Letter: Citizens instructed they need new petition to hold Special Town Meeting on ZBA quorum (Updated)

by beth on April 8, 2018

[Ed note: My Southborough accepts signed letters to the editor submitted by Southborough residents. Letters may be emailed to mysouthborough@gmail.com.]

[Editor’s Note: I accidentally posted the wrong version of the letter. It has been replaced below.*]

To the Editor:

My name is Marnie Hoolahan and I am writing to share my concerns and frustrations with the challenges that we have faced regarding the Zoning Board of Appeals and the significant language change that occurred last week in our town code regarding a quorum, as well as other significant changes.

Last Saturday, an army of amazing people in one day collected 250 signatures (247 confirmed registered voters) on a Citizen’s Petition that requested:

“We the undersigned registered voters of the Town of Southborough, Massachusetts, require that the Board of Selectmen of the Town of Southborough place the following article on the warrant for the next Southborough Town Meeting (either Special Town Meeting or Annual Town Meeting—whichever occurs earlier, or Special Town Meeting within the Town Meeting, if possible). To see if the Town will vote to affirm and/or reaffirm, and/or reinstate, and/or clarify and/or amend the Town Code (Ch.174-25B) and/or the Zoning Bylaw as necessary to require a quorum of four (4) members of the Zoning Board of Appeals or their alternates to hold public hearings on any and all matters before them, and to further require that the following provisions be made a permanent part of the Town Code, effective upon being filed with the Town Clerk” then the prior language used in the town code on ZBA quorum is verbatim stated prior to the signatures.

I was informed Friday in two email communications from Mark Purple that we (me and the other 246 people who signed) actually cannot be granted a special town meeting to discuss this situation. The information I received was this:

On Apr 6, 2018 12:45 PM, Mark Purple <mpurple@southboroughma.com> wrote:
Marnie:
Good afternoon.
The wording of the petition article as submitted does not require a special town meeting to be held; rather, it requests that the article be placed on the next Southborough Town Meeting, either special or annual. It was obviously too late to be included as a special within the annual meeting. I had Special Counsel Jay Talerman review the language, and he concurs with this assessment.
Your options at this point would be to ask the Selectmen to schedule a special town meeting based on the petition (and another related citizen petition received this morning), or to have another citizen petition submitted that specifically directs the Selectmen to call a special town meeting
Let me know if you have any questions.
Thank you.”

On Apr 6, 2018 4:17 PM, Mark Purple <mpurple@southboroughma.com> wrote:
“Marnie:
My apologies. The previous email was sent out prior to having a further conversation with the Chair.
Dan is not willing to put anything before the Board beyond what is included in the citizens petition that was presented to residents and then submitted to and accepted by the Town Clerk’s office. He feels that having any board make changes to a citizens petition would be setting a dangerous precedent for any citizens petition that comes before the Board moving forward. To that end, if you want to specifically require the Board to call a special town meeting, a citizens petition should be put forward to the residents and then submitted with that specific language.
Sorry for any confusion I may have caused.
Mark”

Okay so now what?
Unfortunately, this means that the Town is requiring a new petition that specifically states a request for Special Town Meeting to discuss the changes that have been taken.

So here are my questions to the MySouthborough readers:

  • Shouldn’t our Chair of BOS be concerned that the ZBA changed their quorum requirement (without an open discussion of the changes and implications of the changes on our Town operations) and WANT to hold a meeting to discuss how we govern ourselves versus forcing citizens to demand one?
  • What checks and balances SHOULD be in place for an appointed Board?
  • Why does the ZBA continue to do things and have town counsel support in doing so?
  • Is a ZBA and Town counsel really willing to go to these lengths to change the rules to try and win a court case on behalf of a developer who made a poor land purchase?
  • Do you, the voters, want THREE appointed individuals making major, high-impact decisions for this town?
  • Do you, the voters, want to return to a FOUR person quorum and reinstate the language that has been governing that board for decades?

This town is facing changes and potentially high impact developments. With all due respect, Board of Selectmen can come and go – but the impacts of unsafe and ill-located development will impact you and your family forever.

How can every registered voter help?

  • You will see people with clipboards at Town Meeting, please come to us to RE SIGN the slightly revised petition requesting Special Town Meeting.
  • If you can assist getting signatures, I am also attaching the new version of the citizen’s petition, ready to download, easy to sign and if you are willing to find 9 more people to sign that would be an incredible message to our Selectmen.
  • Find me or any of the people asking for signatures on Monday to hand in your sheets or email me and I will collect them! Thank you! Mhoolahan@verizon.net

Marnie Hoolahan

Click here to open referenced pdf of new Citizen’s Petition

Updated (4/8/18 7:51 pm): When Ms. Hoolahan submitted the first letter, it was a request to post in time for voters to see volunteers at the Transfer Station on Saturday. Since I didn’t see it in time for that I asked if she wanted to replace it. She did – but I accidentally posted the original one today. Sorry, for the mishap.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Concerned Voter April 8, 2018 at 10:08 PM

Thank you Ms. Hoolahan. The town owes a debt of gratitude to you for this incredible civic effort. It speaks volumes about your unwavering dedication to the cause of open, fair, and transparent government.

