Speaking out in Great Barrington isn’t so easy

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Speaking out in Great Barrington isn’t so easy

Update 2015-02-20: We did speak at the School Committee meeting (video here:http://wp.me/p5nwq0-2a), but decided to postpone the presentation to the Selectboard, in part because of weather and travel problems, but also because we were not put into the general agenda, as you can see below. The listing in the agenda gave only my name, rather than naming the group GB21, and merely listed “Karen Christensen, School District Issues” under Citizen Speak at the end of the meeting. I can speak at Citizen Speak any time. This was about quite a different matter, as you will read below: arequest or time on the agenda for thepresentation of a citizen petition signed by a substantial percentageof voters, with time to begin a conversation. My original post follows.

BOS-agenda-2015-02-09

2015-01-24: Two months ago, after the second defeat of a $50+-million school building project in Great Barrington, some neighbors and I put our heads together, asking ourselves what would solve the financial and educational challenges that had surfaced during the contentious months before the second vote. We identified five key actions, discussed them at length, and in the tradition of such grassroot efforts, wrote a petition. Were a literate, educated, and fundamentally liberal group not your typical taxation critics, by a long stretch. Amongst our group are financial professionals as well as people like me, someone who wants to see the Is dotted and Ts crossed, and the numbers to make sense. We needed a name in order to register a website domain for the petition. I thought of the UNs plan for sustainable development, Agenda 21, and came up with the simple, and short, name GB21.

We set up a website, www.gb21.info, an online petition (available here), and started circulating a paper petition. Heres what happened when we tried to share it with the elected officials the petition is addressed to.

On Thursday I wrote to Deb Phillips, chair of the BOS, and Steve Bannon, chair of the SC as well as a BOS member, asking to have 20 minutes at their next meeting to present the GB21 petition with the 150 or so signatures gathered to date. Deb had in November told me that the petition couldnt go on a meeting agenda until we had signatures. Both she and Steve Bannon, knew that we would be asking to present the petition, which I had sent to them by email right after we first announced it. I didnt expect to be warmly welcomed, but I did think they would tolerate our efforts, and give us time. In fact, Steve had been calling for more people to attend meetings and speak up. To my surprise, both of them strongly resisted the idea of our making a presentation at all, arguing that they already knew about the petition, were already working on some of the things so didnt need to hear from us, and didnt want to hear from groups anyhow. Below are the full threads of my email exchanges with them, a total of 30 emails in a single day. The upshot? We are, I’m happy to report, on the agenda for the SC meeting on January 26th and the BOS meeting on February 9th. This is whatt took for a serious, thoughtful group of citizens to get 20 minutes from our elected officials.

First, the Board of Selectmen. There are 17 emails, 2 from November 18, 2014, when I first asked to speak to the BOS, and 15 (yes, fifteen) from January 23, 2015.

#1
From: Karen Christensen
Sent: Tuesday, November 18, 2014 9:19 PM
To: ‘deb@debphillips.biz’
Subject: Would like to be put on BOS agenda for next Monday
Importance: High

Dear Deb,

We are writing to ask to be put on the BOS agenda for November 24th, to have an opportunity to give a brief background to the petition that we will be submitting to the BOS in another month or so. We would like to get feedback from you and your colleagues on Monday, and will present an initial round of signatures at the time of the meeting.

Could you please confirm about this? Please feel free to email or to reach me by mobile 413 329 5745.

All best, Karen.

KarenChristensen

#2

From: Deborah Phillips

[mailto:deb@debphillips.biz] Sent: Thursday, November 20, 2014 12:12 PM
To: Karen Christensen
Subject: Re: Would like to be put on BOS agenda for next Monday

