2020, Mayor and Council, Minutes, Town Agendas & Minutes|

CONTINUED MEETING OF THE AUGUST 3, 2020

MAYOR AND COUNCIL MEETING

AUGUST 10, 2020

Mayor Cerino reconvened the August 3, 2020 Mayor and Council “Zoom” Meeting and called it to order at 7:30 p.m. In attendance were Councilmembers David Foster, Tom Herz, Ellsworth Tolliver and Meghan Efland, W. S. Ingersoll (Town Manager), Kees de Mooy (Zoning Administrator), Jennifer Mulligan (Town Clerk) and guests.

Mayor Cerino explained that the technical difficulties in the live streaming function of the August 3, 2020 Mayor and Council meeting caused the Council to complete their regular business and continue the meeting to accommodate the large number of persons waiting to comment on the Black Lives Matter mural proposal.

Mayor Cerino stated that all members of the Council believe that black lives matter in Chestertown. He said that in the next year and a half as Mayor he would do everything to make Chestertown equitable for every citizen of the community.

Mayor Cerino stated that he received many letters from people in the community and those are the stories that need to be told about African American contributions and the scars left behind by racism. Mayor Cerino stated that Chestertown and Kent County have an ugly past that still reverberates in the community today. He said that this cannot be marginalized, and he wanted to unify and not divide the community. Mayor Cerino stated that while a mural or visible affirmation that black lives matter is a symbolic and meaningful gesture, it was a means to an end, not the end. He said that the community had to strive for results much more lasting than a mural and continued efforts would to be led by the Mayor and Council to bring all members of the community together and to strive live by the creed that all men are created equal.

Mayor Cerino stated that this type of civil unrest has not occurred since the 1950s and 1960s and is happening during a global pandemic. He said that a Zoom meeting is not the ideal way to deal with this situation and it is making things harder to speak freely, as they cannot be together in a large group. He said that Chestertown has a unique opportunity to work on race relations in Town.

Mayor Cerino stated that this is the most progressive Town Council in the history of Chestertown. Given the chance to lead, they were ready to work on the hard challenges they are facing in this climate. Mayor Cerino stated that all oxygen in the room has been taken up on this one proposal, holding them back from doing other things to right the wrongs of the past. He said that an unprecedented proposal falling into a gray area, has many things to be considered such as legal issues, setting precedent, and maintenance for the murals.

Mayor Cerino stated that if something were to happen to the mural, it could fall to the Town for maintenance adding that the town has a fiduciary responsibility to 5000 residents.

Mayor Cerino stated that although there may be differences on the creation of the mural, the Council agreed that black lives matter. He said that the approach should be one of me and we and not us versus them, which is what this issue has become over the last few weeks.

Mr. Herz stated that he wanted to divulge that he rents an office space at Hoon & Associates and that Mr. Hoon has surfaced as an attorney for some of the residents opposed to the mural. He said he would recuse himself if anyone did think this was a conflict. Mayor Cerino noted that Mr. Hoon represented a group of people who have threated a lawsuit over the mural.

Mr. Herz stated that he does not work with Mr. Hoon directly, but he rents office space and uses his conference room from time to time. He said that he would recuse himself if anyone saw an issue with his relationship.

Ms. Jorgenson stated that she thought Mr. Herz should recuse himself from the discussion and vote and leave the discussion entirely. Ms. Boyer stated asked why this information was coming to light just now.   Mr. Herz stated that he recently met with Ms. Arlene Lee in the conference room at Mr. Hoon’s office and did not think that this was an issue until now. Mr. Herz left the meeting.

Mayor Cerino asked the applicants are to speak.

Ms. Wanda Boyer stated that she entered the meeting with the understanding that this mural would be denied and said that the momentum has been broken, along with their hopes because they wanted something to happen now. She said that the hurdles are disappointing and there was no reason to wait for this mural. She said that momentum has dissipated, and they are continuing to be suffocated.

Ms. Boyer asked what the Council was willing to do right now to put some hope back into the community. Mayor Cerino asked if there was anything that could be done where it was not illegal to do so.

Rev. Tolliver asked to see a copy of the permit on the screen.

Mayor Cerino stated that a letter from attorney from Phil Hoon was sent to the Town challenging the legality of the mural. He said that the Town attorney advised that the Town adopted the code used for state roads in the code of ordinances. Therefore, any restrictions for painting that the state has adopted have been adopted by the Town. Mayor Cerino stated that was why he was looking for other options to get the message out. Mayor Cerino stated that he was responding to a letter from an attorney, not looking for an excuse.

