DEI requests Barrington Council share ‘Respectful’ pledge

Council President concerned pledge may limit his options

By Josh Bickford
Posted 1/17/24

Should the Barrington Town Council read a pledge before the start of every meeting, calling for people to speak respectfully and honestly?

That was the request made by members of the …

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DEI requests Barrington Council share ‘Respectful’ pledge

Council President concerned pledge may limit his options


Should the Barrington Town Council read a pledge before the start of every meeting, calling for people to speak respectfully and honestly?

That was the request made by members of the town’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee at the Jan. 8 meeting. Larry Berren, the chairman of the DEI Committee, spoke on behalf of the group and said he did not think the statement was controversial. 

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

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

Berren told Council President Carl Kustell he would still have the same authority to maintain order. 

But Kustell had some concerns about the pledge. Kustell said he would prefer to leave open the option for him to be able to call out vile or disrespectful speech, which someone else may see as being disrespectful also. 

Kustell also questioned the effectiveness of the pledge — he said people who are intent on being disrespectful are not likely to be dissuaded by a pledge. 

Maybe the Council should just expect a certain level of decorum, Kustell said.

Council member Kate Berard liked the idea of a pledge. She said it had nothing to do with infringing upon someone’s First Amendment rights, but serves as a good reminder for everything — including Councilors — to speak respectfully during meetings. 

Kustell countered, stating that he believes that by taking the pledge he would be limiting his options. 

Berren said it was just a pledge — there were no repercussions for those who did not speak respectfully. Kustell said that when he takes a pledge, he intends to follow it through 100 percent. 

Inclusion for all?

Most of the Council members agreed with the idea for a pledge — Rob Humm and Annelise Conway shared their support for the pledge. 

Conway, while speaking on the topic, referenced people talking and laughing in the back of the Council chambers. 

That comment appeared to draw push-back from some residents who attended the Council meeting. Lisa Daft said “inclusion” tends to differ depending on which group you’re in. She said another resident had tried to schedule a story-hour featuring Christian faith-based books at Barrington Public Library a few months ago but faced one challenge after another. Daft said officials at the library intentionally tried to block the organizer from scheduling a room for the story-hour. 

Daft said inclusion should include everyone, whether they are Democrat or Republican. She said that if the town is going to have a DEI Committee there needs to diversity, equity and inclusion for all members of the public. 

Heather Ryan, who organized the story-hour, also spoke during the meeting. She said the library director tried to censor her. Ryan said she had to confront the library director — Kris Chin serves as Barrington Library Director — in order to get approval for the story-hour. Ryan said the chairman of the DEI Committee also attended the story-hour and later the story-hour topic was added to a DEI Committee meeting agenda, although no one on that Committee invited Ryan to attend that meeting. 

Ryan said she also emailed all the Council members and the Town Manager about the situation, but only heard back from one member of the Council. 

Ryan said she did not feel the town was being inclusive to her. 

Berren, speaking later during the Council meeting, agreed that Ryan was excluded while trying to plan her story-hour at the library. He said he would reach out to her to see what he could do about including her. 

Pledge or encouragement?

John Conti spoke about the pledge. The Barrington resident said he believes it would be a mistake to have the pledge, and that it sends a message of inhibiting speech not expanding it. 

Conti said the pledge, on the surface, seems innocuous but someone may view it as limiting their ability to speak their mind. He said it was a subtle limitation of speech, adding that he does respect the intentions of the DEI Committee’s proposal and their presenter, Berren. 

Tom Rimoshytus said he has attended a lot of meetings over the years but does not believe the Council needs a policy. He said that if the Council does add the pledge, they should state it in the beginning of the meeting. 

Janine Wolf said she believes the proposal is a solution in search of a problem. Wolf, who will occasionally share critical comments of the town or town officials during Council meetings, said her comments are cordial… “occasionally elevated, but cordial.”

Wolf also questioned who would decide whether someone’s comments were disrespectful or honest. Wolf said the Supreme Court has ruled that rude speech is just as protected as polite speech, but added that requesting speakers be polite and kind is harmless. 

Barrington residents Jarred Ryan and Doug Caito appeared opposed to the pledge, with Caito adding that he does not need to make a pledge to be nice to people. It is just something he does.

Alex Pastor, a member of the DEI Committee, said sometimes she needs a reminder to be nice to people. 

Berard, after listening to the comments from all the audience members, said she still likes the idea of the proposal. However, she wanted to edit it a bit — changing the word “pledge” to “encouragement.”

Cloutier said he plans on having the DEI Committee revisit the proposal at its Jan. 25 meeting.

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