Karen –
I appreciate the work you and Ron have put into this petition and dont disagree with many of the recommendations you make.
I am not going to put the petition on the agenda because it is a petition that you have not yet gotten signed. I believe there are 2 paths you could have chosen, the first being that you and Ron asked to have a discussion with the BOS around what the town should be doing in relation to the schools, in which you could have made any and all of the recommendations that are phrased as demands in the petition; the other is to go to the community with a petition for action from the Board; you chose the latter so we need to let this process run its course. I think that discussion of the petition at this time will only add to confusion for those considering signing it, as exemplified by Michael Wise and Karen Smiths comments that they would sign if some of the wording was different. Discussing the language already posted on-line in the petition will not change the language in the petition and signing with reservations makes it more confusing not less.
There is a lot of work being done in all the areas you mention and I will provide an update at the meeting on Monday of what I have learned thus far. I look forward to having you work with whatever committees end up being formed by either the Town or the District to address the many issues you raise in the petition.
If you would like to present the petition in your 5 minutes at Citizen Speak, you are certainly welcome to do that.
Deb
Deborah Phillips

#3

On Jan 21, 2015, at 2:19 PM, Karen Christensen <karen@berkshirepublishing.com> wrote:

Dear Deb,

Ron Banks and I, representing the GB21 initiative, would like to be granted 20 minutes to present the current petition to the BOS on Monday 26 January. We have well over 100 signatures on paper and have had much interaction with citizens from all walks of life, different political parties, young and old, over the past month. We have a number of specific questions and suggestions for the BOS related to points in the petition. Twenty minutes will be sufficient for this, and we look forward to beginning a dialogue with you and your colleagues. Please do let me know asap about getting this on your agenda.

Yours sincerely, Karen Christensen.

#4
From: Deborah Phillips [mailto:deb@debphillips.biz] Sent: Wednesday, January 21, 2015 9:14 PM
To: Karen Christensen
Cc: Jennifer Tabakin
Subject: Re: GB21 initiative

Karen –
Id love to know what your goal is for this presentation. We are familiar with the petition and are actively involved with some of the recommended activities.
We have a busy agenda for Monday so I would like to have a reason for the immediacy of this request. I will continue to recommend that you meet with me and Jennifer and maybe another board member to discuss the best way to use meeting time to achieve your goals and then we can place an item on a meeting agenda that would be more productive. I look forward to working with you on this process.
Let me know your thoughts.
Deb

#5
On Jan 22, 2015, at 4:44 AM, Karen Christensen <karen@berkshirepublishing.com> wrote:

Dear Deb,

Thanks for the prompt response during a busy time. When I asked to be put on the agenda before, you said no and told me to come back when we had signatures. We now have signatures and Im asking to be put on the agenda. The issues are important, our effort to find common ground and solve problems is important, and we ask for time on the agenda next week.

I would also be delighted to meet with you and Jennifer, and hope we can set a time and date asap. I will be in town next week and have a fairly flexible schedule.

Please do let me know about Monday as there are quite a few people who want to attend and be part of this conversation.

All best, Karen.

#6
From: Deborah Phillips [mailto:deb@debphillips.biz] Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2015 1:18 PM
To: Karen Christensen
Cc: Jennifer Tabakin
Subject: Re: GB21 initiative

Karen –
I would like to put this off until our next meeting and make sure we meet before then, so it will not be on next weeks agenda. I would like to be clear on what we are aiming to accomplish through this conversation and I am feeling that if there are quite a few people who would like to be part of this conversation, I would like to make sure we have an appropriate forum, which may mean a special meeting to discuss just this, because it no longer sounds like a 20 minute conversation for a Board meeting. My next week is very busy but could at 5:30 on Feb 3 or 4:00 Feb 4. If you would like to have Jennifer and/or another board member present, I would have to check their schedules. I am also available on weekends if that will work better.
I look forward to speaking with you and arranging an appropriate forum for this important discussion.
Thanks.
Deb

#7

On Jan 22, 2015, at 1:22 PM, Karen Christensen <karen@berkshirepublishing.com> wrote:

Deb, our group is asking for time to present on Monday. This isnt a private conversation, and theres no reason I know of that citizens should have to explain themselves in private before talking to the board in public. You told me you would give us time when we had circulated the petition, and Im counting on you to give us that time now. If we were not given a place on the agenda, that will be quite a significant matter and would definitely affect my sense of trust and confidence. Again, lets move on together on Monday, Karen.