Ms. Lee stated that the letter was submitted based on historic district regulations and did not mention state highway laws. Mayor Cerino stated that he sent the letter to the Town attorney and asked if this was illegal in any way and he was told that it was with state law being one of the reasons. He said that he had to know what issues exactly could be raised legally. Mayor Cerino stated that due diligence was his job as Mayor. He apologized if people failed to believe what he was saying but he has a duty to each taxpayer. Mayor Cerino stated that he has been trying and wants to do more, but he does have limitations under which he has to work.

Ms. Boyer stated that when this was first in the proposal phase, Mayor Cerino said no because he did not think it would fit with the aesthetics. Mayor Cerino stated that at first he thought it would be out of scale and inappropriate, which is why they asked for scale drawings. Ms. Lee stated that at every stage in this process they have been met with no.

Ms. Maria Wood, a presenter of the proposal, stated that the idea for the mural was born after a rally in the park early in June after Mayor Cerino said “Black Lives Matter”. She said that she spoke with three (3) Councilmembers coming to Town with the idea so it was not an idea coming out of left field.

Ms. Wood stated that the idea was discussed at the July 6th meeting where they asked for guidance and a collaborative process. At that time, they were asked to submit a formal proposal with drawings for high Street and College Avenue for “Black Lives Matter” and “We Can’t Breathe”. She said that images are provided.

Ms. Wood stated that they have spoken with Mr. Hoon after revising the drawings and his clients are now in agreement with the murals. The murals would be located between Prospect Street and Calvert Street on College Avenue and from Lawyers Row to Cross Street on High Street. They were seeking approval for a one-year period to display the murals as public works of art. Ms. Wood stated that there was a group of people who are willing to maintain the murals for the one-year duration and the murals will be funded by private donations. Ms. Wood stated that the two murals were a call and response to the community.

Ms. Wood stated that she believed the Mayor and Council and all residents believe that black lives matter and want to heal the wounds of the past. She said that is the reason why this conversation has become heated. The process of painting the murals will be a unifying, celebratory event, and there were many people who want to participate.

Ms. Wood stated that this was a time to choose a different path and it has been done around the country in other areas. She said that Chestertown has so much to offer but not everyone feels welcome to take advantage of those offerings.

Bishop Tilghman stated that he was in favor of and present to support the proposed murals. He said that this was a critical time where people needed to unify on all fronts. He said that he agreed that all lives matter, but right now black lives need the most attention. He said that the black community has been oppressed for too long and need to know that people care. There were people in Chestertown and the surrounding communities who feel as though they do not care because nothing has been done to show care. He said that the community was at a crossroads and he did not advocate for violence, and they were fortunate that is has not happened here, but people need something to show that they are valued. Bishop Tilghman stated that violence is the voice of people unheard and they can only suppress things for so long before something happens. He said that this mural would be “good trouble” for Chestertown.

Mayor Cerino stated that his hesitation was that if he did not follow the law, he feared it would be at the Town’s peril. Bishop Tilghman stated that something needed to be done and the people would not settle for less. Mayor Cerino stated that he agreed something had to be done.

Ms. Jorgenson stated that she was an attorney and town resident. She said that the Town Council says that painting the road is illegal, but she has not found any indication that is the case in her research. She said that the laws read that traffic lines cannot be obscured, and the proposal does not obscure the lines. She asked who was intending to sue over this, asking for names of the eight (8) people Mr. Hoon represents, and adding that it was her understanding that Mr. Hoon’s clients are now in agreement with the mural as proposed. Ms. Jorgenson stated that she failed to see where the SHA would sue but it could probably be negotiated with them to be allowed. Ms. Jorgenson stated that she did not see who else would sue. She said that she would like to see the details of who was going to sue and Mr. Barroll’s opinion on the matter.

Ms. Jorgenson stated that she researched other Towns where murals have been painted and the one town that refused has had bad national publicity. She said that Cambridge is the closest town with a mural and similar history to Chestertown that painted a mural. She said that Cambridge has not been sued and said that she did not see that any lawsuits would occur, noting that a person filing a suit would have to have standing to do so. Ms. Jorgenson stated that she was tired of the Council patronizing the applicants and that it was time to do something about it.

