Leverett residents back Gaza cease-fire resolution at Saturday’s Town Meeting

Leverett’s Annual Town Meeting on Saturday at Leverett Elementary School.

Leverett’s Annual Town Meeting on Saturday at Leverett Elementary School. FOR THE RECORDER/AALIANNA MARIETTA

Planning Board and Community Preservation Committee member Steve Freedman speaks at Leverett’s Annual Town Meeting on Saturday at Leverett Elementary School.

Planning Board and Community Preservation Committee member Steve Freedman speaks at Leverett’s Annual Town Meeting on Saturday at Leverett Elementary School. FOR THE RECORDER/AALIANNA MARIETTA

Police Chief Scott Minckler speaks during Leverett’s Annual Town Meeting on Saturday at Leverett Elementary School.

Police Chief Scott Minckler speaks during Leverett’s Annual Town Meeting on Saturday at Leverett Elementary School. FOR THE RECORDER/AALIANNA MARIETTA

By AALIANNA MARIETTA

For the Gazette

Published: 04-29-2024 12:29 PM

LEVERETT — Residents elected town officials, signed off on a $7.56 million budget for fiscal year 2025 and passed a resolution calling for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza during their Annual Town Meeting on Saturday.

After uncontested elections, the town approved an amendment regarding its assessment to the Amherst-Pelham Regional School District, agreeing to a 6% increase. The vote was a collective compromise by the Select Board, Finance Committee and School Committee, according to Select Board Chair Tom Hankinson.

In an interview after the meeting, Hankinson said the money would “maintain positions” and salaries for teachers by replenishing financial support from the pandemic.

Next year’s budget also includes funding for a fourth full-time police officer. According to Police Chief Scott Minckler, the department consisted of nine part-time officers out of 11 total when he stepped in as chief in 2013. But in the wake of the 2021 Massachusetts police reform law that eliminated the part-time police academy, Minckler said Leverett’s three full-time officers are consistently working overtime to cover both Leverett and Wendell through an inter-municipal agreement. A fourth officer will fill these gaps and allow Minckler more time to keep up with the demands of the reform law, which he said include an increase in reporting and public records requests.

Gaza cease-fire

A range of perspectives filled the hourlong discussion on the final article of the meeting, a resolution calling for an “immediate and permanent” cease-fire in Gaza.

After listing the reasons behind the resolution, including famine; lack of food, clean water and medical supplies; the death toll; and destroyed homes and hospitals in Gaza, the call to the Biden administration states, “In the presences of such great harm that is being enacted toward a people as a whole, we feel compelled to take a stand and say that these actions are against life itself, and against the furtherance of life for the Palestinian people.”

The resolution follows cease-fire calls from across the state, including in Greenfield, Amherst, Easthampton and Northampton.

Gurujima, a teacher at Village of Light Ashram, said the proposal started in February as an idea “not meant to be a political statement as much as it is a statement of the heart.”

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“No matter what one’s political point of view, and in this case with Israel and Palestine, points of view are very polarizing for people, the human heart cries out to say that when a threshold gets crossed of human life being taken and destroyed, something has to stop,” Gurujima said. “This proposal in my view is not intended to be political but to be human.”

Those in opposition questioned whether the resolution belonged on a Town Meeting warrant.

“And for those of you who say that it is our place, then I would ask you why we want to privilege one suffering over other sufferings in the world? Why this and why now?” said resident Martin Klein.

“To have this brought up as a motion in front of what’s now probably less than 80 people and have something that’s going to purport to be a resolution of the entire town … I really worry that what comes out is not truly reflective of what this community feels,” said resident Danielle Barshak.

The resolution passed in a 31-23 show of hands with two amendments.

The first amendment, proposed by resident Ann Ferguson, added the sentence, “Furthermore, a cease-fire would help free a large number of Israeli hostages who remain in custody and their lives are at stake until a cease-fire is agreed to” near the end of the resolution.

The second amendment, proposed by resident Millie Thayer, added the “provision of life-saving humanitarian aid in Gaza, the release of all hostages and detainees on both sides, and an end to unconditional United States aid to the Israeli government” to the final paragraph.

Other decisions

A slate of transfers for infrastructure improvements were also endorsed, including $85,000 from the stabilization account to refurbish the Highway Department’s 2001 dump truck to extend its life span by 20 to 30 years, according to Highway Superintendent Matthew Boucher.

Residents also approved a bevy of transfers from free cash for the following articles: $41,000 for the capital plan, $11,000 for mosquito control activities, $6,500 for new assessing software, $4,853 for police bulletproof vests, $5,933 for new rain gutters at Leverett Library and $4,500 for preserving local cemeteries.

Election

Five new town officials and nine incumbents were elected to positions on town boards.

With Melissa Colbert stepping down, Jed Proujansky will take her place on the Select Board. “Thank you for the honor,” said Proujansky, a four-year member of the Finance Committee who previously served for three years on the Northfield Selectboard.

After his election to the Select Board, Proujansky stepped down from the Finance Committee, leaving a vacant position. The town also reelected incumbent Nancy Grossman to the Finance Committee.

Once the town reappointed Tom Ewing to the Planning Board, residents elected newcomers Greg Tuzzolo and Kimberly VanWagner. Attendees also elected to the School Committee Rachael Ozereko and Marnie Genre.

The town also reelected incumbent Jim Staros to a three-year term on the Board of Assessors, John Hillman and Alan Goodman to the Board of Health, Brian Emond as constable, Lisa Sullivan-Werner and Rachel Flint to three-year terms as library trustees, and town moderator Larry Farber.