West Stockbridge, Massachusetts held its annual town meeting Monday night.
Under light rain, most of the 35-article town meeting warrant passed without much discussion at the socially distanced gathering in the town hall parking lot. Using a low wattage FM broadcast, town leadership addressed attendees from the community of around 1,200 through their car radios. But article 12, which would have expanded the town’s authority around licensing the buying and selling of new and used cars, attracted some static.
“Before the amendment, the license, the select board had the right to go in and take the license off the wall without a hearing or anything," said William Kie . "Now that's changed, but two weeks is not sufficient time to correct anything that might be perceived as a violation. The whole law, I feel, is a violation of my rights as a taxpayer in the town and violates my constitutional rights.”
Kie said the bylaw would only impact two businesses in West Stockbridge – his and Troy’s Garage, owned by John D'Aniello.
“It doesn't do any justice to me or Troy's Garage, the two license holders that are left in town," he said. "There used to be five or six of those licenses in town. And one by one, they’ve fallen by the wayside, and they're not there anymore. But John and I are still in business, and we're still trying to run our businesses. And I feel that this law is just, it's not fair.”
His fury was compounded by the fact that the town hadn’t distributed its annual reports by mail in advance of the meeting, as per a previous West Stockbridge town meeting vote.
“It was voted at that meeting that the town reports had to be distributed one week prior and mailed to every registered voter in town," said Kie. "This meeting is not legal, based on that vote. Why would the town reports only [be] distributed tonight at the meeting? There's a lot of stuff in the in this report that affects all the taxpayers and nobody got nobody got through town reports ahead of time to deal with any of this stuff or be informed about it. That's the purpose of the meeting and the purpose of the of the town reports.”
Other townspeople rallied to Kie’s cause, like Dominic Lydon – who claimed West Stockbridge has a track record of hounding businesses like Troy’s Garage.
“Continually, his sort of witch hunt finds a new head to try and go after individuals that are family businesses trying to do the best to just continue on what they have been doing with more modern practices, keeping everybody happy," said Lydon. "And as the board changes, new things keep popping up. So I asked that it gets benched, gets looked at longer and harder, that more information is more freely available. And we talk about it some more.”
West Stockbridge leaders attempted to explain the bylaw.
“Traditionally, there's been no process for class one, two and three licenses in town. It's a select board function traditionally. And again, historically, there's no formal process for actually issuing these licenses, and no metrics for any fair enforcement of the licenses," said select board member Eric Shimelonis. “What we're trying to do is have a prescribed fair and objective application process to create clear expectations for license holders to document what the business area is. And make it a little easier for the town to understand what the sites are supposed to look like, the number of cars allowable. These are things formerly that were sort of abstract and hard to enforce. And there's a tradition of difficult town meetings because of it, around the issuance and renewal of these licenses. So we're merely trying to present a clear process of compliance and enforcement to come to an agreement with license holders as to what the business site is the number of cars allowable, and how that site is supposed to function.”
When the votes were counted, article 12 was voted down 39 to 13, the sole item on the warrant to fail at the town meeting.
A $3 million spending plan for Berkshire Hills Regional School District’s 2022 fiscal year and a $711,000 public works budget were among the approved articles.
West Stockbridge holds its town election on May 10th.