Mr. Jim Astrachan stated that he was a lawyer and through his research on the issue has come to the conclusion that if the speech is adopted by the Town and they control the message, then nobody else has the ability to use the streets for their message in equal measure. The Town Council has the right to say what the verbiage will be, and their adopted language would not be challenged successfully by anyone wanting to put writing on the streets. He said that this issue has gone to the Supreme Court and has been upheld. He said that city parks or property would also be included in this matter. Mayor Cerino agreed stating that he would not be opposed to a park setting that was run by the Town and said that if they could use a place that was very prominent he would be happy with that.

Ms. Jorgenson stated that the State Highway regulations do not matter because the Town oversees the maintenance of the streets. Ms. Arlene Lee stated that the proposal has been well laid out and is important to the community. She said that the gesture needs to be made and made now, adding that this was becoming a case of you cannot have what you want, but here is something acceptable. She said that the Town has discretion over their streets and the proposal does not impede the traffic lines.

Rev. Tolliver moved that the Town adopt the language “Black Lives Matter” and “We Can’t Breathe” as government speech. The motion was seconded by Ms. Efland. Ms. Efland stated that this language was necessary and passed with three in favor, Mr. Foster opposed. Mr. Foster later changed his vote, making the motion unanimous.

Mr. Foster stated that nobody has approached him about this proposal before the meeting on July 6th. He said that he believes black lives matter, but he was having people tell him now that laws do not matter. At first, a permit was asked for this and there must be editorial control for this to be government speech. He said that better things can be done to fight racism with Town funds rather than to spend it on lawyers’ fees.

Mr. Foster stated that Chestertown was a welcoming community and he did not like that this was being used as a litmus test for racism.   He said that he was eager to search for the best possible way to express the belief that black lives matter, but he did not agree with people saying that the Mayor was trying to “hide this under a rock”. He said that Chestertown has a dark, racist history, but said that expressing things in only one way and not compromising on efforts was not the way to get approvals on something.

Mr. Foster stated that this opportunity to come together is now being turned into a way to divide the people further based on their views. The message he sees being put across is that if someone does not agree to paint the streets that they are a racist. Mr. Foster stated that more discussion had to take place with the Town Attorney on this matter and if the language would stand.

Mr. Astrachan stated that the speech does not have to be permanent but what was important was that the government controlled how the message was expressed. Therefore, the government can control how the message was advertised in this case. He said that he thought this was all that was necessary.

Mr. Marty Cummings stated that he was in support of the murals. He said that PRIDE was a new lease for acceptance and was embraced by the community. He said that the mural is a small gesture to show that change is here and show that there are allies who are going to do the right thing.

Mr. Paul Tue stated that he has done a lot of work on this and that this was an opportunity to make change along with a moral obligation to stand on the right side. He said that if this was “trouble”, it was “good trouble.” He said that black people have been disenfranchised and this would be a grand gesture to show that black lives matter.

Ms. Rebecca Murphy stated that she echoed the other statements made and said that Black Lives Matter has been painted in big cities and small towns across the country and read nothing about lawsuits because of it. She said that if everybody concerned about this mural supports black lives they would not be trying to tell people what they felt was an acceptable way to express their thoughts. She said that she found the conversation to be absurdly patronizing. She said that they were asking the Mayor and Council to stand on this limb with them and take the risk. Ms. Murphy stated that she is deeply disappointed in the leadership as so much support has been shown for this mural. She said that she would rather break the law than be called a racist and at least the law breakers have picked a side. She said that if someone sued, they could repaint the streets. She asked the Council to stop patronizing and condescending and just approve the mural.

Ms. Paula Reeder stated that she was appalled by the Mayor and the fact that this was basically denied before it was presented. She said that there was no reason to hide behind the possibility of a lawsuit. She said that the taxpayers want to paint the street and an ordinance should be passed to allow it if it was not now legally permitted. She said that black lives matter and it was time for the Town and the government to make this happen. She said that more good than not will come from allowing the murals.

Mr. Michael Harvey stated that he taught leadership at Washington College and is a former member of the Kent County School Board. He said that in 1706, Chestertown was a landing place for slaves from Africa. He said that enslaved people lived in Chestertown and helped to raise the first building at Washington College. He read into the record a long list of slavery and segregation in Chestertown and Kent County. He said that the simple fact that black lives matter has been denied for too long and tonight was the night to change that.