#8
From: Deborah Phillips [mailto:deb@debphillips.biz] Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2015 1:39 PM
To: Karen Christensen
Subject: Re: GB21 initiative

Karen –
I am sorry if this offends you, but anyone is able to speak before the Board at Citizen Speak. When an item is on the agenda, it is because it is clear to the Board that it is something they need to be informed of or need to make a decision about. When you presented the petition the first time, the Board did not feel it was something that required further conversation and that the issues you raised were being addressed. If there is new information you feel we need to be aware of, let me know. If you are interested in a community conversation, a Board meeting is not necessarily the time or place to do that, and we can discuss holding a community meeting where people can come and express their views and concerns. I am not refusing to put it on the agenda all together, I am asking to delay it until I am clear that it is the appropriate place. You have not given me a lot of time to gather what I need to comfortably put it on an agenda. What is the loss of speaking together and putting it on the agenda for February 9?
I am sorry if I am having a negative impact on your sense of trust and confidence but I am making this decision because I think this is an important issue and I want to be sure it gets the attention it deserves and not just a footnote at a meeting.
Deb

#9
On Jan 22, 2015, at 1:44 PM, Karen Christensen <karen@berkshirepublishing.com> wrote:

I can only reiterate that we have prepared a presentation for Monday and again ask to be put on the agenda as you said you would do when we had collected signatures. As ever, Karen.

#10
From: Deborah Phillips [mailto:deb@debphillips.biz] Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2015 2:44 PM
To: Karen Christensen
Subject: Re: GB21 initiative

Karen –
We have a packed agenda this Monday and I cannot add anything to it; agendas start to be planned as soon as a meeting has ended. If you would not like to speak with me before your presentation, that is fine, I will put you on the agenda for February 9 and at that time you can present your prepared presentation.
I am sorry if this delays impacts your sense of trust, but it is the best I can do.
Thank you for your understanding.
Deb

#11
From: Karen Christensen
Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2015 2:51 PM
To: ‘Deborah Phillips’
Subject: RE: GB21 initiative

Please put us on the agenda for the 9th and Ill find out whether others think a private meeting is needed and get back to you if they do. As ever, Karen.

#12
From: Jennifer Tabakin [mailto:jtabakin@Townofgb.org] Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2015 4:24 PM
To: Deborah Phillips; Karen Christensen

Subject: RE: [Junk released by Allowed List] Re: GB21 initiative

Hi Karen and Deb —
I can meet Feb 4th at 5:30 at Town Hall. If needed, I can make the 3th, but is it my second choice. Karen, can you confirm it that work for you and who else will attend.
The SelectBoard meeting after next week is Feb 9th, but finalized the agenda by Feb 3 or the week before.
Thanks — Jennifer

Jennifer Tabakin
Town Manager
Town of Great Barrington

#13

From: Karen Christensen [mailto:karen@berkshirepublishing.com] Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2015 4:29 PM
To: Jennifer Tabakin; Deborah Phillips

Subject: RE: [Junk released by Allowed List] Re: GB21 initiative

Im puzzled about the need for a meeting before the meeting on 9 February when well be on the agenda. Not opposed to it, but not sure what the point is or what your role is, Jennifer. Please do enlighten me. Unfortunately, though, the dates you suggest probably dont work: I have to be in Washington. I will be in GB next week though. Best, Karen.

#14
From: Jennifer Tabakin [mailto:jtabakin@Townofgb.org] Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2015 4:41 PM
To: Karen Christensen; Deborah Phillips

Subject: RE: [Junk released by Allowed List] Re: GB21 initiative

The point of the meeting is to determine how we can be responsive to the concerns raised by your group, understand them and work to implement solutions together. We havent had a chance to sit down and have a conversation, so it a good opportunity to do so. I understand there are many others involved in the GB12, so I would like to meet them as well. My role in this is as Town Manager, I meet with groups, concern citizens and people with various issues involving or related to the Town all day long (and evening also), on behalf of the Select Board. I have a unique experience in problem solving. I am happy to explain more when we meet. Do you want to try for Thur 29th? Friday, 30th? Deb – does that work?

