Special Town Meeting: Articles 6-8 – Impacts of Park Central continue

by beth on March 7, 2017

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As I said earlier today, it’s time to take a look at Special Town Meeting Articles not related to the golf course. Here are the final three.

For the second time in less than 6 months, Citizen Petition Articles have been proposed based on controversies around the Park Central development.

Articles 6-8 for the upcoming Warrant were all created directly or indirectly in response to those controversies.

(Spoiler – Discussion on Article 8 revealed news that will please some residents who have been following the saga. Scroll down for that.)

For the original full language of each article, you can open the Warrant here. But according to the proponent, Sam Stivers, you can expect details to be different on Wednesday night.

The intent behind each of the articles will remain the same. But Stivers has been making adjustments based on feedback. Expect to see final versions in handouts at the meeting.

The three articles cover providing means for removing elected or appointed officials and giving elected boards less restricted access to independent legal advice. 

Article 6 – Petition Legislature for Special Act, RE: Removal Bylaw for Elected Officials

This home-rule petition updates the Town’s bylaws to specify a process for recall of elected officials. It creates a process by which 10% of the registered voters of the Town can force a recall election for an elected official.

Researching Article 7 (below) led Stivers to notice that there is no process in place for removing elected officials. This would address that.

Selectmen have argued that the bar for recall is too low. Stivers said that his revised version will raise the bar a little. As of last Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, those details were TBD.

Article 7 – Removal of Appointed Board/Committee/Commission members

This petition adds to the Town’s bylaws to specify a process for removal of an appointed member of a public body. The appointing authority would hold a hearing then decides on whether or not to remove the official. That hearing would be triggered by one of the following: (1) a super-majority vote of the appointing authority; (2) a majority vote of the members of the public body; or (3) by petition of 200 or more registered voters.

The Zoning Board of Appeals’ handling of the Park Central development led to accusations by residents against one of the members of improper behavior. A petition from residents demanded that the he be removed. Stivers opined that a clear process for removal should be specified in the bylaws. This would address that.

Again, selectmen have argued that the bar for triggering the process is too low. Stivers said that his revised version will raise this bar a little, too.

Even if the bar is much higher, at least one selectman indicated he opposed the concept of the article.

Article 8 – Citizen Petition – Bylaw for Independent Counsel for Elected Boards and Officers

This petition allows elected boards/officials to engage legal counsel, without requiring Selectmen’s approval—provided that Town Counsel is conflicted. The board/official may use pro bono services or must have access to funds by budget or donations.

The ZBA’s handling of Park Central wasn’t just questioned by residents. The Planning Board question aspects of the decision’s legality.

The board wanted legal advice on appealing the decision. But under bylaws, even though they are an elected board with a budget, they didn’t have the authority to hire independent counsel without selectmen’s approval. Selectmen denied the request. They argued that one board shouldn’t sue another.

The Planning Board argued that they believed they had an obligation to voters. The board filed an appeal without counsel then. When selectmen continued to deny special counsel, the board was forced to drop the appeal.

The developer sought sanctions, and members were forced to appear in court without counsel. Town Counsel was unable to represent them but was able to provide testimony supporting their case. The motion was denied. But the developer was allowed to re-file.

Stivers has opined that elected boards should be able to make their own decision on hiring counsel when Town Counsel is conflicted out. This would address that.

Last week, Town Counsel Aldo Cipriano again argued against the potential issues resulting from boards seeking differing opinions. He believes the the Town needs to retain a central authority on legal counsel.

Citing the Park Central case, Cipriano said that the process worked as it should have. He opined that Planning should never have filed the appeal.

But Cipriano said that he opposed the developer’s refiling of the motion for sanctions after Planning’s case was dropped. Cipriano updated:

At that point, as I determined as Town Counsel that was an attempt to harass, oppress, or intimidate a government body. And a statement to that effect was made to the counsel for the developer.

He advised selectmen to assign special counsel to defend the Planning Board.

Stivers responded that he believed that is how the process should work, “it just worked too late.”

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