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Town of Barrington’s Select Board Sought to Limit Rights of Warrant Article Petitioners

Tracy Hardekopf gave a troubling sign during the April 13th, 2020 Select Board meeting. She has suggested that all future warrant article petitioners should bring their warrant article before the Select Board for consideration of whether the content is ‘appropriate’.

Barrington Town News sent Selectwoman Hardekopf a list of 32 questions, that she stated many of which were already answered in her testimony during the Select Board meetings on March 23rd, 2020 and April 13th, 2020. We encourage readers to routinely review the videos of the Selectboard meetings to find out the facts. What Ms. Hardekopt stated was not borne out by a review of the videos.

We did hear back from three warrant article petitioners that have been at the center of this dispute:

  • State Representative Matt Towne, who was the petitioner for the Redistricting Warrant Article
  • Virginia Schonwald, who was the petitioner for the Back from the Brink Nuclear Non-proliferation Warrant Article
  • Jack Bingham of Seacoast Energy, who was the petitioner for the Environmental Warrant Article

Rep. Towne said the drafting of his warrant article was straight-forward since it followed the same format as warrant articles submitted in over 50 other towns. He also said that their actions undermined the power of the voters.

He noted that the response to this issue has been bipartisan and that several people that did not agree with the content of the warrant articles wrote to protest the Select Board’s actions.

Tracy Hardekopf suggested that the Select Board was left out of the process and that a new rule to require that petitioned warrant articles come before the Select Board would ‘improve the democratic process.’ Rep. Towne said this would degrade the process, and that the Select Board has no role in the process of drafting a petitioned warrant article. He added that the members of the Select Board, both as private citizens, and as selectpersons, had “every opportunity” to comment regarding the warrant articles at the Town of Barrington’s Deliberative Session on February 1st, 2020 – yet they said absolutely nothing.

Virginia Schonwald said three other people helped her with the Back from the Brink warrant article. It was advertised on the Barrington NH Connections Group on Facebook, and it was featured in an article that she wrote for Barrington Town News, published on January 15th, 2020. They collected over 40 signatures to get it on the ballot, they held a public information session at the Barrington Public Library on January 23rd, 2020, and it was discussed at the Town of Barrington’s Deliberative Session on February 1st, 2020.

Virginia Schonwald said that she would have welcomed participation or input from members of the Select Board at any time during the process, but the Select Board did not have an issue with the petitioned warrant article until after it had passed. She also added that if members of the Select Board disagreed with the content of the warrant article, and had refused to allow it to appear on the ballot, this would have exceeded their legal authority. She said she contacted the Select Board twice prior to the March 23rd meeting to follow up on whether the warrant article had been forwarded to the Congressional Delegation, and she received no response.

Jack Bingham said citizens are provided the opportunity to create warrant articles and petition fellow citizens to support the warrant article in order to have it posted for a vote. He added, “If a sufficient number of citizens support the article it is required to appear on the warrant for a vote,” and that, “If the article passes the citizenry has spoken. If the warrant article has specific to-dos, then the voters have made [a] legal request for some process to take place.”

Mr. Bingham said that in the case of the environmental warrant article that he submitted relating to a carbon fee and rebate program, it was generated by a national organization that vetted the language with countless lawyers before it was provided to thousands of communities. He touted a similar response to that of Rep. Towne and Virginia Schonwald, stating “There is no legal basis for the Select Board to participate in this process…” and he added that “The mere suggestion that the Select Board has some role to play in bringing these articles to the voters points directly to the reason they should not.”

Both Rep. Towne and Virginia Schonwald said that the reason why they stipulated that the Select Board shall send the correspondence is that a letter coming from the Select Board would give it more credibility in the eyes of the recipients. Rep. Towne said he acted as a citizen by the actions regarding his warrant article. All three petitioners disagreed with the concept that future petitioners should bring their warrant articles before the Select Board for approval

Barrington Town News believes that private citizens should have the legal right to create petition warrant articles as a means of expressing town sentiment on any particular issue going forward without oversight from the Select Board. These issues may include private roads, town planning, cluster development, and a host of other issues that can be effectively expressed and discussed at the deliberative session.