#15
From: Karen Christensen
Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2015 4:51 PM
To: ‘Jennifer Tabakin’; Deborah Phillips

Subject: RE: [Junk released by Allowed List] Re: GB21 initiative

We need to talk directly to our representatives first, the leadership of the town and the school district, and then will be delighted to talk to you! I look forward to getting acquainted. Lets get the petition presented at the public meeting and then schedule a roundtable. Best, Karen.

#16
From: Karen Christensen
Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2015 4:54 PM
To: Deborah Phillips
Cc: ‘Jennifer Tabakin’
Subject: Monday

Deb, if you could put us on the agenda for Mondays BOS meeting, we could then schedule follow-up with Jennifer, and this whole effort would move forward much more quickly and neatly. Best, Karen.

#17
From: Deborah Phillips [mailto:deb@debphillips.biz] Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2015 5:51 PM
To: Karen Christensen
Cc: Jennifer Tabakin; jennifer bailly
Subject: Re: [Junk released by Allowed List] Re: GB21 initiative

Sorry all – messages got crossed; Jennifer did not see Karens message regarding being on the agenda for Feb 9. The present plan is for Karen being on the agenda for February 9 and we will only meet before then if she would like to.
Thanks all for your attention to this.
Deb

Next, the School Committee of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District. Peter Dillon, copied on all the emails, is the district superintendent, and Rich Bradway is the assistant chair of the School Committee. There are 15 emails.

#1
On Jan 21, 2015, at 3:27 PM, Karen Christensen <karen@berkshirepublishing.com> wrote:
Dear Steve,
Ron Banks and I, representing the GB21 initiative, would like to be granted 20 minutes to present the current petition to the School Committee on Thursday 29 January. We have well over 100 signatures on paper and have had much interaction with citizens from all walks of life, different political parties, young and old, over the past month. We have a number of specific questions and suggestions for the BOS [sic] related to points in the petition. Twenty minutes will be sufficient for this, and we look forward to beginning a dialogue with you and your colleagues. Please do let me know asap about getting this on your agenda.
Yours sincerely, Karen Christensen.

#2
From: Stephen Bannon [mailto:scbannon@gmail.com] Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2015 8:54 AM
To: Karen Christensen
Cc: Peter Dillon
Subject: Re: School Committee presentation next week: GB21 initiative

Karen we would be happy to give you 10 minutes at a future meeting if you could first explain the purpose of your presentation. What is it you hope to achieve? Many of the items on your petition we are actively working on. As with any citizens presentation there is not a public debate following the presentation rather the school committee will respond at a later date. Thank you. SCB
Sent from my iPad

#3
On Jan 22, 2015, at 9:00 AM, Karen Christensen <karen@berkshirepublishing.com> wrote:
We count on having a chance to present the petition, with signatures, as we have had no opportunity to share it publicly with you or the school district administrators, staff, interested citizens, and the public. Next week is when we would like to do it. I think this should be all you need; we will walk through the points and explain them in brief. Thanks, Karen.

#4
From: Stephen Bannon [mailto:scbannon@gmail.com] Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2015 9:02 AM
To: Karen Christensen
Cc: Peter Dillon
Subject: Re: School Committee presentation next week: GB21 initiative

Karen that still does not explain what you hope to gain from this presentation. SCB.

#5
On Jan 22, 2015, at 9:06 AM, Karen Christensen <karen@berkshirepublishing.com> wrote:
Steve, youve asked to have citizen input and thats what this is. Well explain the petition and the initiative and present the signatures and comments received to date. Thanks, Karen.

#6
From: Stephen Bannon [mailto:scbannon@gmail.com] Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2015 9:59 AM
To: Karen Christensen
Cc: Peter Dillon; Richard Bradway
Subject: Re: School Committee presentation next week: GB21 initiative

Karen our objective has been to hear from the citizens individually not as a group but we will put you on a future agenda possibly next week for 10 minutes. Thank you. SCB

#7
On Jan 22, 2015, at 10:01 AM, Karen Christensen <karen@berkshirepublishing.com> wrote:
Steve, many individuals are keen to see this conversation started next week, and I do hope to hear from you quickly confirming time next Thursday. Best, Karen.

