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This camera crew aims to portray Town Hall as your enemy

The Monday morning before the first in-person annual Town Meeting at Town Hall Auditorium since 2019, a three-person camera crew representing Accountability For All conducted what it calls a First Amendment audit. The high-sounding effort obscured deliberately provocative actions in which people film local-government employees without permission.

Josh Abrams, Sandy Pooler, April 24, 2023Josh Abrams, Sandy Pooler on April 24.

Led by Joshua Abrams of Stoneham, who is known to police in a variety of cases (see links below), the self-appointed guardians of free speech showed up April 24 unannounced, as it does at municipal governments in Massachusetts and Connecticut, cameras running. The claimed aim -- an impartial record of how local governments support the First Amendment.

So how did Arlington rate? That depends on the observer. As in all such events, the camera's roving eye reflects its handler, who shapes the narrative.

Crew cruises Town Hall

First, the crew recorded the treasurer's office, where two narrators noted what they said were nine cameras in the place where residents pay taxes. Failing to spark sufficient response there, they moved across the first floor of Town Hall to the assessors' office. Accustomed to hearing queries about a home's assessed value, one employee appeared stunned by the crew. Another, office manager Mary McMakin, did not. She held up a cell phone and began filming the the filmers.

Abrams saw his chance. He said the employee was creating a public record and demanded to know her name, so he could make a public-records request for the film. When she did not provide it, Abrams summoned her boss, Dana Mann, director of assessments, who did.

Apparently, the reason Abrams wanted to see the film was to show a municipal employee not doing her job, but taking up time on Town Hall's dime to record the disruption. Of course, Abrams's own YouTube video already shows what occurred. See in full here:

Video not impartial

In provocateur fashion, Abrams's video is not impartial -- it includes taunting remarks, dismissing Mann when he was no longer needed, making juvenile fun of McMakin's name and later claiming the employee prohibited access to their rights.

The crew was far from done. Wandering above Town Hall Auditorium, which would be filled that night with meeting members, they ran into Patsy Kraemer, the retired veteran town employee, who wondered out loud about why they were filming. Patsy's connection to video reality is via her husband, Chuck, who had long created caring pieces of reporting for Channel 5.

The crew pressed on with its First Amendment audit, saying it needed to find the town manager. And, voila, the intrepid team found Sandy Pooler just outside his office. Pooler invited the team in to talk, but Abrams resisted. Start watching at 14:38.

"Quite a few people will be unhappy with you when they see this," Abrams said.

Standoff ensues

Appearing patient but resigned, Pooler asked them to come into his office.

"You come into *my* office," Abrams countered, his summoning tattooed finger in the foreground of the frame. The implication: Because Abrams pays taxes, the manager should speak on the taxpayers' turf. Unstated is the fact that Abrams does not pay taxes in Arlington.

As part of a meandering back-and-forth, Abrams refers to the assessor's office employee, asking, "Do you think it's a federal crime to prohibit access to our rights?"

Indicating he did not know firsthand what occurred at the assessor's, Pooler at length tells Abrams that he would speak to the employee. (Abrams's own video shows that no one prohibited the crew from exercising its rights to record the events.)

Abrams moves on to asking Pooler about his salary, which is $230,000 annually. Abrams makes light of the fact that it takes "a quarter of a million to run the city." The First Amendment auditor does not know that Arlington is a town.

No matter. In the end, the pair shake hands, and Abrams calls Pooler "very kind."

Title belies reality

The title of his video, which has had 31,000 views, expresses a different view: "TYRANT TOWN BOSS BARKS ORDERS & LOOKS STUPID!"

The viewer of this video is welcome to draw his or her own conclusions. Mine are:

  • Pooler did not act in a tyrannical way, nor did he "look stupid." He appears patient, undemanding and perplexed. He reacts as a professional in the face of those aiming to make him look at his worst.
  • A variety of town employees in a number of offices did their best under unexpected circumstances. That includes Town Clerk Juli Brazile, who politely provided the form to file a records request.
  • The video displays a number of excellent shots of the interior of historical Arlington Town Hall, which opened 110 years ago. To me, these visuals undercut the narrative that the "auditors" sought to portray -- that town government is your enemy.

It's not.

Put down the camera and your agenda -- and talk to town employees face to face.

Patch, Sept. 4, 2019: Stoneham Man Arrested At Straight Pride Parade In Boston

Universal; Hub, Nov. 4, 2019: Rhode Island no longer big enough for pair of annoying guys, so they travel to Boston to annoy State House workers

Lowell Sun, June 1, 2023: ‘First Amendment auditors’ stop in Lowell, leading to confrontations and confusion, May 21, 2023: YouTubers film, insult public workers in towns across Mass. for self-declared ‘First Amendment audits’

Telegram, Oct. 23, 2019: Man arrested after filming Worcester police in station lobby
Ground News, 2022: Abrams files charges on Conn. town employee he harassed at work


This viewpoint by Bob Sprague, YourArlington founder, was published Monday, July 31, 2023.

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Writer decries heinous acts on both sides


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Thursday, 30 November 2023

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