Ms. Heather Mizeur stated that this was an opportunity for the Council to stand on the right side of the street. She said that it was time to show our children that black lives matter and to vote in favor of the proposal that the black members of the community were asking for. She said that legal counsel’s job was to find a way to say yes, not look for reasons to say no. She said that this community has not been integrated and all people of color should feel comfortable downtown. Ms. Mizeur stated that she understood the serious financial duty that the Mayor and Council had to the Town and said that although this may make some people uncomfortable, it was time to comfort the afflicted.

Mr. Michael McDowell stated that he was thrilled by the demonstrations in Town over the past couple of months and those who turned out in support. He said that showing that black lives matter in an optical way with murals was appropriate. He said that there may be worry about legalities, but he was not too concerned that those issues would be raised. Mr. McDowell stated that this can also not be the end of what is done to bring equality to Chestertown. He said that Mayor Cerino and Mr. Foster were acting in good faith and are honorable men.

Ms. Melissa McGlynn stated that painting the streets in Town is nothing new as they painted booth numbers on the street each year for Tea Party to show where vendors should set up. She said that it was time for the Town to fully acknowledge the difficult history of the Town and allow for the mural.

Mr. Pat Nugent stated that he was a resident of Chestertown and strongly supported the murals. He said that ethically and morally for the Town this was the right thing to do. Mr. Nugent stated that he understood the concern that members of the Council have legally as well. He questioned why the vote was not unanimous for the “Black Lives Matter” and “We Can’t Breathe” language earlier that was adopted by the Town.

Mr. Foster stated here that he wanted to change his vote on the verbiage (the vote was changed in bold to reflect this change).

Mr. Jeff Wallin stated that a distinction must be made between the statement that “black lives matter” and the organization of Black Lives Matter. He said that not everyone agrees with the group which in his opinion called for the nuclear destruction of family.

Mr. Shawn Poulson stated that he was concerned that the mural does not match the historic nature of the town and he feared protestants. He said that a mural was not going to atone for history and asked what the next steps were to help end racism. He said that he would prefer to see a positive message on the streets of inclusivity and not all people would agree that the words meant the same thing as intended by the group making the proposal. He said that he thought there could be a better approach to achieve the goals.

Mr. John Hutchison stated that he wanted to offer his support for the murals. He said that he owed a lot of gratitude to the Mayor and Council for their work. He said that racism was difficult to navigate but it was alive and well in Chestertown, Kent County, Maryland, and the United States. Mr. Hutchison stated that there were many things white people do that were not intentionally racist but the first step to overcome racism was to listen. He said that approving this proposal was a step in showing that Chestertown was listening. He read information written out by the SHA and it was guidance that was given, not rules but recommendations. He said that the Council should find a way to make this happen.

Mr. Foster stated that he did not want to use this as merely a litmus test, stating that this may preclude needed help in the future. He said that Chestertown was better than that.

Mayor Cerino apologized if people saw him as patronizing as he did not mean to come across that way. He asked that since this mural might be the target for vandalism if he changed his vote would he be assured that the volunteers were going to come back and fix the work, no matter how many times vandalism occurs. He said that history shows that people claim that they will do something and maintain it, but it falls on the Town for maintenance in the end. Ms. Lee and Ms. Wood stated that they would agree to maintenance.

Mayor Cerino asked if under Black Lives Matter, a small tag line that reads “Chestertown Unites Against Racism” or similar verbiage be used to show that the message is not in support of the Black Lives Matter Political Group. Ms. Boyer stated that she did not have an issue with adding the tag line to both murals. He said that rather having a permit, he would like to have this be a town initiative by volunteers.

Ms. Lee asked if the Town Manager could oversee the timeline of the mural. The Council agreed.

Rev. Tolliver moved for two mural paintings using the language adopted earlier in the meeting of “Black Lives Matter” on High Street (between Lawyer’s Row and the Crosswalk at Cross Street) and “We Can’t Breathe” on College Avenue (between Calvert Street and Poplar Avenue) with a tag line “Chestertown Unites Against Racism” under both murals, was seconded by Ms. Efland and carried unanimously.

Ms. Wood thanked the community for the conversation. Ms. Efland stated that dialogue like this needs to continue and it will. Rev. Tolliver agreed, thanking Dr. Harvey for his words this evening detailing events of history so eloquently. Rev. Tolliver stated that people can work together to do the right thing.

There being no further business, Ms. Efland moved to adjourn the meeting at 10:03 p.m. was seconded by Rev. Tolliver and carried unanimously.

Submitted by:                                                             Approved by:

Jennifer Mulligan                                                       Chris Cerino

Town Clerk                                                                 Mayor

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