At its meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 6, the Somerville Select Board heard from a resident who said she had been experiencing racially motivated harassment for over a year.
The board also agreed to begin uploading audio recordings of their meetings to the town website in January 2024 with plans to transition eventually to broadcasts via Zoom, discussed an ambulance service charge increase, and discussed the handling of conflicts of interest and disagreements among board members and the public.
Angela Fagin, who lives on Somerville road, said that since late 2022, an unknown individual has been depositing trash in the driveway and yard of the home she shares with her husband, Frederick Fagin, who is a disabled Army veteran, in the middle of the night. Angela Fagin said the individual has crushed beer cans in her driveway, left tire marks on the pavement, and has recently begun emptying her dumpster and strewing trash around the property.
Around Dec. 4 or 5, Fagin said, the individual filled the lock on her dumpster with glue. Based on the size of footprints left in the snow on her property, she believes the person to be male.
Fagin, who moved to the U.S. from China in 1994, said it is clear to her that the harassment is racially motivated. Its beginning coincided with her starting to exercise outside, she said, at which point the Fagins had lived on their Somerville Road property for about five years.
“This guy saw me and said, oh, she’s not white folk, she’s foreign. She doesn’t belong on this land,” Fagin said.
Hate crimes and racism against Asian-Americans increased during and in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data compiled by the Pew Research Center and the FBI.
Fagin said that she worked with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office this summer, who installed a security camera at the end of her driveway. While the camera was up and visible, she said, the harassment went “quiet.”
After the season passed without incident, the camera was taken down, Fagin said. However, Fagin said that the harassment began again on Oct. 26 with more deposits of beer cans and other trash. Now, with someone who Fagin believes to be the same individual trespassing on her property to tamper with the dumpster, Fagin says she feels the harassment is escalating.
“This is my home,” Fagin said. “Tell this person this town does not have tolerance for this kind of hate crime,” she said to the select board on Wednesday.
Fagin has lived in Lincoln County for nearly 30 years and said she does not plan to move away because of the actions of one individual.
However, she said the harassment is taking a toll on her well-being and that of her husband. “It makes my home feel unsafe,” she said.
What Fagin described amounted to “hate crime and long-term harassment going on in town,” said Select Board Chair Chris Johnson.
“It strikes me that the town should make a statement,” he said.
The Select Board moved to contact the Lincoln County Sheriff’s office to request more action on the Fagins’ case, and to issue a letter to the editor in The Lincoln County News condemning the harassment.
“I hope law enforcement takes action,” Fagin said.
In other business, resident Michael Cox requested that the board record its meetings and make the videos available online.
Online recordings “would be more comprehensive” than minutes, Cox said. “A member of the community could go ahead and listen to the meeting if they wanted to.”
Somerville Planning Board Chair James Grenier noted from the audience that the internet connection at the town office is not currently strong enough to support Zoom or other meeting-broadcasting platforms.
Therefore, as a compromise until the installation of broadband internet is complete in Somerville, the select board passed a motion to procure equipment to record audio files of meetings by Jan. 1, 2024.
At the meeting, Johnson also reviewed a letter from Delta Ambulance stating that the service’s per capita rate will increase in 2024 to $25, an increase of $15 or 66.67% from the current per capita rate.
Data presented by Delta in the correspondence indicated that other ambulance services with similar ranges charge between $30 and $81.
As the meeting drew to a close, the board discussed proper conduct for both board members and members of the public during meetings, including decorum and standards for recusal of board members.
Johnson said that the appearance of a conflict of interest was the standard for recusal of a board member in the town.
Verbal attacks have increasingly led to “toxic working conditions” for members of the town’s boards and committees, Johnson said.
“These are common sense issues, and we need to hit a reset button,” said select board member Donald Witmer-Kean.
The next meeting of the Somerville Select Board will take place at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 20, in the Somerville town office. For more information, call 549-3828 or go to somervillemaine.org.