KENNEBUNK — For the past several years, members of the Kennebunk Select Board have issued proclamations at the request of various organizations or municipal departments. In January 2019, the board issued a proclamation at the 100th anniversary of the founding of the local post of the American Legion, and in April 2018 to mark Building Safety Month. 

But they won’t be issuing any more, at least in the short term. 

On Sept. 8, the board voted 5-2, with Select Board members Shiloh Schulte and William Ward dissenting, to cease issuing proclamations after discussion arose around a request from the Rebecca Emery Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. The DAR chapter was looking for the board to declare Sept. 17-23 Constitution Week. Sept. 17 marks the 233rd anniversary of the drafting of the Constitution.

The Kennebunk Select Board has voted to no longer issue proclamations after debating whether to change one submitted by the DAR for Constitution Week, or to add a companion proclamation. Board members said it was unclear whether they have the authority to issue proclamations under the town charter. Courtesy Image

Resident Rachel Phipps told the board that Black people were considered 3/5 human and women were considered as chattel as the Constitution was originally framed. 

“I love our Constitution, I love it as a living, breathing document,” said Phipps. She said she supports the proclamation, but said it would be “tone deaf” to present the proclamation without a follow up.  She suggested having a second proclamation acknowledging Black Lives Matter. 

Chair Blake Baldwin said the board could decline to issue the proclamation, which he said might be characterized as a lack of support for the Constitution, “which I don’t think any of us intend,” or include a companion piece. 

“Rachel brings up a good point,” said Baldwin. “The Constitution was flawed … and has been since its inception, as evidenced that it has been amended.” He went on to say that he wasn’t sure the board has the power to make proclamations. 

Schulte said wording of the proclamation as presented may be the issue, adding he wouldn’t be opposed to a second statement. 

Ward said he would have no objection to a statement that affirms that all people are created equal. 

“I don’t want to get involved supporting a particular organization,” Ward said. 

“(This is) basically a proclamation for the Constitution and everything else is getting rolled into this,” said Select Board member Ed Karytko. He went on to say that “we can nit-pick almost anything.” 

“The DAR recognizes that because of this document, we have the country we have today, so that is the broader picture,” said Karytko. 

Phipps took issue with Karytko’s “nit-picking” terminology. “I hope you don’t consider these efforts moving toward an equitable society as wasting time,” she said, in part. 

Blake proposed a short-term task force, to look at the proclamation and see if we can make a companion or alternatively, modify the language of the proclamation to more closely resemble what this community feels about our Constitution.” 

“Then we get into writing and tweaking proclamations, and I really don’t think that is what I’m here for, said Karytko. “This was presented to us. If someone wants to present another, that’s fair. The DAR presented this to us, do we have the right to change it?” 

Select Board Vice Chair Wayne Berry said given that issuance of proclamations is not outlined in the charter, maybe the board should take the position of not issuing them. 

Blake moved for a task force, but then withdrew his motion in favor of another, establishing that no proclamations be issued. He noted that the board is currently updating its bylaws and could always reverse the policy. The 5-2 vote on the issue means the board won’t be issuing proclamations for the time being. 

In response to an email, the Rebecca Emery Chapter NSDAR said they would have no comment on the Kennebunk Select Board meeting.
A news release from the national DAR noted the organization initiated the observance in 1955, petitioning the U.S. Congress to dedicate Sept. 17–23 annually to the commemorate Constitution Week.
“Congress adopted the resolution, and on Aug. 2, 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed it into Public Law #915,” the DAR news release states. “The celebration’s goals are threefold: to encourage the study of the historical events that led to the framing of the Constitution in September 1787; to remind the public that the Constitution is the basis of America’s great heritage and the foundation for its way of life; and to emphasize U.S. citizens’ responsibility to protect, defend and preserve the U.S. Constitution.”

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