10/04 Lexington Minuteman: Group holds closed-door meeting to discuss ADL involvement

Group holds closed-door meeting to discuss ADL involvement
By Ian B. Murphy/Staff Writer
Thu Oct 04, 2007, 06:50 AM EDT

Lexington’s No Place For Hate steering committee met behind close doors Monday with Anti-Defamation League (ADL) regional director Andrew Tarsy in an effort to gather as much information as possible before it must decide its own fate.

The Board of Selectmen will discuss whether the committee should disassociate with the ADL at its Oct. 15 meeting. Selectmen heard pleas from several Armenian-Americans at their previous meeting Sept. 24. The Armenians objected the national ADL’s position on the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks during World War I, and ask the town to sever its ties with No Place For Hate, which is sponsored by the ADL.

On Monday, three Armenian-American residents were turned away from the steering committee’s meeting, prompting questions as to whether No Place For Hate violated open meeting laws. Those laws affect governmental bodies and town committees, and the No Place For Hate committee is neither though it consists of town employees and elected officials, it has a page in the annual town report, and it has information on the town’s Web site, according to Town Manager Carl Valente.

Valente said that since Lexington occasionally asks No Place For Hate to reach out to victims of hate crimes, citing when an Asian woman was brutally beaten in Lexington Center earlier this year as an example, its often better to keep victims’ names out of the public eye.

“They’re not part of the town government,” said Valente. “Because of the confidential nature of their work, they felt they’d be more effective outside of the town structure.”

Monday’s meeting, however, contained no confidential information of that sort. According to Linda Vine, Lexington’s assistant town manager and a member of the group, she asked the people to leave because she felt their presence would hinder frank discussion among the No Place For Hate steering committee members.

“We felt we needed a meeting where we could just sit and hash this all out,” said Vine. “We were fact-gathering, and the steering committee wanted an opportunity to ask questions of [Tarsy] and Jen Smith [No Place For Hate’s program coordinator], and to have an opportunity for the group to talk among the membership.”

Vine said the steering committee had already had a meeting with the Armenian community, and now it was Tarsy and the ADL’s turn.

According to Tarsy, he had no knowledge that any Lexington residents had been turned away from the meeting, and there were no secret doings behind close doors. He was simply there to answer questions about the ADL and its stance on the genocide.

“I explained ADL’s point of view on the issue, and I was there to answer questions and that was about it,” said Tarsy. “It was a very ordinary conversation. We’re obviously talking to a lot of people about this.”

When asked what made the ADL’s involvement in what is supposed to be a local, grassroots anti-hate organization, he pointed to the years of experience the ADL has had of understanding and diffusing difficult situations.

“The content and substance of the [No Place For Hate] program is an ADL creation,” said Tarsy. “We have been advising and assisting localities in creating anti-bias programs all over the state. In many places, there was nothing before them [providing the same function]. I think we bring a lot of expertise, and a lot of personal involvement. It’s very hands on, very practical.”

In a statement from the Armenian National Committee of Eastern Massachusetts after the meeting, Lexington resident Bella Khachatourian said, “The closed door meeting today erodes the faith that we as residents of Lexington have in the process.”

Vine said that there was no ill-will intended towards the Armenian community, and no secret goings-on to hide, but she understood why the Armenian residents were upset.

“Underneath it all, I guess it’s a trust issue,” she said.

Source: http://www.wickedlocal.com/lexington/news/x1649552252