On July 13, Lewisboro experienced another unprecedented virtual town board meeting with over 220 residents and members of the Katonah-Lewisboro School District community in attendance. Most of the participants joined the proceedings for discussion of a draft resolution on the issue of racial justice.
Town Supervisor Peter Parsons began the meeting by reiterating the town’s rules for public comment during board meetings. “Until recently, our meetings were very calm, and it didn’t seem necessary to enforce rules,” Mr. Parsons said. The town board meeting two weeks earlier, which first took up the racial justice issue, grew out of hand, with participants speaking out of turn and some hurling personal insults at town officials.
Mr. Parsons explained that people speaking must state their name and address in town and limit their comment to two minutes. Town Clerk Janet Donahue kept time for each speaker and informed them when their two minutes concluded. Community members in attendance were also informed that anyone who is disrespectful or uses profanity would be removed from the meeting.
The public comment period was split into two sections: one for the amendment to the town code making the area of Mead Street in Waccabuc from Tarry-A-Bit Road to Old Field Preserve a tow-away zone; and the other for the town board’s racial justice resolution.
Several residents spoke during the first public comment period, expressing their concern that there will be insufficient parking for preserve visitors.
In response to public comments, Mr. Parsons said the preserve is not the property of the town but the Three Lakes Association, and that residents concerned about preserve access should address their concerns to the organization. Mr. Parsons also noted that the reason for implementing the tow-away zone is because teenagers are going into the preserve and engaging in dangerous activities.
The board voted to close the public hearing and passed the resolution to set a tow-away zone from Tarry-A-Bit Road to Old Field Preserve on Mead Street, with an amendment stating that the tow-away zone will only be enforced between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Mr. Parsons then read a resignation letter from Glenn DeFaber, a previous member of the Housing Committee. “I cannot in good conscious work with a member who believes our town is racist,” Mr. DeFaber wrote in his letter. “Black Lives Matter rhetoric has no place in a nonpartisan volunteer town committee.”
After Mr. Parsons was authorized to sign several resolutions which were part of the agenda, Councilmember Jane Crimmins read the town board’s proposed Resolution on the Commitment to Racial Justice. Ms. Crimmins said that this draft of the resolution was circulated by Mr. Parsons, and that town board members along with the Chief of Police David Alfano offered their opinions and suggestions.
In the resolution, the town states its stands in solidarity against the “murder” by police officers of George Floyd, condemns racist acts and expects all levels of government to hold individual police officers and the police department accountable for acts of brutality, they strive for an equitable future for Black and Indigenous People of Color. The resolution also states that the town recognizes the country’s historic racial disparities. It asserts multiple times that “Black lives absolutely matter.”
The resolution also included a section discussing the Lewisboro Police Department, where the town states the police must act for the good of the public and that sworn members should use the minimal amount of force necessary and give one the opportunity to comply with instructions before using force.
The resolution concludes with the Town of Lewisboro stating it will develop a committee to help advise on public forums, community meetings, education sessions and peaceful demonstrations. In addition, the resolution directs the town to mark Juneteenth as an annual town holiday beginning June 19, 2021.
Following Ms. Crimmins’ reading of the resolution, Mr. Parsons read several written submissions from residents and Ms. Crimmins read comments from residents who provided specific suggestions on the resolution’s wording.
The public comment period on the town’s racial justice resolution opened, and over 45 residents spoke on the matter. Of those residents, approximately 27 voiced their support for the resolution, 16 voiced their disapproval and five or so expressed an opinion or suggestions without stating their specific views on the resolution.
Many residents who spoke in favor of the resolution thanked the town board members and Chief Alfano for working together to create the document. People in favor of the resolution also said that the document is a good starting point for the work that must be done in town.
Many of the residents who spoke against the resolution objected to use of the word “murder” in describing the killing of Mr. Floyd. Residents stated that the officers accused in the incident have not yet been convicted, so they cannot accurately be said to have murdered the victim.
Multiple residents also shared their experiences living as members of minorities in Lewisboro. One resident who identified as Latino stated that he and his wife, who is Spanish, has not experienced it in Lewisboro and said the police department have treated them very well.
Another resident who identified herself as Cuban and Puerto Rican stated that speaking out against white-supremacy and race-based violence does not mean someone is anti-police. “Caring about the life of another isn’t political, it’s human,” she said.
Several residents who also identified as people of color stated that while some on the call have not experienced racism in town, they have. A resident of Goldens Bridge said she and her family have been threatened, and her children have experience racial bias in school.
Unlike previous meetings, the discourse throughout the meeting remained respectful and organized. While some commenters questioned the need for the town to adopt any form of a racial justice resolution, others opposed only the current draft and urged the board to take more time to develop the resolution.
Following public comment, Mr. Parsons said that the board needed sufficient time to assess the feedback, so it would put the resolution back on the agenda in a month, rather than in two weeks at the next meeting.
Chief Alfano also made a brief comment, saying the police department is looking into more training opportunities on racial awareness and equitable police practices.
Ms. Crimmins thanked Chief Alfano for all his work, and also referenced comments made in the previous meeting that questioned Chief Alfano. “I have nothing but respect for you and I did not appreciate the way that certain individuals spoke to you at the beginning of the last meeting,” Ms. Crimmins said.
During the polling of the board, all the board members thanked community members for participating in the discussion and sharing their opinions in a respectful manner. Councilmember Tony Goncalves assured residents that the dialogue will continue, and the town will continue to share drafts of the resolution with the public.
“I think the most obvious lesson I learned tonight is that we aren’t entirely a white Anglo-Saxon community,” Mr. Parsons said closing the meeting. “We had a magnificent diversity of people speaking at this meeting.”