of products, although it lacks jurisdiction in those areas.

Frank Smizik, state representative for Precincts 2-4 and 6-13, testified in support of a local license. “NETA is a competent company,” he said. “Amanda Rossitano helped lead my office for several years.” Mr. Smizik stated he “does not support additional purchase limits” as license conditions.

Several other Brookline residents and former residents supported a license for NETA, with some objecting to added license restrictions. They included Anne Braudy of Linden Ct., Richard Brauley of Pond Ave., Fred Levitan of Beacon St., Linda Olson Pehlke of Browne St., Ronna Benjamin of Newton, Dr. Peter Moyer of Walnut St., Dr. Jordan Tishler of Loveland Rd. and Dr. Mark Eisenberg of Monmouth St.

Brookline opponents included Gordon Bennett of Davis Ave., Andrew Olins of Walnut St., George Vien of Davis Ave. and Dr. Elizabeth Childs of Walnut St. Some supported added restrictions, and all opposed the proposed site on Washington St. However, Dr. Cornelia “Kea” van der Ziel of Wolcott Rd. said the location is “as good a site as we can get in the town” and pointed out that “home delivery is not an option for some people.” The Board of Selectmen will review the hearing and reach a decision at a later meeting.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, December 12, 2015


Causes of drug deaths, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February, 2015

Tracey Michienzi, Draft conditions from Licensing Review Committee, April 8, 2015

Regulations, registered marijuana dispensary, Town of Brookline, MA, April 24, 2015

Minutes, Board of Selectmen, Town of Brookline, MA, November 3, 2015

Unsigned, Draft conditions, from current Board of Selectmen, November 20, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: zoning permit for a registered marijuana dispensary, Brookline Beacon, April 25, 2015

Licensing Review Committee: registered marijuana dispensary, Brookline Beacon, January 29, 2015

Fall town meeting: bylaw changes, no new limits on marijuana dispensaries, Brookline Beacon, November 18, 2014

2014 fall town meeting: electronic voting, Brookline Beacon, November 27, 2014

Craig Bolon, Medical marijuana in Brookline: will there be a site?, Brookline, Beacon, December 7, 2014

Craig Bolon, Open meetings in government: groping toward transparency, Brookline Beacon, August 10, 2014

Craig Bolon, Override Study Committee: Open Meeting Law problems, Brookline Beacon, August 7, 2014

Town meeting: parks and schools

Warm controversies at this year’s fall town meeting cooled quickly in a flurry of surprises and compromises. In the afternoon before the first session on Tuesday, November 17, town staff learned that Brookline was no longer in line for a major state grant to assist with Larz Anderson Park. We are too rich a town to qualify.

Article 6: Rejection of the state grant application quashed a dispute over Article 6 on the town meeting warrant, seeking matching funds to improve Larz Anderson Park. To qualify for up to $400,000 in additional state aid, the town meeting would have to restrict Larz Anderson to recreation and conservation uses only, invoking Article 97 of the Massachusetts constitution.

A few weeks earlier, consultants hired by the Board of Selectmen had named Larz Anderson as a potential site for a new elementary school. The 1949 will of Isabella Weld Anderson, leaving the land to the town, required that it be used for educational, recreational or charitable purposes. Agreeing to the state’s conditions would abandon potential uses involving two of those three categories. The town meeting took no action.

Political chatter also started to call out Larz Anderson as a potential site for high-school expansion. Never mind that the park is remote from centers of population and not well served by streets and transit. Park, recreation and conservation enthusiasts sounded flustered, to say the least.

Open space: Over the past 150 years, since the Civil War, the town acquired about 475 acres of usable open space–not counting the traffic islands and cemeteries. The 53 major sites, totaling about three-quarters of a square mile, represent about 11 percent of the town. Only about a tenth of that space is part of school sites. The rest provides recreation facilities, pedestrian parks and conservation areas.

The distribution of usable, public open space became grossly unequal. Each precinct in the town has nearly the same population. However, Precinct 15 has 257 acres of usable, public open space–over half the total. The average amount of usable, public open space is only about 30 acres per precinct. Precincts 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 have less than 10 acres each. Precinct 13, snaking along the Brighton line, has none.

