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Rowayton Black Lives Matter supporter seeks change to 6TD ballot

The Old School Fence in early November, with flags replacing signs including one that said Black Live Matter. (Posted on Twitter by Sixth Taxing District Commissioner Mike Barbis.)

A man, said not to be a Rowayton resident, looks at the Black Lives Matter sign recently after it was re-posted on the Old School Fence. The person who sent the photo said he was “grateful for its significance.” (Contributed)

NORWALK, Conn. — Rowayton’s struggles with the controversy inspired by a Black Lives Matter sign continue, with a vote postponed until mid-January and disagreement over what should be on the ballot.

The Sixth Taxing District had planned a Dec. 2 vote on new rules for the Old School Fence, where the sign was posted before being removed. But a woman who’s deeply involved in the conflict, reportedly the only Rowayton Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) community member to step up, had objections. Now the vote is scheduled for Jan. 13.

The woman, who does not want to be named for fear of retribution, goes by the moniker “Happy Clam” during Sixth Taxing District meetings. She felt the vote was undemocratic because electors didn’t get the chance to review the lengthy proposed rules change until right before the original date, she said. She also objects to there being only two choices on the ballot, neither reflective of the petition that started the effort back in July, when the controversy began.

She reached out to Rob Pratt because Sixth Taxing District Commissioners “ignored my many e-mails and written requests,” she wrote. Pratt confirmed that the vote was rescheduled out of the concern that it was being rushed.

The Old School Fence, a venerable roadside community message board along Rowayton Avenue, is usually reserved for light-hearted stuff like birthday wishes and event announcements. But last summer, a Black Lives Matter sign went up, only to be vandalized with the words, “Who cares?” It was replaced, only to be vandalized again, this time with “All Lives Matter,” resident Priscilla Feral said. Someone draped a “1776” flag over it at one point, Clam said.

Jane Seymour, a resident, posted a GoFundMe campaign to raise the $160 needed for a new sign and said anything over that amount would go to The Carver Foundation of Norwalk. Donations totaled $5,150.

But the Taxing District refused to allow the sign’s return, saying it had been up past the two weeks ordinarily allowed and that it was political. A petition asking for its return drew 114 signatures, 70 of them from Rowayton residents and “about 30 of them Norwalk residents and the rest from sort of other places,” Commissioner Tammy Langalis said at the October meeting. Commissioner Mike Barbis put that into context: There are 4,500 Rowayton residents, he said.

A Darien Black Lives Matter supporter, in an advertisement for a rally last summer, said six families had requested that the sign come down.

The City owns the fence, but the district manages it and if it reverted to City control, no signs would be allowed, Langalis warned.

Two things came from that meeting: Commissioners said they were open to discussing a rules change and they voted to allow the sign’s return. It stayed up two weeks, until the Commissioners had all the signs removed, pending the vote on new fence regulations.

Pratt had come forward with a proposal, developed through discussions with Lauren Henry, a Rowayton resident, and the woman identifying herself as Happy Clam. That proposal has made its way onto the ballot, along with the option of keeping things the way they are.

“Our process was collaborative as we sought to navigate a way forward through a fraught situation – trying to convince a community of mostly white, privileged people to give up a fraction of their comfort to allow signs for human rights, such as Black Lives Matter, on the public fence,” Pratt wrote Thursday. Henry had input into his comments, he said.

More than 50 people answered a survey “with a range of concerns, thoughts on details, as well as positive reinforcement,” he said.

“I applaud Rob for being so thoughtful,” Clam said. “He’s really trying. I just don’t think it achieves the (goal of the) original petition.”

The proposal is complicated, she said. She expressed fear that people will vote against it rather than wade through a four-page list of rules just to put up a birthday sign.

“We agree that any revision to the fence policy will be inherently more complicated (nothing is easier than just putting up a sign) however most signs will NOT be affected by our proposal; the only change would be for signs dedicated to human rights causes. All other signs would be able to go on the fence as they currently do,” Pratt said.

The proposed guidelines are less than 400 words. A sticking point is that creative “signs supporting human rights must be sponsored by 100 residents and reviewed in advance by the Commissioners via online application.”

It will be tough to get 100 signatures, Clam said.

Feral also objects to the “cumbersome requirement.”

“I’d argue that needing 100 petitioners to sign something to put up a banner would constitute prior restraint – preventing freedom of speech because of the hurdle we’d go through to post a sign.  The two options the Commissioners presented need revisions or another option,” Feral said in an email.

