By Bonnie Adams, Government Editor
Westborough – Who may or may not use a town's public buildings? That was the question the Westborough Board of Selectmen pondered at its meeting April 24 after allegations by a resident that she was not allowed to speak at a dinner being held at the Senior Center earlier that night.
Although the board did not specify the resident by name during its meeting, that resident, Paula Less, was holding a protest of sorts at the bottom of the driveway on East Main Street (Route 30) leading up to the Senior Center during the evening commute. Less had duct tape across her mouth and was wearing a sandwich board that said “I have been silenced by Town Manager [Jim] Mr. Malloy.”
Less said that she had asked permission from Alma Demanche, the Senior Center director, to speak at a dinner that was being held at the center April 24. Her purpose, she said, was to provide an opposing point of view regarding the Tuesday, May 15 debt exclusion election for a new Fire Station. Less said she was given approval by DeManche but then that was permission was rescinded by a directive from Malloy.
Less said that she felt that her First Amendment rights had “been trampled on” and that she intended to file a grievance with the state Ethics Commission.
Town officials were slated to be speaking on the matter at the center on May 9 to present their view, therefore, she said, “I thought it would be a reasonable request to [hold her presentation] here, too.”
At the selectmen's meeting, board Chair Leigh Emery said that the dinner that was to be held at the Senior Center April 24 was a “pre-planned program,” with an agenda that had already been set, was funded by an outside group, and that it was “deemed to be inappropriate” to allow anyone else to be added on that night.
“People who had signed up to go for a particular program don's expect to have an advocate for another issue there as well,” she said.
Malloy noted that there was a Town Buildings Use Policy that had been adopted by the selectmen in December 2009. According to the town's website, that policy states, “Town buildings are available for use by town committees and organizations and for other non-profit civic/community groups (at the discretion of the Town Manager).”
The bylaw further states that “contact is to be made at the Town Manager's office via email for all town committees, boards, commissions and paper form for all civic groups with a signature.”
What the policy is “completely silent on,” Emery said,” is what purpose a town building should or should not be used for.”
Selectman George Barrette said the issue with the private citizen that night was not that she was interested in using a room at the Senior Center; it was that she was interested in “getting in front of the largest audience.”
Selectman Ian Johnson added that it was a “disservice” to Malloy to have him be entirely responsible for overseeing the policy without enough specific guidelines in place.
The Town Manager did not do anything wrong regarding this citizen's request,” Emery said.
The board did note that several town representatives would be speaking about the special election on May 9 at the Senior Center. However, they added, they would only be doing so to share information and not to ask for the residents to vote for the project.
Town Counsel Gregory Franks stressed to the board that this could only be an information session – not a lobbying effort.
The board agreed that it will discuss the matter of public buildings usage at a future date.