Story by Katie Bisaro
A week ago, at a what should have been a normal, even mundane, Board of Trustees meeting in the Village of Warwick, tensions ran high, tempers flared and angry words were exchanged – both pro and con – regarding the addition of red and white stripes next to the blue stripe that had been painted on Railroad Ave.
The original blue line had been painted down Railroad Ave. as a show of support for the local police department. There was some opposition to the blue line as it was felt that other groups deserved equal recognition or that it was “against” certain members of the community. A petition was started calling to either remove the blue line or perhaps add specifically colored lines for other professions.
The addition of the red and white lines, to represent the American flag, was met with opposition from those who felt it dishonored what the blue line stands for. A second petition was started demanding that the blue line be restored to Railroad Ave.
The issue came to a head at the Village Board meeting on Mon., Dec. 5.
The Board of Trustees were left in shock after the meeting and were unsure as to what to make of the behavior of members of the community or how to deal with the fallout.
Blue Line Issue in the Media
There was an immediate response from the media as television stations including Channel 12 News, and the local New York City affiliates from ABC and CBS all ran stories from the Village of Warwick over the division in the community caused by the painted lines. Stories also ran in the three local papers and the issue was prominent in social media.
Work Session Held
The Mayor and Board of Trustees held a work session, on Mon., Dec. 12, during which, as with all work sessions, no public commentary was allowed. Mayor Michael Newhard addressed a full meeting room with a synopsis of all that had transpired since that contentious Board meeting.
Three separate groups reached out to meet with the Board over the issue and by the end of the week, including nearly the entire day last Thursday, the Board of Trustees had met with those representing all facets of the issue.
Meetings Held With Representatives of Both Sides of Issue
According to Mayor Newhard, the meeting with the “pro-blue line” group, which included the author of the petition asking for the reinstatement of the single blue line, was very short. Newhard reported that it was less a conversation than demands being made by this particular group, even veiled threats as to what might happen should the line not be reinstated, and was not as productive as it could have been.
A meeting was also held with those who questioned the blue line – its origins and intent – to gain a better understanding of where they stood on the issue and why.
The history of the “thin blue line” was discussed and its origins in the United Kingdom as a symbol of respect for law enforcement, commemorating fallen officers as well as a show of support for living officers. It is described as the line between “order and chaos.”
The meeting with this group, represented by Jim Morley and Jordan Novak, who authored the original petition, was much longer and resulted in a better understanding by both parties of the other’s points of view.
Finally, a third group met with the Mayor and Trustees. This group, which the Mayor referred to as the “Thin Blue Line,” was represented by Nicole Moellman and Don Presutti. They are “pro-line” but, rather than making demands, were willing to sit and talk. They discussed the return of the blue line, the best means by which to do so, and what it would mean to the community.
On Friday of last week, these second two groups came together for a joint meeting. Newhard reported that it was a very successful meeting with a sharing of ideas, beliefs and an understanding of both sides of the issue.
Potential Resolutions of the Issues
The result of the joint meeting was a determination that it would be okay to reinstate the blue line. However, it was pointed out that both the blue line and the subsequent red, white and blue line, were not within local code in terms of how lines are striped on the road.
If the blue line is reinstated, it will be done in accordance to the proper protocol. Additionally, a plaque would be created to indicate why the line is there and what it symbolizes.
Newhard sees the resolution of this issue as a bridge to “greater awareness of our police, greater openness to our police, and a greater sharing of our police.”
Newhard also pointed out that the police department is actually part of the Town of Warwick, the Village does not have its own force, but the Village has a strong relationship with the Town Police Department.
For their part, Newhard reported, the police department would like to “see peace prevail” so they can continue to do the work that they do without distraction.
Another idea that came out of the meetings between the two groups was the potential for a permanent monument, to be placed in a local park, dedicated to the Police Department as well as the Emergency Medical Services and Ambulance Corps.
Newhard concluded his synopsis by giving credit to Beverly Braxton, a retired teacher and active community member, who helped bring the groups together and mediate at their meetings.
Newhard also credited the groups themselves, especially the Thin Blue Line representatives, who were open and willing to exchange ideas as well as a desire to move forward as a community together.
“That is what Warwick is all about, that is why we’re here, that is why we live in a democracy, and that is the difference between order and chaos, said Mayor Newhard.
Board of Trustees Comment at Work Session
Members of the Board of Trustees also weighed in during the work session.
Trustee and Deputy Mayor Barry Cheney, who sat in on all the meetings with the various groups, commented that there was effective dialog and as the days went on, he felt better about the forward progess.
Cheney noted the need to look at the specifics of reinstating the blue line.
Trustee Bill Lindberg described his disappointment and shock to the reaction to the red, white and blue line, which he supported.
Trustee Eileen Patterson commented that she was surprised as well to the backlash of the additional lines but has learned a great deal since about the history behind the blue line.
She, too, described how upset the Board was following the Dec. 5 meeting and not knowing where the issue would go from there or how long it would take to recover.
Patterson further noted that Warwick is the community that raised over $100,000 for a family whose house exploded; and the community whose donations from the Angel Tree for the needy in the community now fill her store for distribution. She is proud that the blue line issue is being resolved.
“To come from Monday night [Dec. 5] and being so sad to seven days later being just so proud of how we were able to come through it and be on the road back to the way we are,” added Patterson.
Trustee George McManus opposed the red, white and blue lines as be believes that these colors belong on the flag and not painted on the road. At the work session he thanked the Board for their efforts.
Proposals for Reinstating Blue Line to Be Decided at Board Meeting
One of the proposals for reinstating the blue is to paint a double-yellow line (an acceptable and legal traffic symbol) with the blue line painted down the middle. A blue line between a double-yellow traffic line is how Waterstone Ave. in the Village of Greenwood Lake is striped.
McManus said he will be happy to see Railroad Ave. painted with the proposed double-yellow line with the blue line in between.
Mayor Newhard informed the assembled crowd that no decisions are made at work sessions, any decisions on the blue line will be made at their regular Board meetings. He noted that they already have a quote to redo the line and the Warwick Police Dept. PBA has offered to pay for the work.
Newhard concluded the work session with comments about learning as a community how to speak to each other and express opinions.
“We have to realize that we are all different and that our neighbors have different opinions and viewpoints and come from different backgrounds. This valley is a place where that conversation has to continue,” said Newhard.
Next Board Meeting Set for Dec. 19
The next Village Board meeting will take place on Mon., Dec. 19, at 7:30 p.m. at Village Hall, located at 77 Main St., Warwick.