Shutesbury approves non-binary ID article, tempers pot moratorium at Town Meeting

  • Town of Shutesbury —Town of Shutesbury

Thursday, May 10, 2018

SHUTESBURY — Voters spoke in favor of transgender rights, approved a $6.43 million budget and enacted a moratorium on marijuana businesses — with a few exceptions — at the 2018 Shutesbury Town Meeting Saturday at Shutesbury Elementary School.

Nonbinary options

Voters approved an article to ask their state representative and senator to request that, whenever the state requires individuals to identify their gender, a nonbinary or transgender option be presented, as well as an option to decline to disclose gender information.

“What we’re asking our state legislators to do is enable people who live in the state to basically identify as who they are,” said Michael DeChiara, a member of the Select Board, which sponsored the article.

He asked residents to raise their hands if they had ever been asked to use their Massachusetts driver’s license as identification. When most did, he pointed out that the state requires license applicants to identify as male or female on forms.

“It’s as basic as that,” DeChiara added. “If the state is asking who you are in terms of gender, you can respond to that question” honestly.

He went on to note that, unlike town resolutions calling for nuclear disarmament at the federal level, this vote was not purely symbolic.

“Towns are the building blocks of state government,” he said. “If we do it, maybe Amherst or Northampton will do it, maybe Cambridge or Boston.”

One commenter, a nonbinary person and transgender researcher, then made a passionate plea for the town to pass the article.

“It’s really hard to put into words how invalidating it is to carry around a form that isn’t you,” the person said, “to be told that not only do you not exist, but we don’t care whether you exist.” The person referenced the high rate of suicide among transgender individuals, saying that dehumanization like documents that don’t match gender identity contribute to that rate.

The town passed the article unanimously, to the meeting’s loudest applause.

Giving his report on the Amherst Pelham Regional School District, superintendent Michael Morris also lauded the article’s approval. He cited it, along with a high-school-student-led discussion about gender identity during the district’s recent diversity day, as evidence of the district’s commitment to diversity, which he called one of its greatest strengths.

“While it’s true that we do have fiscal troubles, we have an incredibly robust school system,” Morris said.

Marijuana moratorium

While voters had been expected to pass a moratorium on recreational marijuana establishments, including cultivators, retailers and any type of licensed marijuana-related business, an eleventh-hour amendment proposing an exemption for the smallest businesses took some voters by surprise.

“As a lawyer who deals with regulatory issues, I’m very interested in this,” said attorney Sanford Lewis, who presented the amendment. “I heard in the presentation that the concern was about large farms, which was a reasonable concern.”

To that end, Lewis’ amendment made an exception in the proposed moratorium for “tier 1 or 2 cultivation, craft co-ops, microbusinesses and home-based production of marijuana products,” all terms defined in G.L. c. 94G, which governs marijuana in Massachusetts.

Tier 1 or 2 cultivation puts an upper limit on establishments of 10,000 square feet, or about a quarter acre.

This limit, Lewis and others said, would help Shutesbury avoid some of the pitfalls facing other communities like Humboldt County, California, where large, industrial operations have virtually shut small businesses out of the pot world.

“What I think of, when I think of Shutesbury, is our herbalists and our gourmet cooks being able to offer a product from a home-based business,” Lewis said.

The amendment also established an advisory “cannabis business development committee,” but details as to what that will entail are still in the planning stages.

The amendment passed with a majority, and the moratorium received its needed two-thirds majority immediately thereafter.

Budget passes

Voters unanimously approved a $6.43 million budget, up from last year’s $6.25 million by $178,371, or 2.86 percent, but down from earlier estimates by $18,774, due to paying, from free cash, the town’s interest on its ongoing effort to establish a broadband network, and a few smaller changes.

Of the budget, more than half — $3.9 million — went to education, which raised some questions in the audience about declining enrollment and rising costs.

“The way we fund education is very complicated,” said Dan Hayes, a member of the School Committee. School costs fluctuate, and the budget doesn’t reflect out-of-district placement, which is one reason costs went up, Hayes said. He also said that Shutesbury’s woes are ones shared by communities across Massachusetts.

“Looking at the state, especially in small and rural school districts, it’s obvious we have a problem.” However, he said, several initiatives at the state level are being directed at resolving this problem, and School Committee members see advocacy for solutions as part of their job. “We’ll keep you posted,” Hayes said.

Other items

Most of the warrant articles passed, including transferring $105,550 from free cash to the Shutesbury Broadband Municipal Light Plant for operations costs, spending $40,000 to dig a new town well, purchasing a new police cruiser for $38,000 and spending $34,000 for a new roof at Town Hall.

Approved capital projects include $75,000 for a used tractor boom mower for the Highway Department, $73,565 for a new playground at the elementary school and $17,000 for new flooring in the elementary school’s fifth- and sixth-grade classrooms, office and music room.

Community Preservation Act funding will include $5,000 for development of a comprehensive plan for the removal of accumulated silt in the North Cove of Lake Wyola and the restoration of the cove to its historical depths.

Election results

With 224 ballots cast, the town clerk reported 15.4 percent voter participation in Saturday’s election.

Former Select Board members Elaine Puleo and J. April Stein each won a three-year spot on the board. Jennifer Malcom-Brown and write-in candidate Kathryn Fiander each won three-year seats on the School Committee.

Full results of the town election are online at shutesbury.org.

Scott Merzbach contributed to this report.