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Westhampton TM splits over immigrant rights, OKs solar district



For the Gazette
Sunday, May 13, 2018

WESTHAMPTON — After a sometimes contentious debate Saturday, Town Meeting voters by a narrow margin approved a petition in support of legislation that would stop public funds being used for immigration enforcement

One hundred and forty of the town’s 1,225 registered voters turned out for the annual meeting, passing a budget of $6,123,763 and approving regulations and a new zoning district that will allow solar energy projects to move forward in town.

The new solar district will be located at the town-owned landfill between Hawthorn and North roads. This district will be set aside for the construction of large-scale, ground-mounted solar installations that will be allowed by right.

Other amendments to the town’s solar bylaws include regulations governing medium- and small-scale solar installations in town.

John Shaw of the Zoning Bylaws Review Committee said that creating the bylaws had been a slow and tedious process, and he praised those on the committee for their hard work.

He also noted that the town has “four large-scale installers that are showing interest right now.”

Immigrant rights

In a narrow 48-46 vote, residents approved a petition in support of bills H.3269 and S.1305, which would prohibit the use of public funds and resources for immigration enforcement.

While voters took four hours to get through 29 of 30 articles on the warrant, it was this last article that was by far the most controversial. By request, the vote was conducted by secret ballot.

Sporting a red “Make America Great Again” hat, Judy Madzunovic spoke against the petition, saying she would only vote on something that presented facts, not a petition “based in feelings or emotions.”

“We already have civil rights in this town, we already have safety, because we are citizens,” she said.

Speaking as an immigrant who came to the U.S. in 1949, Austrian-born Peter Ignatovich’s voice quavered with emotion as he expressed his support for the bill.

“If you read the Constitution, you would see that it guarantees certain rights not just to citizens but to everyone,” he said. “This is not about citizenship; it is about protecting people’s rights and it is about the common good.”

Some voters expressed concern that the legislation would hinder the ability of the local police to arrest known violent criminals or people committing crimes in the community.

“That is not correct,” said Katherine Hondorp, a supporter of petition who had a copy of the legislation with her. “There is a provision in the bill that addresses people that commit crimes, and they can still be dealt with by the police.”

Ignatovich said that if the police felt hindered in such a situation, they should call him.

“If there is that kind of felon in our town, I would call (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) myself,” he said.

Shirley Morrigan said she is not a fan of ICE or the Trump administration’s stance on immigration. She said she has compassion for and supports the rights of immigrants, but worried about the town having to deal with federal authorities.

“This is not just about compassion and caring. It is asking us to go up against the federal government, and I don’t think we have the resources to do that,” she said.

When the vote was announced, Hondorp, who had worried that many people had left the meeting before the last article, breathed an audible sigh of relief.

“I’m shaking,” she said. “Two votes did it — this is amazing.”

Budget

Voters also approved $135,000 for the purchase of a new bucket loader for the Highway Department to replace the current one that is 12 years old. Purchase of the truck will be contingent on a Proposition 2½ override.

The fiscal 2018 budget includes $1,234,318 for the Hampshire Regional School District and $1,704,401 for the Westhampton Elementary School.

Two budget items — $380,000 for vocational school tuition and $13,000 for information technology infrastructure upgrades — were put on hold until the Town Meeting reconvenes on June 25.