Pubdate: Fri,  29 Apr 2005
Source: Herald News, The (Fall River, MA)
Copyright: 2005 The Herald News
Author: Marc Munroe Dion
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


WESTPORT -- Standing on the steps of Town Hall, heckled by a hostile crowd, 
selectmen reversed their Monday votes approving a needle-exchange facility, 
declaring there will be no such program in town.

All five selectmen agreed to rescind their votes, but Board of Selectmen 
Chairwoman Elizabeth Collins and Selectman David Dionne refused to vote for 
a motion that would eliminate all future consideration of a needle-exchange 

The meeting, called Thursday night in response to intense public pressure, 
was moved out doors when a crowd overflowed the second-floor room where the 
Board of Selectmen usually meets.

Selectmen took two votes Thursday night, both on motions made by Selectman 
Veronica Beaulieu, who told the crowd her original vote was "a mistake."

The first, which passed unanimously, stated that selectmen would "rescind 
their vote" of Monday night, which allowed Stanley Street Treatment and 
Resources to establish a needle-exchange program at 909 State Road.

"No place else," the crowd chanted, meaning they wanted to be sure that 
needle exchange would never be considered in town.

"It's not going to happen," Collins told the crowd of some 100 people.

That wasn't good enough for the demonstrative crowd.

Selectman Steve Ouellette attempted to amend Beaulieu's resolution, 
requiring that any reconsideration of a needle-exchange program by the 
selectmen require seven days notice to the community.

"No!" the crowd yelled.

Beaulieu's next motion was stronger. "I now make a motion we vote 'no' on 
this for the town of Westport," Beaulieu said.

That motion passed 3-2, with Collins and Dionne both voting no.

Earlier, Collins read a prepared statement, saying, "I am prepared to 
rescind my approval of the State Road site."

"Anywhere," the crowd chanted, while others yelled, "Step down," and, "Resign."

As selectmen spoke into a portable public address system, rain began to 
fall. A recall petition circulated through the crowd.

Timothy Barreira circulated the petition, saying he had 275 names, more 
than the 200 he said the petition required.

Collins did not back off her support for the concept of needle exchanges, 
saying, "I believe in this program. I believe it saves lives."

The crowd howled her down.

"Then do it in your garage," a man yelled.

Dionne met with the same lack of success, first saying that he regretted 
his initial vote on the matter. "It was a grave mistake not to contact the 
community," Dionne said, but he was booed when he went on to say that a 
needle-exchange facility would encourage drug abusers to get into 
rehabilitation programs.

Selectman Richard Tongue was likewise shouted down by an angry crowd, some 
of whom wore pins showing a red line drawn through a hypodermic needle.

"I voted for this because it's a public health issue," Tongue said.

Collins and other selectmen were continuously interrupted by the crowd.

"If we don't have decorum, I will end this meeting," Collins said.

"We are the people!" a man in the crowd shouted.

"I think you're spoiling it," Collins said to the man.

"No, he's not," several in the crowd yelled.

Collins attempted to reassure the crowd just before selectmen went into 
executive session, going back into Town Hall to discuss union contract issues.

"There will not ever, ever be consideration of a needle program in 
Westport," Collins said. "You got what you wanted. You got what you came for."

Some in the crowd said they wanted stronger protection, suggesting that 
selectmen place a 100-year moratorium on needle-exchange programs. Collins 
said selectmen did not have that power.

After the selectmen went into executive session, Dr. Jody Rich took a 
bullhornand attempted to speak to the crowd. Rich, a physician involved 
with needle exchange in Rhode Island, spoke for the program at Monday 
night's meeting.

"This issue has touched a nerve," Rich said.

"You're all done here," a man in the crowd said. "Go back to Providence."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom