Shrewsbury Town Meeting declares climate emergency

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Photo by/Laura Hayes
Town Meeting members vote.

By Laura Hayes, Contributing Writer

SHREWSBURY — Voters green lit a climate emergency declaration and bylaws for the new Community Preservation Committee during Shrewsbury’s Town Meeting on May 22.

A number of topics were on the warrant, including a stabilization fund to manage funds received from the recently approved Proposition 2-1/2 override. There was also a warrant to appropriate nearly $7,000 to pay for retired, disabled police officers and firefighters’ medical expenses. 

Additionally, Shrewsbury will now recognize Juneteenth as a legal holiday in its personnel bylaws, and Columbus Day will now be Indigenous People’s Day/Columbus Day following Town Meeting votes. 

Declaration sounds alarm on climate change

There were three petitioned articles on the warrant. One proposed term limits for selectmen and School Committee members. A second opposed adding fluoride to the water, and a third asked for a declaration of a climate emergency.

The climate and ecological emergency declaration was the only petitioned article approved by Town Meeting members. 

“We’re thrilled,” co-sponsor Rachael Missall told the Community Advocate after the vote. 

The emergency declaration calls on the town to continue its effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to eventually become “net-zero.” It also asks elected officials at the state and federal levels to mobilize and support municipalities’ climate initiatives.

The sponsors noted that other municipalities in the Commonwealth have passed similar declarations, also arguing that Shrewsbury and its municipal power company, SELCO, were “well-placed to implement the critical transition away from fossil fuels.”

Photo by/Laura Hayes
Isabella O’Connor advocates for a climate emergency declaration during Town Meeting.

Climate activists have recently been advocating at local events in Shrewsbury. During Town Meeting, four such young activists shared how climate change will shape their futures. 

Shrewsbury High School (SHS) junior Deeptha Ganesh recalled seeing pictures of the recent wildfires in California and Australia, as well as this year’s blizzard in Texas, calling the images “apocalyptic.” 

“I’ll be honest with you,” Ganesh said, “I’ve already lost a lot of my high school experience to a global pandemic. I don’t want to lose the rest of my life to climate change.”

She said she didn’t want her future children to have to stay home because of fires or not be able to go to the beach because of rising sea levels. We can’t fix a problem if we don’t acknowledge it, Ganesh said. 

“We are in a burning building,” added SHS graduate Sonali Razdan. “We’re not asking you to put out the fire and save us. We’re just asking you to pull the alarm.”

Town Meeting debates Community Preservation Committee makeup

Town Meeting member Paul Schwab proposed an amendment to bylaws governing the Community Preservation Committee, which would have elected four committee members. 

The committee will be formed now that Shrewsbury has already adopted the Community Preservation Act (CPA), which will allow the town to raise money for open space and recreation, historic preservation and affordable housing. 

The committee’s bylaws were on the Town Meeting warrant. Those called for a committee made up of nine members. 

Five commissions — the conservation commission, historical commission, planning board, parks and cemetery commission and housing authority — will each designate one member to a one-year term. 

Photo by/Laura Hayes
Town Meeting member Paul Schwab proposing his amendment.

The four remaining members would be considered “at-large.”

At issue was how the four remaining members would be selected and whether they would be elected or appointed by the Board of Selectmen.  

“People lead busy lives, and we understand that it’s very difficult to run for office,” said selectmen chair John Samia. 

When the bylaws were developed, Shrewsbury didn’t want to limit the number of applicants, he said. 

According to Samia, fewer than five percent of the 187 CPA communities in the state have elected committee members. Some have a hybrid of appointed and elected members.

Schwab argued that grassroots involvement is at the heart of CPA, saying that the at-large members would represent the community’s voice. 

“It is because of this that we feel that the at-large members should be accountable to the voters of Shrewsbury by being elected,” Schwab said. 

A number of people run for public office every year, including for elected Town Meeting seats, he added.

A number of Town Meeting members spoke both for and against having elected CPC members. 

Some said they trusted the selectmen’s appointments and noted that the current process for selectmen to fill vacancies by appointment isn’t a closed process. One member noted that appointed members may be less likely to be swayed by political pressure. 

Others noted that the initial effort to adopt the CPA was a citizen’s initiative. 

Town Meeting member Jason Molina argued that a CPC election couldn’t be compared to a Town Meeting member election because there are only four positions. 

“There will be candidates,” Molina said. “They will run.”

Schwab’s amendment failed 47-100, and the proposed bylaws were passed as they appeared on the warrant.