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Needham Board of Selectmen votes to support challenge to Supreme Court Decision, votes against supporting pesticide ban

Posted by Evan Allen  April 25, 2012 11:03 AM

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The Needham Board of Selectmen voted three to two on Tuesday night in favor of supporting a warrant article that calls for a challenge to the 2010 US Supreme Court ruling opening up unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns.

The decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, led to the growth of Super Political Action Committees, which have poured vast amounts of money into the presidential campaign this year.

The selectmen also voted unanimously against supporting a warrant article that would ban the use of pesticides in Needham. The articles do not need the support of the selectmen to remain on the warrant: both will be voted on at the upcoming Town Meeting.

After a brief debate over whether a warrant article with national implications was appropriate for a local town meeting, chair Jerry Wasserman, and selectmen Moe Handel and John Builian voted in favor of supporting the Citizens United article. Selectmen Daniel Matthews and Matthew Borrelli voted against it.

“We can have an influence here on an important issue that affects all of us very personally,” said Wasserman.

Town meeting has voted on national matters before, he said: Needham voted to support overturning the Fugitive Slave Act, passed in 1850, which required northern states to return runaway slaves to their owners, he said.

Wasserman said that the Citizens United decision could affect the amount of state aid that Needham gets, and it could affect how any political campaign is run.

“This is clearly a local issue,” he said.

Handel said that while he would not ordinarily support Town Meeting voting on a national issue, the Citizens United article is different.

“This Supreme Court decision gets to the very core of our democracy and in my opinion, Town Meeting is the very grassroots of our democracy,” he said. “This is the most appropriate article Town Meeting could ever discuss.”

Bulian said he was disgusted by the Citizens United decision, and that it deserved to be discussed at Town Meeting.

Borrelli and Matthews both said that the article was simply beyond the scope of Town Meeting.

Borrelli called it “bad precedent” for Town Meeting to vote on Supreme Court cases that do not directly impact Needham.

He also criticized the article for being too broad. The article does not contain the text of the proposed amendment, and Borrelli said that amending the Constitution required “the utmost care.” The article, said Borrelli, is not specific enough, so its potential impact is impossible to determine.

Matthews echoed Borrelli’s critique. He said he was not convinced that a Constitutional amendment was the best way to overturn Citizens United.

“I think there are other remedies,” he said, “including statutory remedies or judicial decisions.”

The lack of a specific amendment also concerned Matthews.

“I know that at a certain level the warrant article is an expression of frustration,” he said. “But we need to provide basic clarity.”

Seventeen other cities and towns in Massachusetts have voted for resolutions to overturn Citizens United, according to a running tally kept by advocacy group People for the American Way.

The selectmen also voted unanimously Tuesday night not to support another article that would have required the town to institute a no-herbicide and no-pesticide policy on town owned land.

“I do believe a goal of trying to get to a point where we are not using pesticides at all is a good goal, an admirable goal, and I want to do it,” said Wasserman. “But I do not believe we can meet the requirements of this article and still maintain the safety and quality of our fields.”

Needham’s Town Meeting begins on May 7.

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