‘Warrior’ question on April 27 ballot

Feb 23, 2021 by

Published in the February 23, 2021 edition.


WAKEFIELD — The voters of Wakefield will get to voice their opinion on the Wakefield Warrior logo when they go to the polls on April 27 to vote in the annual Town Election.

The Town Council voted 5-2 last night to place the non-binding public opinion question on the ballot after they received a citizen petition requesting that they do so.

The ballot question will read, “Do you support keeping the Wakefield Warrior logo with Native American imagery as Wakefield Memorial High School’s logo?”

The School Committee last week voted down Mike Boudreau’s motion to place a similar non-binding question on the Town Election ballot. However, unlike the Town Council, the School Committee was not dealing with a citizen petition. At last week’s School Committee meeting, members also agreed on a procedure for resolving the issue. That procedure includes a public forum to be conducted online on Thursday evening, Feb. 25.

Under Massachusetts General Laws, 10 registered voters can petition the Town Council to have a referendum question placed on a municipal election ballot. On Feb. 12, Town Clerk Betsy Sheeran certified 15 valid signatures on a petition requesting a ballot question on the Warrior logo, and the matter was placed on the agenda for last night’s Town Council meeting. If the Town Council had refused to put the question on the ballot, supporters would have been faced with collecting signatures from 10 percent of the registered voters in town to force the issue.

Town Councilor Edward Dombroski said that the petition reflected the passion that many in the community feel when it comes to the logo issue. He said that he supported placing the question on the ballot as a matter of procedure based on the citizen petition. He added that the ballot question would provide more data to be considered when the decision is made.

The logo question is not new, but it came to a head last October when members of the Youth Council (which is not associated with the schools) appeared before the School Committee and recommended doing away with the Warrior logo.

Town Councilor Jonathan Chines last night spoke against placing the question on the ballot. He said that he was “deeply concerned with us getting involved with School Committee issues.” He felt that it would undermine the School Committee’s authority and set a bad precedent if the Town Council were to place the question on the ballot.

Councilor Mehreen Butt asked Town Counsel Thomas Mullen if such a non-binding opinion question had ever been placed on the ballot before. Mullen said that he could not recall such a case.

Butt said that she worried about 15 signatures undoing the work of an independent board (the School Committee). She asserted that a Town Election was not a very good gauge of public opinion, citing the usual low turnout.

But Councilor Peter May, sporting a Wakefield Warrior sweatshirt, expressed his agreement with Dombroski’s position that the question should be placed on the ballot.

Although they would ultimately vote to put the question on the ballot, two Town Councilors expressed mixed feelings.

Councilor Julie Smith-Galvin noted that boards are elected to make difficult policy decisions. She worried that a habit of subjecting policy decisions to referendum votes could paralyze town government.

Chairman Ann Santos noted that she was “the only townie on the board.” She recalled that in high school she was an athlete and team captain who wore the Warrior logo and uniform proudly.

Still, she said, she hated the fact that 10 registered voters could request a ballot question. She asserted that African American voting rights would lose if that question were put to a vote.

“If we had the vote right now that asked whether black people could vote, it would fail in this country,” she asserted. “I’m pretty confident that in a lot of places it would.”

She also stressed that the School Committee would still retain full authority to decide the logo issue, as the ballot question would be non-binding.

Santos said that as an attorney, she saw the decision to put the question on the ballot as a procedural one based on a valid citizens’ petition asking to the board to do it.

She acknowledged the passion on both sides and called for civility in the debate going forward.

Given the ambivalence of some members of the board, Chines then proposed tabling the vote until the next meeting, 

Dombroski disagreed, noting that the petition was properly presented and filed with ample time for the board to deliberate. He said that it would be unfair to hold the Town Council’s vote up for several weeks and thereby reduce the time that petitioners would have to collect signatures from 10 percent of the voters if it came to that.

“These are our neighbors,” he said. “They’ve come before us. They’ve followed the rules. They’ve done what they’re supposed to do.” He insisted that as town leaders the board should make a decision so that the petitioners would know what they need to do next.

In the end those voting in favor of putting the Warrior logo question on the ballot were Councilors Dombroski, May, Santos, Smith-Galvin and Paul DiNocco.

Chines and Butt were opposed.

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