Sharon Town Meeting voted to oppose a 2010 Supreme Court decision in which the court held that organizations have a right to free speech that cannot be infringed by limits on their election spending.
Sharon joined 73 other Massachusetts communities that have passed similar resolutions opposing the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission; 171 cities and towns have passed a resolution, a ballot question, or both, according to Common Cause, an advocacy group that has campaigned for the amendment.
In four hours, Town Meeting acted on 14 articles, approving the demolition of the former Sacred Heart school dormitory, which the town owns; allowing billboards along Route 1 and the west side of Interstate 95; and funding repaving of the high school athletic track. Voters defeated three petitions by resident Laura Henze Russell regarding the risks of mercury in dental fillings.
Paul Lauenstein, a former Planning Board member who petitioned to get the Citizens United article on the warrant, said excessive influence by corporations, unions, and political action committees corrupts the democratic process. He called on Town Meeting to endorse limiting “the flood of cash that is distorting our democracy.”
Though the petition passed by a voice vote, it was not without opposition. David Arons, a resident speaking from the floor, said the topic was beyond the authority of Town Meeting, and that the body would set a bad precedent by debating time-consuming, often divisive, national issues.
“With all due respect, I think it’s somewhat self-indulgent,” he said. Opponents of the Supreme Court decision have every opportunity to make their voices heard in the public square through other means, he said.
Eli Hauser, chairman of the Planning Board, said the issue would be more appropriately raised on a town ballot in November. Otherwise, he said, Town Meeting might next debate abortion, the Electoral College, gerrymandering, and defense budgets — none of which it has the authority to change. “I just think it’s the wrong forum,” he said.
To amend the Constitution in the absence of a constitutional convention, both houses of Congress would have to pass the amendment by two-thirds majorities, and then, 38 states would have to ratify the amendment.
Lynn Wolbarst of the Sharon-Stoughton League of Women Voters spoke in favor of the article, saying the decision gives corporations a louder voice than individuals. Lauenstein started the Sharon petition after hearing Concord resident Jeffrey Clements, author of “Corporations Are Not People,” speak at a league-sponsored event.
After his petition passed Town Meeting, Lauenstein called it “one more nail in the coffin of the Citizens United decision.”
In other Town Meeting action, voters needed no discussion to approve the demolition of the Sacred Heart building, which has been empty for more than 20 years. It will become recreation land.
They briefly debated the merit of billboards, opting to allow the signs in the town’s light industrial zone, located along Interstate 95 and Route 1. Proponents said leases for billboards on town-owned land could reap $100,000 a year; detractors said the jumbo advertisements would be a visual blight on the community.
New state regulations that took effect Friday allow the use of digital billboards. Regulators determined after a three-year pilot program in limited locations that the illuminated signs did not present a danger to the driving public.
Sharon also approved $165,000 to renovate the high school track.
The town defeated Russell’s three mercury-related petitions. Russell, who said she suffered years of health problems caused by mercury, sought to have the town voluntarily raise awareness about the risks of mercury in metal amalgam used for fillings and require dental practices to warn patients. A third article would have required the town, when it seeks bids for dental insurance, to ask for quotes on plans that pay the same percentage for alternative fillings as they do for amalgam.
Supporters said they saw no harm in giving patients safety information, but Board of Health vice chairman Jay Schwab, a pediatric dentist, read a statement from the Massachusetts Dental Society dated November 2012, in which it said it considers amalgam safe, affordable, and durable, and that one’s daily dose of mercury from nondental sources exceeds that from fillings.
Town Meeting took a break from the evening’s business to offer a standing ovation to the members of the Sharon High School football team. The Eagles won Sharon’s first-ever Division III Super Bowl championship this year. The Board of Selectmen issued a proclamation of congratulations, and coach Dave Morse said the team proved that a school known for high expectations in the classroom could balance education and athletics. “I took the classroom blueprint and put it on a football field,” he said.
Residents also applauded the Sharon High School Select Choir, which sang holiday songs before the meeting.