#8
From: Stephen Bannon [mailto:scbannon@gmail.com] Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2015 10:09 AM
To: Karen Chris
tensen
Cc: Peter Dillon; Richard Bradway
Subject: Re: School Committee presentation next week: GB21 initiative

Karen anyone who thinks that having this conversation next week as opposed to the week after is going to speed things up is sadly mistaken. The school committee is already working on many peripheral issues that came up during this renovation process. There is also a scheduled meet and confer for the school committee to begin the process of planning our next steps involving the high school which will not take place until January 28th. SCB.

#9
From: Karen Christensen
Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2015 10:30 AM
To: ‘Stephen Bannon’
Cc: Peter Dillon; Richard Bradway
Subject: RE: School Committee presentation next week: GB21 initiative

Steve, the GB21 initiative is not simply focused on the high school, and next week is the most convenient time for the citizens youve been encouraging to get involved. Im really counting on you to accommodate us in a positive spirit. This is an important opportunity and were looking forward to it. Id like to have 15-20 minutes if possible. All best, Karen.

#10
On Jan 22, 2015, at 10:45 AM, Karen Christensen <karen@berkshirepublishing.com> wrote:
Steve, Im also curious about your comment about wanting to hear individuals and not groups. That strikes me as odd. It rather reminds me of something the Chinese Communist Party would say! Im sure its not your intention to stifle citizen discussion, and you might want to consider how that kind of statement might be perceived. Best, Karen.

#11
From: Stephen Bannon [mailto:scbannon@gmail.com] Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2015 10:52 AM
To: Karen Christensen
Cc: Peter Dillon; Richard Bradway
Subject: Re: PS re group | RE: School Committee presentation next week: GB21 initiative

Karen I hope you know me better than that to compare me to theChinese Communist Party . I find comments from multiple individuals can be more accurate than from one or two people representing a group. Of course I am not claiming this is true for your group but I am just saying that has been my past experience. SCB.

#12
On Jan 22, 2015, at 11:00 AM, Karen Christensen <karen@berkshirepublishing.com> wrote:
We would like to have 20 minutes because four or five people would like to contribute. Im simply providing some coordination and will start things off. Others want to attend the meeting, and this is why we particularly want to join you next week this will maximize the involvement youve been so keen to get.

#13
From: Rich Bradway [mailto:rbradway@me.com] Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2015 12:44 PM
To: Karen Christensen
Cc: Stephen Bannon; Peter Dillon
Subject: Re: PS re group | RE: School Committee presentation next week: GB21 initiative

Karen,

I am going to chime in.

I don’t believe Stephen is trying to avoid the opportunity for the group you are representing to speak before the School Committee. It is truly a function of scheduling.

In all honesty, the School Committee is working towards many of the items your group wants to see addressed. Those that aren’t addressed are that way because we haven’t had a chance yet to discuss/address them or simply the case that we are not currently in the position to present anything.

Rich Bradway

#14
From: Karen Christensen
Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2015 4:23 PM
To: ‘Rich Bradway’
Cc: Stephen Bannon; Peter Dillon
Subject: RE: PS re group | RE: School Committee presentation next week: GB21 initiative

Dear Rich,

We very much want to begin a dialogue, and thats the point of this request. Its important that we have a chance to explain our perspective on the issues directly to you and your colleagues, and we are eager to do so. Scheduling is an issue for us, too, and we really would like to have the time at your meeting next week.

Thanks for writing and all best, Karen.

#15
—–Original Message—–
From: Stephen Bannon [mailto:scbannon@gmail.com] Sent: Friday, January 23, 2015 8:52 AM
To: Karen Christensen
Cc: Peter Dillon; Doreen Twiss
Subject: School Committee

Karen I’ve placed you on the agenda for the January 29th school committee meeting at Monument Valley Regional Middle School. I will allocate 15 minutes for your presentation. SCB

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