Selectmen are scheduled to make a sure-to-be-controversial vote in 10 days. The decision on ousting a polarizing town official has been on hold since mid-December.
On April 3rd, Selectmen plan to resolve the removal hearing on Zoning Board of Appeals member (and former chair) Leo Bartolini.
The hearing was opened in the fall after multiple petitions were filed by residents claiming that the member acted inappropriately. After the first petition, Bartolini agreed to step down from his position as chair, but not from the board.
After the second petition, the Board of Selectmen allowed residents to present probable cause to pursue a removal hearing. The three presiding members* decided that Bartolini’s purportedly disrespectful treatment of residents was serious enough to trigger a hearing.
But allegations by residents and an attorney made during the hearing process were much more serious. The accusations of criminal activity appeared to cause backlash with the board, putting the decision on hold.
Residents’ attorney accused the ZBA member of false/improper ethics disclosures. And an official complaint was filed with the State Ethics Commission asking for an investigation of possible crimes.
In that request by Attorney Gary S Brackett, it asks that if criminal activity is discovered that all decisions on which Bartolini participated be invalidated – not just Park Central. That would cover a lot of decisions over many years.
Following that filing, selectmen decided to put the hearing on temporary hold. Selectman Paul Cimino said they should wait to hear what the state had to say.
Advised that may take a long time, Cimino asked the Town Administrator Mark Purple to find out how long. If it was to remain unresolved too long, they should move ahead.
That was on December 19th. On March 21st, Chair Brian Shea announced that the board has decided it is time to resolve the issue and hold the hearing to make a decision. Today, Purple confirmed that is currently scheduled for their April 3rd meeting.
Either way this goes, there will be an outcry. Many residents angered over the Town’s handling of Park Central believe Bartolini acted improperly in some way. But supporters of Bartolini have argued it is a witch hunt based on anger over a project whose opponents are crying NIMBY (not in my backyard).
If Bartolini wins his case, that may not be the end of it.
At this coming Annual Town Meeting, a citizen’s petition article (continued from the March Special Town Meeting) will address the process for recalling appointed Town Officials. It provides ways to trigger a hearing.
If approved, it would still rely on selectmen to make a decision. But after the Town Election in May one or two of those votes would be cast by different members. Cimino is letting his term expire. Selectman Dan Kolenda, also presiding on the case, will be running for re-election alongside five other candidates for the two seats.
And if Bartolini loses, it may still not be the end of it.
His unwillingness to step down, even in matters related to Park Central, seems to show a resolve to maintain he is in the right. It’s certainly possible he would pursue legal action.
And then, of course, is the question of when or if the public will hear from the Ethics Commission on the case.
I followed up with the Commission and learned that unless they make a final finding against the accused, the matter is kept confidential – to the point that they won’t even publicly acknowledge a complaint was filed. As of today, there is no public release on a decision.
(If anyone knows if the status of the complaint, please feel free to comment or reach out.)
*Selectmen Bonnie Phaneuf and John Rooney were conflicted out of participating in the hearings.