NORTH SALEM, N.Y.--The North Salem Town Board last week voted 4 to 1 on a resolution reaffirming the town’s policy of “protecting the safety and welfare of all” of its residents.
“I think we’re at a point where the majority of the board can agree on it,” Supervisor Warren Lucas said at the July 11 board meeting as he segued into a discussion about the policy, which has been controversial since it was proposed in early March.
“We were asked by a large percentage of our community to do it,” Lucas said.
During preliminary discussions in a March work session, Lucas proposed issuing a resolution to reaffirm North Salem’s policy, which would not only follow in the steps of Bedford, whose Town Board had passed a similar resolution a week earlier, but other Westchester communities, including Mamaroneck and Irvington.
The political language incorporated into Bedford’s resolution, however, kept many from being on board with the idea.
The Bedford resolution addressed illegal immigration in light of Executive Order 13769 and specifically cited President Trump’s immigration ban, which was put on hold by court order. The language in Bedford’s resolution acknowledged the “questions on the coordination between federal authorities and local police departments” raised by the ban.
Spurred by last winter’s spate of anti-Semitic vandalism incidents at John Jay High School in Lewisboro, Bedford’s March 7 resolution condemned anti-Semitism and the racial divisiveness in the town. The resolution did not include any policy changes; it merely reaffirmed the policy Bedford police already had in place. According to the resolution, emergency responders are not required by federal law to inquire about an individual’s immigration status.
North Salem’s policy, according to drafts of the then-proposed resolution, is the same; unless a person is detained on unrelated charges and their immigration status comes up, local police do not go out of their way to check on residents’ immigration status.
But board members said they received such a backlash from the community to Lucas’s proposal by way of emails and phone calls, they tabled discussions on the matter scheduled for March 28 and again on June 27 until the issue could be fully vetted. Lucas later said he was taken aback by the arguing among residents that occurred at the meetings when the issue was discussed.
Board members Lisa Douglas and Brent Golisano had also resisted the idea, expressing concern with Bedford’s resolution because it specifically named President Trump, which they said they felt made it too political. While both ran on a Republican ticket for their seats in 2015, they said their political affiliation had nothing to do with their opinions on the proposed resolution.
The board, however, stressed that it did not intend to include the political language Bedford’s lawmakers included.
“This really just states the policies and procedures that we follow normally; there’s nothing special about it,” Lucas said at the July 11 meeting. “As I said last time, I didn’t want this to be political.”
And this time, Douglas was on board, having researched New York State’s laws.
“Every word in here is New York State law,” she told the audience in the packed meeting room. “There’s zero reason to say no.”
Golisano, on the other hand, maintained his position. He said the resolution was well-written, but said it was unnecessary “because we already live by these principals.”
“Like it or not, there are individuals in town on both sides of this issue. That’s just the way it is,” he said. “We’ve been [debating] this for a couple of months now and we’ve come down to this resolution, this reaffirmation. You know, there are definitely two sides to this issue. So I’m going to vote in opposition to passing this resolution or this affirmation based on those reasons.”
Deputy Supervisor Peter Kamenstein said he didn’t think the reaffirmation of a policy was so unusual.
“When we open this meeting, we say the pledge of allegiance,” he said. “Aren’t we reaffirming something we already believe in?”
Residents who attended the meeting asked to weigh in. About six spoke during the meeting while others spoke afterward.
Some said they appreciated the removal of anything political and others thought the resolution was lacking specificity and would be stronger if it listed which activities “threaten the safety” of the community.
Todd Baremore said he would like to see the resolution go a few steps further to protect immigrant workers from exploitation, and to acknowledge issues such as human trafficking.
“If we’re going to go down this road, let’s do it completely,” he said.
Lucas said he would be “more than happy” to work on a separate resolution with church groups and activists to address issues such as exploitation.
Nancy Stamm said the discussion was “very civil” and that she was happy to see that the local government worked toward a compromise on the issue.
“I’m glad our town worked that way.”
Christopher Brockmeyer agreed. While he said the language of the resolution could be stronger, he added that “out of consideration of where we came from, and the issue this has become in town,” the board had reached a “good compromise.”
Other residents said the town can collectively take pride in reinforcing positive attitudes on the issue.
“Lincoln at some point said with malice toward none with charity towards all, let us continue the work that we have begun,” said Rev. Stephen Holton, interim pastor of St. James Episcopal Church in North Salem. “I would say to the audience that if, as I hope, the board affirms this, that means the board has done its work, and that means it’s up to us to continue the work…we now become the ones that have to reach out to the vulnerable and the [scared] to remind them that we are one North Salem.”