(NORTH SALEM,N.Y.) --Dozens of residents packed into a North Salem Town Board meeting last Tuesday, which had been scheduled to discuss a proposed immigration resolution, only to learn that the work session item had been removed from the agenda at the last minute.
While a public hearing was not scheduled, many of those in attendance in the standing room only crowd were permitted to speak to the board on the proposed measure.
The Town Board first began considering a resolution on immigration in March that had been proposed by Supervisor Warren Lucas. Similar measures had been adopted in several other Westchester communities, including Mamaroneck, Bedford and Irvington, where the municipalities vowed that local police would not enforce federal immigration laws and round up undocumented immigrants.
The initial draft took a cue from the Town of Bedford, which had passed a resolution condemning anti-Semitism and racial divisiveness in the town, and also addressed the issue of illegal immigration.
During the initial discussion in March Deputy Supervisor Peter Kamenstein called the proposed measure, “a timely opportunity to reaffirm our principles in North Salem.” Board members Lisa Douglas and Brent Golisano expressed concern over Bedford’s resolution since it specifically named President Trump, something both felt was too political.
Following a backlash from members in the community, the North Salem Town Board decided to table, or shelve, the proposed immigration resolution.
Speaking at the meeting last Tuesday, Lucas explained why it was tabled several months ago.
“I was quite unimpressed with the town’s maturity on the whole issue, quite frankly,” said Lucas. “I was really taken aback with how everybody was yelling at everybody else and there weren’t any discussions. I just said ‘I’ve had it, I’m not going to move anything forward.’”
The item was once again put on the June 27 agenda by Kamenstein, who did so at the request of a couple of town residents who asked that the issue be revisited. It was removed at the last minute.
Many of those in attendance at last Tuesday’s meeting were unaware that the agenda had been revised, however town board members allowed several people in attendance to weigh in.
Christopher Brockmeyer urged the town board members to reconsider the proposed immigration resolution.
“I share your sentiment that this has spiraled out of control. It was not meant in any way to be divisive or a political issue, or anything other than a re-affirmation of what we believe our town already to be. And, that’s that we are an inclusive society and community and won’t tolerate racism or anti-Semitism or hatred,” he said.
Brockmeyer said the resolution, if approved, would serve to send a message to the immigrant community. “For those non-documented workers who live in this town and who work in this town, and provide a vital service to the farms and the lawns and gardens that are maintained, [this resolution] provides a re-affirmation that they should feel comfortable should they have first responder issues. It looks worse not to do anything to reaffirm those principles,” he said.
The sentiment was echoed by the interim pastor of St. James Episcopal Church in North Salem, the Rev. Stephen Holton.
“In a climate of fear, we absorb people’s fears. The reason to stand up is to show people we care,” he said. Resident Barbara Sanorelli addressed the board with her concerns.
“I’d like to think that we can come to the table with our different ideas and use language that we can agree upon and showcase how great North Salem is, because we can continue a dialogue and come out of it with a resolution that we can agree on.”
Former Councilwoman Amy Rosmarin described an email sent to her from Supervisor Lucas in which he said much of the opposition was coming from people on the Republican Town Committee.
“This town used to be more Republicans. Now it’s about even. We didn’t elect them, we elected you guys,” she said, “So they can’t give you your marching orders for the town. It’s just not fair.”
“We didn’t table this because it was a political issue. We tabled it because we felt it was going to create a tremendously unfavorable impression of our town. Maybe we should’ve come to a resolution, but it had nothing to do with politics,” he said.
Douglas said the reason the measure was tabled was that she and fellow councilmember Brent Golisano didn’t support it.
“We are not owned by any party or any person and to insinuate that is just vulgar. I have no words,” Douglas said.
Douglas talked about a meeting she had several months ago with members of the community who presented her with a petition with about 150 signatures calling on the town board to adopt the immigration resolution.
“We love North Salem. We understand the value of your words, ‘undocumented immigrants,’ [and] our words, ‘illegal,’ said Douglas. “The way this started in Bedford, the first three paragraphs were about our president of the United States of America, and we wanted nothing to do with it.”
Despite repeated requests from residents to vote on a resolution right away, the Town Board opted to table it again until a future board meeting.
“We implore you to make a decision,” said Andrew Pelosi. “If you don’t agree with the resolution then vote no, if you do agree with the resolution then vote yes, and let’s move on,” he said.
Golisano explained why the Town Board was holding off on a vote.
“I think it should go to another work session because I don’t think the room fully represents everyone in town. This was originally on the agenda, then it was removed, and people who would’ve been here are not here and may have had something else to say,” Golisano explained.
Councilman Martin Aronchick, who has been helping to craft the wording of the resolution, agreed.
“Brent was entirely right in giving it more time. It was on the agenda. It was off the agenda. Everyone should have an opportunity to weigh in. We want to come up with something that’s acceptable to everyone,” he explained.
Supervisor Lucas read a revised draft of the immigration resolution at the meeting, which stated in part, “Our police department practices are designed to promote mutual respect and to maintain an open dialogue with our community. This is why we believe that immigration enforcement is not the role of the town. The town will, however, coordinate with federal authorities to apprehend those individuals, regardless of their immigration status, that threaten the safety of our community.”
Lucas said the immigration measure will likely be discussed at the next board meeting on July 11. He said it’s possible there could be a vote on that date, but says if the work session generates additional questions then the board will need more time to reformulate the wording of the resolution.
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