Barrington Council still hesitant to adopt ‘respectful speech’ statement

DEI Committee grows — student representative will be added

By Josh Bickford
Posted 5/20/24

One member of the Barrington Town Council pushed pause on a request by the DEI Committee to include a “respectful speech” statement during Council meetings.  

Another Council …

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Barrington Council still hesitant to adopt ‘respectful speech’ statement

DEI Committee grows — student representative will be added


One member of the Barrington Town Council pushed pause on a request by the DEI Committee to include a “respectful speech” statement during Council meetings. 

Another Council member pushed back. 

Kate Berard said she was open to discussing the proposal from the town’s Diversity Equity and Inclusivity Committee, while Council President Carl Kustell said his opposition to the “respectful speech” statement has not changed — he said it feels like a pre-empted admonishment to whomever is going to speak. 

“People need latitude,” Kustell said during the May 6 meeting. “I don’t want people to feel like they’re walking on egg shells.”

Kustell said sharing a “respectful speech” statement during a Council meeting — possibly before the public comment period — would feel like the person giving the admonishment is suggesting that the person coming to speak to the Council does not know how to behave. 

Kustell said he prefers to assume the best from people attending Council meetings. 

The proposal surfaced at the Jan. 8 Council meeting. At that time, Larry Berren, the chairman of the DEI Committee, told Council members that he did not believe the “respectful speech” request was controversial. 

“We want people to speak freely about the policy they want the town to adopt,” Berren said during the Jan. 8 meeting. “What we want to keep out of that is angry speech, threatening speech, speech that is profane.”

At the Jan. 8 meeting, Council member Braxton Cloutier, who serves as liaison to the DEI Committee, said the pledge was not intended to infringe upon anyone’s First Amendment rights. Cloutier said if more people felt like the Council meeting was a safe space there might be more people who want to get involved.

At the May 6 meeting, Cloutier said the “respectful speech” statement would be lawful. He also pointed to the Westerly Town Council, which, he said, offers a similar statement prior to its public comment period. Cloutier said the Westerly Council asks speakers to state their name and address and act in an orderly and respectful manner. 

Kustell and Berard were hesitant to approve — or even vote upon — the “respectful speech” proposal during the May 6 meeting. Berard said she wanted to meet with the Diversity Equity and Inclusivity Committee to further discuss the idea. She said she has not yet seen answers to her concerns about the “respectful speech” request, adding, however, that she does like the idea of offering a reminder to people who wish to speak at Council meetings. 

Kustell revisited some of the concerns he has regarding the request. He said adding the “respectful speech” language — in either a verbal announcement during meetings or written statement on the Council agenda — would give him less flexibility. He believes it is an overstep and is not comfortable with it. 

Kustell said if there was ever a problem at a Council meeting that involved someone not being respectful, the Council members would deal with it. Kustell also mentioned that only three Councilors were at the May 6 meeting, and that would be another reason to wait before voting on the proposal. 

Cloutier said the “respectful speech” statement could be just that, a written statement on the agenda. He said it did not need to be spoken aloud, necessarily. 

In the end, Council members held off on taking any action on the request. 

New DEI member

After discussing the “respectful speech” proposal, Cloutier said members of the DEI Committee wanted to add a student representative to sit on the board. 

Kustell said he thought that was a great idea, and could lead to greater engagement from young people in Barrington. 

There was a brief discussion about who and how the student representative would be appointed to the DEI Committee. Barrington Town Clerk Merrie DeSisto said the position would be handled like that for any other town board or commission. The opening would be advertised and candidates would then apply. Members of the Council would interview candidates and then appoint someone to serve. 

Cloutier made a motion to expand the DEI Committee, adding a student representative as a non-voting member. Kustell seconded the motion, which passed by a 3-0 vote.

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