Athol’s “Non-Sanctuary City” Proposal Sparks Controversy

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ATHOL – The Select Board is set to deliberate on declaring Athol a “non-sanctuary city” on October 3. The proposal was introduced by board member Brian Dodge during the board’s Sept. 19 meeting. Dodge’s move comes amidst concerns that Athol could be chosen by the Commonwealth to accommodate migrant families.

Dodge said an influx of migrants could negatively impact local services, by placing strain on police, fire departments, and schools, the Athol Daily News reported.

Athol's Town Manager Shaun Suhoski. (Courtesy Photo/Athol Daily News)
Athol’s Town Manager Shaun Suhoski. (Courtesy Photo/Athol Daily News)

Rebecca Bialecki, another board member, vehemently disagreed with Dodge’s proposal and walked out of the meeting as soon as the issue was raised. Biaklecki told the Athol Daily News that such a decision contrasts with the town’s earlier commitment to 2023 being the “Year of Kindness in Athol.” She clarified that the arriving migrants are legally processed, and many are actively seeking work, highlighting the positive experience of neighboring Greenfield with its immigrant and refugee intake.

Stephen Raymond, a board member who is also also on the board of the local Salvation Army, expressed concerns about adding to the existing homeless population. Meanwhile, the Salvation Army’s Massachusetts division emphasized its dedication to addressing human needs indiscriminately.

Town Manager Shaun Suhoski said he has participated in briefings addressing the subject with state officials, including Lt. Gov. Jane Driscoll. Following the briefings, Suhoski said he didn’t see the potential accommodation of migrants as a pressing issue for the town because Athol doesn’t have any hotels, motels, or available units in boarding houses, and the town doesn’t align with the state’s transportation priorities.

Suhoski has enlisted Fire Chief Joseph Guarnera and Health Agent Deb Vondal as primary liaisons with the state, with weekly consultations planned. He asserts that Athol stands ready to support families in crisis as always.

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