In support, please note that just three volunteers collected 100 signatures in hours. Also, there are volunteers to get more signatures tomorrow if needed. It is exciting to have this overwhelmingly positive response to this call for support on this Citizen Petition.

Thank you for your leadership and well-respected strong voice.

Reply

2 Matthew Brownell April 9, 2018 at 7:03 AM

Marnie –

Can’t thank you enough for leading the initiative to get the quorum requirement back to where it needs to be.

It is truly saddening and alarming that that the ZBA has again moved the goalposts, and freelanced changes to quorum requirements.

I will gladly sign the Citizen’s petition tonight at the Annual Town Meeting, to call a Special Town Meeting – for reconfirming quorum requirements .

From my observation, this recent change in code and quorum is yet another of some Town Officials running completely amok.

Though I can not divine the intent of a sitting Superior Court Judge, I did attend the January Superior Court hearing in Worcester on the Park Central case, and the August 2016 granting of Comprehensive Permit by the Southborough ZBA.

To say that the Judge had very pointed concerns about quorum (and had expressed these concerns several times to Park Central, and their attorneys) would be an understatement.

Also, it is my understanding that the ZBA and Planning Board are still under lawsuit filed on behalf of Park Central . . . so, though I am not a lawyer, I’m baffled that that the ZBA would be able to take any action at all on town code or quorum that may effect the future outcome of this critical case.

Reply

3 Rebecca Hedgecock April 9, 2018 at 7:42 AM

For a new resident, this is very confusing. Did I sign the needed petition at the transfer station on Sat., April 8th or was that the incorrect one? Is there not some kind of rule as to a deadline that warrants being presented at Town meeting must meet for publication?

Rebecca Hedgecock

Reply

4 beth April 9, 2018 at 7:59 AM

The April 8th petition was in response to the notice from Town officials that no Special Town Meeting would be scheduled. The wording of that petition would force the Town to schedule a Special Town Meeting on the Article.

There was a prior version that voters signed the prior weekend that asked to have the Article included in the next Annual Town Meeting or Special Town Meeting. Because of notice requirements, it purportedly couldn’t be added to the Warrant for the meeting that opens tonight. And because of the wording, Counsel for the Town has deemed that didn’t force a new meeting to be scheduled – just that the Article would be added to whichever meeting was held next. That means the Town could wait until next April.

Reply

5 Erin Wheatley April 9, 2018 at 8:48 AM

Marnie, Thank you for taking the time to write this letter explaining why we need a new petition, and the concept of a dangerous precedent being set is exactly why this petition was drawn up in the first place.
The tone of our town representatives has changed so much in the past 10 years into one in which the residents of the town are fighting against our representatives versus our representatives supporting the residents of the town.
Looking forward to signing the new petition as I hope the rest of the residents of this town will do. Regardless of how one feels about the ZBA changing the quorum rules, all the residents should come together to discuss and vote.

Reply

6 Rob April 9, 2018 at 9:01 AM

Here it goes……. town council needs to be looked at very closely here. This whole situation stinks to high heavens.

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7 concerned neighbor April 9, 2018 at 9:30 AM

Thanks Marnie-
I think there is broad town-wide support for this warrant. As someone who collected petition signatures, I did not meet a single person who refused to sign. Most signed eagerly when they heard was at stake…..and rightly so. The issue is simple: It is a dangerous thing to have that MUCH power in the hands of that FEW people (3!). While it may be to the advantage of developers who want to get projects approved quickly it is NOT in the best interest of the town.

Let’s not forget that the ZBA on the night of the Park Central permit approval had only 3 members present, and the chair at the time had lied on a conflict of interest form about having never done business with the developer (something he had admitted in a previous form). One of the other sitting board members was selling his Southborough residence THE FOLLOWING DAY and in less the 24 hours could no longer legally serve on the ZBA.
How can a LOWER quorum requirement EVER be a good idea given the track record of this particular ZBA? Let’s also remember that the public has no way to hold ZBA members accountable at the ballot box. ZBA members are appointed by the BOS- all the more reason to keep the quorum at 4.

Lastly, we as voters CAN elect different selectmen.

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8 beth April 9, 2018 at 9:52 AM

It’s worth noting that while selectmen have only three year terms, the ZBA members they appoint have terms as long as 5 years. And selectmen have clearly resisted the idea of removing someone mid-term.

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9 Anita April 10, 2018 at 10:36 AM

I still say that that few people deciding town and life altering decisions is ill-advised. I would like to see this initiative go even further to limiting exactly what they can and cannot approve as a small group representing the interests of our town.

Major developments like Park Central, etc. should be voter approved, not be in the hands of 3, 4 or 5 people.

Reply

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