 

Brookline’s usable, public open space

Year Acres Precinct Source Site name
2011 10.0 14 purchase Fisher Hill Reservoir Park
1977 1.6 1 taking Amory Woods Conservation Area
1975 3.5 1 taking Halls Pond Conservation Area
1972 0.5 4 purchase Billy Ward Playground
1970 4.2 5 purchase Lincoln School Playground
1967 0.4 5 taking Juniper Street Playground
1961 25.0 16 bequest Blakely Hoar Conservation Area
1961 1.1 9 purchase Lawton Playground
1960 9.5 15 purchase Soule Center
1953 17.2 15 purchase Dane Park
1951 2.4 7 purchase Pierce School Playground
1948 61.1 15 bequest Larz Anderson Park
1946 1.1 12 purchase Schick Park
1945 30.2 15 purchase Lost Pond Conservation Area
1945 15.2 15 purchase Skyline Park
1944 11.1 14 purchase Warren Field
1941 1.3 15 purchase Baldwin School Playground
1939 2.4 5 donation Robinson Playground
1935 11.3 16 donation Baker School Playground
1915 0.5 4 purchase Murphy Playground
1914 8.7 5 purchase Downes Field
1913 0.8 14 purchase Eliot Little Field Park
1913 1.7 5 purchase Clark Playground
1910 4.0 11 purchase Driscoll School Playground
1907 2.1 6 purchase Emerson Garden
1907 119.9 15 purchase Putterham Meadows Golf Course
1905 1.7 9 purchase Coolidge Playground
1903 8.3 1 purchase Amory Playground
1903 3.1 12 purchase Runkle School Playground
1902 32.2 14 donation Brookline Reservoir Park
1902 2.6 1 donation Longwood Mall
1902 2.8 1 donation Knyvet Square
1902 1.1 1 donation Mason Square
1902 1.9 2 purchase Winthrop Square
1902 6.5 14 purchase Heath School Playground
1901 5.6 14 purchase Waldstein Playground
1901 0.3 5 purchase Philbrick Square
1901 3.3 10 donation Griggs Park
1900 13.8 1,3 purchase Riverway Park
1900 4.2 11 purchase Corey Hill Park
1899 0.3 4 donation Linden Park
1897 0.4 10 donation Saint Mark’s Square
1895 0.2 4 donation Linden Square
1894 12.9 4,5 purchase Olmsted Park
1891 6.7 8 purchase Devotion School Playground
1891 5.0 3 purchase Longwood Playground
1890 2.8 15 purchase Singletree Hill Reservoir
1871 4.1 4 purchase Brookline Avenue Playground
1871 5.2 6 purchase Cypress Street Playground
1871 2.0 4 purchase Town Hall Square
1868 1.2 6 purchase Boylston Street Playground
1864 0.2 1 purchase Monmouth Street Park
1827 0.2 5 donation Town Green

Source: Open space plan, Town of Brookline, MA, January, 2011

 

Social justice: Surely Precinct 15–with its giant legacy of usable, public open space–can spare a little for a school site. There are at least three obvious, well qualified candidates:

• Putterham Meadows Golf Course, at 120 acres–a conspicuous luxury. Five acres carved from a corner of this cradle of riches would capably house a three-section elementary school.

• Soule Recreation Center, at 10 acres, a site perennially looking for a gainful occupation. Its rapid churn of personnel has become a community scandal.

• Dane Park, at 17 acres, by far the least used of Brookline’s major parks.

The town has not commissioned a new school site since Baker in 1935. The new Lincoln School, opened in 1994, took over the old, private Park School site–after that school moved away to Goddard Ave. It would take a coldly rigid, greedy set of park, recreation and conservation enthusiasts to find that there is no adequate space they could possibly spare from Precinct 15.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, December 4, 2015


Open Space Plan, Town of Brookline, MA, January, 2011 (8 MB, uses obsolete precinct numbers)

Precinct Map, Town of Brookline, MA, February, 2012 (1 MB)

Craig Bolon, School building wonder: mishegoss from moxie, Brookline Beacon, October 25, 2015

Advisory Committee: don’t lock up town land, Brookline Beacon, October 3, 2015