Clam’s third option would be:

Vote on the Old School Community FenceRowayton Unified & Inclusive 

Ballot – Vote Tagline Rowayton friends, “Do You Care?”  If so, VOTE YES to leave the existing rules “as is” and return the Black Lives Matter In Rowayton sign to the fence on the following rationale;

1) it supports the largest civil rights movement of our time.

2) it has already been asked and answered in Federal Court (via The Hatch Act), and by the Office of the Special Counsel Washington DC finding (July 2020) that it is not a political statement.

3) the sign is a matter of humanity, and is an everyday matter of life v. death for Black and Brown people in Rowayton, CT and across the nation.

Our beloved Rowayton is a warm, inclusive and unique place. We stick up for our fellow neighbors and friends working in our community. Vote “YES I CARE” to demonstrate our care and concern for the rights and equity of People of Color and help to break down systemic racism.  Be part of this positive change! We have your backs Rowayton People of Color and all neighbors! At no time in history has the call for action been so urgent as right now as we head into MLK weekend, and Black History month, and the unstoppable restoration of our civil rights for all people of America. Racism has no home in Rowayton.

 

 

On Dec. 1, Langalis said no. “The ballot has to remain impartial and will have two options about fence guidelines. The link to the entire proposal will be included giving the background and thought process,” Langalis said in an email to Clam.

Clam’s reply:

“The POC community beyond my own family are unhappy with your subjective decisions, precisely because they are not impartial. In fact, this process has been anything but impartial. Had it not been for my begging and pressuring Rob to call you on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend to ask you to postpone this vote, where would we have been today? What’s more disconcerting is the fact that you’ve ignored the only POC in this mix asking for the postponement, forcing me to have Rob contact you…Do you think it’s impartial that I had to ask a White male to get my (and the POC community’s) request and points across to you? You claim you are impartial? Interesting.”

 

Langalis, writing to NancyOnNorwalk, said Pratt is the “spokesperson for the group,” and the “vote date was changed at the request of the group who wants new guidelines.”

The 2010 census shows 3,550 people in census tract 446, all of which is in Rowayton. It shows less than 1 percent Black, less than 1 percent residents of two races and about 4 percent Hispanic.

Clam has also objected to an in-person vote during a pandemic.

“The vote will be in-person, socially distanced. There will be an option for those who do not want to vote in person by contacting the District clerk,” Langalis said.

Clam said it’s been eye-opening to see “just how unaware white folks in town seem to be about race in general.” Pratt and Henry “reamed” her for being outspoken in district meetings, she said.

Pratt said Clam “was involved with the development of this policy from the beginning and was always positive and encouraging about its direction and content. Her concerns have come up very recently, and we’ve done our best to work with her to resolve them. We’ve addressed the rushed vote by rescheduling with the commissioners. We addressed in-person voting during a pandemic by stressing to the commissioners the need to research and implement a solid remote-voting option (I even volunteered to assist them in researching solutions). We’re saddened that {Clam} has decided to characterize our interactions with the term ‘ream.’ We have been collaborating with {Clam} for 3 months and in that time have always strived to be supportive and respectful.”

He said, “We know this won’t be an easy vote, but we’re hoping to take advantage of the additional time and awareness to educate as many residents as possible so they can make an informed decision. We hope that there will be more Rowayton residents that show they care about others, than those who wish to protect their comfort.”

Correction, 12:51 p.m.: Happy Clam’s attempts at contact were via email.

2 comments

stuart garrelick December 7, 2020 at 11:30 am

Questions:
1-Not saying it’s so BUT if most democrats support BLM and most republicans don’t, isn’t that “political” by definition?
2-How is “giving the background and thought process” for the proposal more “impartial” than the alternative proposal?
PS-The alias “Clam” should be reserved for happy people as in “happy as a clam”.

Victor Cavallo December 7, 2020 at 7:12 pm

Should not real estate agents be obligated to disclose to buyers that Rowayton is populated by a contingent of social justice warriors who do not condemn BLM’s violence and destruction as has been practiced in Portland? A Rowayton BLM banner is still prominently displayed over the garage on a house at the intersection of Cudlipp Street and Rowayton Avenue. I suppose the real estate community is avoiding that area. And seeing that, if I were in the market for a Rowayton property I’d hoof it to lower-tax Darien in a New York minute.
.
https://nypost.com/2020/06/25/blm-leader-if-change-doesnt-happen-we-will-burn-down-this-system/

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