YARMOUTH — A resolution arising out of the recent racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, was approved unanimously Monday by the Town Council.
The resolution says the town rejects hateful speech and violent actions directed at any person because of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and/or national origin.
A letter that includes the adopted resolution is being held at Town Hall for residents to sign, should they chose, after which it will be sent to Mayor Michael Signer and members of the Charlottesville City Council.
The letter offers “sincere condolences to the citizens of Charlottesville and especially to the families and friends of Heather Heyer and Virginia State Troopers H. Jay Cullen and Berke M. Bates who lost their lives defending the rights all Americans hold dear.”
The original resolution, drafted by Councilor Tim Shannon in collaboration with Councilors David Craig and April Humphrey, caused debate when it was added as a last-minute item on the Aug. 17 council agenda.
Chairwoman Pat Thompson and Vice Chairman Robert Waeldner stressed the importance of allowing time for public input in the resolution process and the council eventually unanimously agreed to postpone a vote.
The council held a workshop Aug. 24 to allow residents to express their opinions about the resolution. About 25 residents attended the meeting.
While many were in support of draft resolution, there were some who felt changes were necessary.
The draft began by stating, “Whereas, white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, VA recently rioted and attacked a crowd of peaceful counter-protesters, resulting in the severe injury of many and the death of one …”
Matt Gredler, of Hickory Lane, felt that the council should condemn “all violence” in the resolution, rather than only addressing the recent incident in Charlottesville.
“You can’t just pick one violent act out and say, ‘That’s more violent than others,'” Gredler said. “Let’s make it simple, simple is always better.”
Others, including Joanne Babcock, of Blueberry Cove, felt the council should reject a resolution altogether.
“(A resolution) could very well have the effect of fanning flames, which would divide our community,” she said. “I question if we should ask our town councilors to utilize their volunteer time with matters that they do not control. If we must have a resolution … and I don’t believe we should, then I suggest Yarmouth consider something simple, inclusive and not accusatory.”
Although Thompson repeatedly reminded the public that comment was restricted to the resolution itself, many showed disapproval for how the resolution was drafted and presented to the rest of the council.
Ted Westerfield, of Bowdoin Street, said he was embarrassed for the town while watching the Aug. 17 meeting on television.
“I (think) the behavior of some on the council was petulant and juvenile and I don’t think it’s what we want from our town,” he said. “I don’t think that a few members of council should specifically exclude others. … I think it was disrespectful to the other councilors and, most of all, to the townspeople they represent.”
The council held an operations meeting on Aug. 25 at 9 a.m. to discuss amendments to the draft. The meeting was open to the public, but public comment was not permitted.
A re-drafted resolution was presented for action Monday. Again, the council held a public hearing to allow residents the opportunity to comment.
Although Craig was unable to attend Monday night’s meeting, he said on Friday that he felt very good about council’s collaboration to re-draft the resolution.
The revised resolution eliminated mention of and direct reference to the incidents that took place in Charlottesville on Aug. 12.
“(The revised resolution) is more universal. I think it’s stronger,” Craig said.
Still, the resolution specified white supremacists and neo-Nazis as groups “specifically espousing intolerance.”
Bill Gardiner, of Tidewater Lane, called it a “politically partisan document.”
Meghan Casey, of South Street, followed, saying that white supremacists and neo-Nazis aren’t on either end of the political spectrum.
“They stand alone as unusual, awful groups,” she said.
Some residents felt that Antifa should be included on the list. However, others felt that Antifa – far-left-leaning militant groups that resist white supremacists and neo-Nazis – are incomparable to the other groups identified.
After an hour of public comment, motions to amend the postponed resolution and adopt the revised one were approved unanimously by the council.
The resolution concludes that “(Yarmouth’s) latchstring remains out for all persons,” paying homage to the town’s motto “Our Latchstring, Always Out.”
“Democracy is a process,” Thompson said. “I’m happy (the council) could all reach a compromise.”
Corrected Sept. 1, 2017, to note Matt Gredler suggested the council should “condemn” all violence.