Petitions seeking single ZIP code, peace in Gaza passed by Whately voters

Whately Select Board members Julie Waggoner, Fred Baron and Joyce Palmer-Fortune and Town Moderator Nathanael Fortune at  annual Town Meeting.

Whately Select Board members Julie Waggoner, Fred Baron and Joyce Palmer-Fortune and Town Moderator Nathanael Fortune at annual Town Meeting. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

With Whately’s Annual Town Meeting held outside in 90-plus-degree heat, the majority of the 87 voters who braved the high temperatures found their way to the shaded part of the field outside Whately Elementary School.

With Whately’s Annual Town Meeting held outside in 90-plus-degree heat, the majority of the 87 voters who braved the high temperatures found their way to the shaded part of the field outside Whately Elementary School. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Selectboard member Joyce Palmer-Fortune, right, counts votes at Whately’s Annual Town Meeting, as voters considered petitioning the U.S. Postal Service to consolidate the town’s four ZIP codes.

Selectboard member Joyce Palmer-Fortune, right, counts votes at Whately’s Annual Town Meeting, as voters considered petitioning the U.S. Postal Service to consolidate the town’s four ZIP codes. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 06-20-2024 2:09 PM

WHATELY — Along with the 29 town-submitted articles, citizen’s petitions about having a single ZIP code for the town, a resolution to end the war in Gaza and lowering the municipal voting age were all approved at Whately’s annual Town Meeting.

Over two and a half hours on a sweltering evening outside Whately Elementary School on Tuesday, 91 residents worked through the 32-article warrant, including a $6.4 million operating budget for fiscal year 2025 representing a 6.3% increase over the current fiscal year.

The first citizen’s petition, Article 30, asked residents to petition the United States Postal Service to consolidate the town’s four ZIP codes down to just 01093. Town Clerk Amy Lavallee, who submitted the article, said the town’s four ZIP codes leads to confusion with GPS systems, mail delivery and excise taxes, and can delay emergency responses.

Fire Chief JP Kennedy said calls to 911 are often placed by people who report the wrong address of the emergency — especially those who share a ZIP code with South Deerfield. In fact, he said the first caller reporting the Rainbow Motel fire in May described the emergency as happening in South Deerfield, as the motel lies within Whately’s neighbor’s ZIP code.

“It may seem like this doesn’t happen often, but I can attest to the fact that it happens more often than people realize,” Kennedy said before reading a statement from the Shelburne Control Dispatch Center concurring with his statement.

Select Board Chair Fred Baron, who spoke as an individual because the board took no action on the matter last summer, said he does not want to “poke the bear” that is the U.S. Postal Service, as he is worried that consolidating the ZIP codes might make the agency close down Whately’s Post Office on Chestnut Plain Road because it would be seen as obsolete.

“I do not dispute anything that’s been said,” Baron said. “I don’t want to take the risk of having someone in Boston, or Springfield, or Hartford or Washington looking down at a piece of paper and saying, ‘Well, why do we even need this post office at all?’”

Following more discussion along those lines, the article was ultimately passed, 47-32.

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The second petition, submitted by Nancy Talanian, requested residents adopt a resolution to “end the war on Gaza” and send the resolution to President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey. Resolutions have been passed in other communities in Massachusetts, including Greenfield, Northampton, Charlemont, Boston and Cambridge.

“The cease-fire resolution’s intention is to add Whately’s voice to the voices of cities and towns in 28 states,” Talanian said, noting that taxpayers’ money is going toward weapons being used by Israel. “Some of those weapons our tax dollars have funded have been used in what the U.N. and others have called crimes against humanity.”

Discussion was split on the petition, not because of the content of the petition or the request, but rather if it was appropriate to use Town Meeting to send this message. Others suggested reaching out directly to state and federal representatives, as they are the ones that conduct business on behalf of citizens.

“I do not believe that articles like this, which deal with complex issues far beyond the border of our town, our county, our region and our state, are appropriate for consideration at Whately’s Town Meeting,” said resident and Planning Board Chair Brant Cheikes, emphasizing the conflict in Gaza is a “tragedy,” but Town Meeting is for conducting the business of Whately.

The article narrowly passed, 33-31.

The final citizen’s petition was part of an initiative spearheaded by Frontier Regional School middle school students seeking to petition the Legislature to lower the municipal voting age to 16 in each of the four district towns. The measure passed in Conway and Sunderland, but was rejected by Deerfield voters.

Araceli McCoy, a Whately resident and rising eighth grader at Frontier, said the petition would encourage more participation in town government and could get students “into the habit of voting” before they turn 18. In response to concerns at previous Town Meetings about 16-year-olds being too young to vote, she noted that “knowledge and experience” are not requirements for voting eligibility.

While the measure ultimately passed, 41-25, there was some pushback from some residents about allowing students to vote on matters that could affect taxpayers and property owners.

“I am 70 years old. I have been 16, 17 and 18, and I can tell you that I did not have the wherewithal to make decisions that affect taxpayers and I don’t think it’s an appropriate age to consider that privilege,” said Beth Lukin.

Due to the 90-plus-degree weather and an approximate 8:30 p.m. time limit due to sunset, discussion was mostly limited on other articles, which were all approved.

Items approved include:

■Free cash transfers of $54,000, $10,000 and $13,500, respectively, for the installation of electrical subpanels, the purchase and installation of preschool restroom flooring and the installation of exterior doors at Whately Elementary School.

■Appropriations of $30,000 from the Vehicle Stabilization Account and $36,000 from free cash for the purchase of a hybrid pickup truck for the Highway Department, which will replace its current 15-year-old truck, as well as $65,000 from free cash to buy and equip a hybrid cruiser for the Police Department.

■A community housing bylaw mirroring the state’s Chapter 40B law by relaxing dimension requirements and allowing more units per lot, but requiring projects to go through the local approval process.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com.