NEWFANE—At this year’s Town Meeting, did resident Ken Estey make a motion from the floor asking voters to decide if Newfane should be “open and accepting” to immigrants and refugees?
Or did the motion declare the town to be “welcoming and protecting” of the same population?
This was a large part of the debate at the March 20 regular Selectboard meeting.
Estey appeared before the Board on March 20 because, he said, he wanted Selectboard members to “know more about what I have in mind for the committee before you make the decision to form one."
He said the committee’s first task is to “define what we mean by ‘welcome and protect.’” Next, they will decide what steps the town will take to put policy into practice.
But, he almost didn’t get that far.
Board member Marion Dowling asked Estey to explain the difference between “open and accepting” and “welcome and protect” because they mean different things. Which terms did Estey use in his Town Meeting agenda item?
It turns out, he used a combination of the two.
His motion at Town Meeting stated: “The Town of Newfane declares its intention to welcome and protect the rights of immigrants and refugees who are already in or who seek to come to our community and our state. To accomplish this goal, the citizens of Newfane call upon the Selectboard to consider the formation of a committee to explore ways to make our community safe for immigrants and refugees."
Estey said either of the terms was fine with him.
Even though the resolution was nonbinding, “we should stick as close to the question Town Meeting voted for as you can,” said Board Vice-Chair Gary Delius.
Estey’s response: It’s not as important what we call ourselves as it is what we do.
The Selectboard split the difference, and in a 3-2 vote, passed a motion made by Delius “to form a committee, which will gather information about an open and welcoming town for immigrants and refugees.” Selectboard members Mike Fitzpatrick and Chris Williams voted against the motion.
Delius said he agreed “being an open and welcoming place is a good start,” because it could encourage families and churches to sponsor refugees, as they have done in the past. “We should make sure the red carpet is out to help them with that process,” Delius added.
Board member Mike Fitzpatrick wasn’t convinced.
“I don’t like the idea of the ’protect’ in there, for one thing,” Fitzpatrick said, “because then they expect you to hire someone to protect them, you know?"
Although Estey’s article didn’t mention making Newfane a sanctuary town, Fitzpatrick asked, “is the sanctuary thing a good idea or not?” He then said, “a lot of other towns don’t like it."
According to Town Meeting 2017 reports written by Kevin O’Connor at VTDigger and Steve Zind at Vermont Public Radio, 18 municipalities across the state either voted to make their towns sanctuary cities, or otherwise passed resolutions in support of immigrants and refugees.
The articles mentioned only one town — Hartland — that rejected a sanctuary resolution.
“You could see something like one family or something like that, but you start bringing in 100 of them or whatever,” Fitzpatrick said, “then you put the thing down that we welcome and protect you.
“We put [$10,000] into the State Police just to drive around the roads, you know, and very quick you’re going to start building up hundreds of thousands of dollars in expense for protection. Because they’re going to come here with the idea you’re going to protect them."
Fitzpatrick said any decision on this matter “should go through Australian ballot,” even though Town Meeting already voted on it on March 7.
“It’s a small part of the town,” he said.
Board Chair Carol Hatcher asked Estey to submit a copy of his agenda item to the Selectboard, and to contact those possibly interested in joining the committee.
“When you brought this up at Town Meeting, the people were overwhelmingly supporting this,” Hatcher said.
At the April 3 Selectboard meeting, Estey told Board members he met with community members who might have an interest in refugee and immigration issues, and plans to reach out to more.
Estey said NewBrook Elementary School Principal Scotty Tabachnick was trying to get a faculty or staff member to serve on the committee. Three people from the NewBrook Congregational Church pledged to join. Estey, a member of the NewBrook Fire Department, will try to get an additional firefighter on the committee.