ZBA posts 2014 minutes at AG’s order (Updated)

by beth on September 12, 2018

On August 29th, the Zoning Board of Appeals approved minutes dating back to 2014. The minutes include two meetings that weren’t captured on video by Southborough Access Media.

The approval of minutes from four years ago was based on an order from the Attorney General’s office. Town Counsel Aldo Cipriano told the board the August 1st letter instructed htem to:

create a clear and discernible record of minutes for the Zoning Board of Appeals consideration

Aldo told the board:

the overall issue is timely preparation and approval of minutes of meetings. . . handwritten notes or draft minutes must be timely converted to final draft for the board’s consideration for filing and posting for the public’s information. Minutes, even in draft form, must be of sufficient detail for the public at large to have a precise understanding as to what occurred at a particular meeting. Timely, and timely manner under state law, means within the next three public body meetings or within 30 days, whichever is later, unless good cause is shown for delay.

Counsel took a moment to state that no one in the room was responsible for the delay. He called it an “unintended administerial shortcoming” that happened during staff turnover. 

Cipriano said that “in some cases there were no minutes and they had to be somehow created”. (No mention was made of which meetings those were.)

The only member from the ZBA during that time who is still serving is Paul Drepanos.

The current administrative assistant worked to create the minutes, which were reviewed and verified by Drepanos before the board voted to approve them. (In some cases he didn’t participate but was present.)

Cipriano said that he believed that current staff and improved procedure would prevent a recurrence of lapsed minutes.

Of special interest to those who have been digging back through past ZBA meetings will be the minutes from the February 26th and July 15th meetings. (Neither are available to view as videos.)

While both of those minutes include references to Park Central, they were  apparently only extension requests. The minutes also cover business  related to 26 Lovers Lane, Ken’s foods, and Woodland Meadows.

Updated (9/12/18 5:33 pm):  A typo had Woodland Meadows as Woodward Meadows.

Updated (9/14/18 8:02 am):  Click here for the agendas for the 2/26/14 and 7/15/14 meetings. 

Updated (9/14/18 8:08 am):  I also asked for the 3/26/14 agenda, because I was curious what application deadline was posted for the project at that time. It simply stated that the project application was filed on 2/12/14 and the Comprehensive Permit Filing deadline was 8/11/14. You can see that here.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Concerned Voter September 12, 2018 at 4:41 PM

How is any of this legal?

Were Board members advised to “approve” minutes for meetings that they never attended?? And then they actually take the legal step to “approve?” How is this even possible? This does not make any sense.

Shouldn’t those who were not present (that was just about everyone on the Board!) have “abstained?” If they were not present and cannot verify something legally that they did not participate in, how on earth does it make any legal sense whatsoever for these individuals to put themselves at risk by “approving” those long past minutes?

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2 Lucy September 12, 2018 at 8:54 PM

The extensions never happened. ‘‘Tis is a fabrication and Aldo should be shown the door. This was deliberate and again shows how this board and Atty were working for a feveloper. Sad that he can get up there and say this w a straight face. Somebody needs to fire him now!

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3 beth September 13, 2018 at 8:02 AM

For the 2/26 meeting I had Park Central application listed, but nothing about any hearings. I wasn’t able to attend that night and neither was Metrowest Daily News. So, I can’t attest to what was discusssed.

I can tell you that prior to the 7/15 meeting I posted the agenda with the following highlight “Request for continuance of Park Central 40B public hearings by developer (discussion in Building Inspector’s office on 2nd floor)”. So, I don’t see why you are convinced that a continuance wouldn’t have been discussed and approved then.

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4 Lucy September 13, 2018 at 8:10 AM

There was an extension for the entire project missed by the developer. They back dated information and didn’t record the minutes after realizing the mistake.

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5 arborist September 12, 2018 at 8:58 PM

This situation is just like putting the cart before the horse, sounds like something is very fishy to me, I wouldn’t have signed those minutes. If I wasn’t at the meetings or board member at that time.

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6 Concerned Voter September 13, 2018 at 10:03 AM

Arborist, I agree. Furthermore, were those same board members advised that they could “abstain,” i.e. that abstaining was an option??

Have never heard or seen anything like this ever in terms of service on any board. On any town boards, if members were not present, have only seen them “abstain.”

Why weren’t they advised that abstaining was an option?

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7 Lucy September 13, 2018 at 12:11 PM

Because our town counsel is inadequate and should be replaced

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8 Concerned Voter September 13, 2018 at 10:08 AM

A public town meeting held in the BUILDING INSPECTOR’S OFFICE??? Untaped???
Where is the AGENDA for that meeting? Why isn’t it posted?

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9 beth September 13, 2018 at 10:30 AM

As I noted, it was posted at the time and I posted the link on the blog. The Town launched a new website in October 2015. Older agendas for most boards haven’t been repopulated on the site. You can contact the Town House to see a copy of the agenda if you want.

The meeting was on the same night as a Board of Selectmen meeting was being held in the hearing room. It appeared that it was scheduled to be a quick meeting in order to handle the request before the ZBA joined the BOS meeting that evening. (Selectmen were deciding on ZBA appointments.)

SAM doesn’t (and can’t) tape every meeting.

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10 Louise Barron September 14, 2018 at 3:50 PM

This is important. All ZBA meetings must be taped.

“SAM doesn’t (and can’t) tape everything.” Really? Unacceptable.

For the sake of transparency, we can hire another person from SAM (we are paying them enough!), or another company, or anyone with their phone(!!) can record a meeting (per state law) for goodness sake, which is perfectly ok. As a practice, any given board or committee can use an IPhone and post to SAM or YouTube. Zero cost. No excuses.

The goal is complete transparency and compliance with state law. The public MUST be included. How many people from the public went (and felt welcomed) at the Building Inspector’s office?

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11 Concerned Voter September 13, 2018 at 10:37 AM

With all due respect, would not defend that conduct. If the website was relaunched in 2015, the town has had THREE YEARS (?!!) to post.

Also, it is not true that agendas are not posted and more importantly, that’s no excuse — BOS has their agendas posted from 2009.

https://www.southboroughtown.com/minutes-and-agendas

The point is this: that is PUBLIC town business. Who from the PUBLIC attended that meeting? Who was present? Who actually witnessed the contents of that meeting?

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12 beth September 13, 2018 at 12:44 PM

I said “most boards”, not all. BOS is the exception to the rule. If you look at almost any other board/committee, the agendas begin in 2015 or later. (That includes conservation, board of health, planning.)

The Town was better at going back and repopulating minutes. And, in most cases, the minutes are obviously more important – which is why people are concerned about the board waiting four years to approve and post them. (But when an agenda is important for people to see – a simple email to the department is all that’s usually needed to get a copy.)

Back in December 2016, I wrote a post on the Town’s status in regards to transparency. At the time, most boards minutes weren’t even posted: http://www.mysouthborough.com/2016/12/06/status-of-towns-work-on-committee-transparency/

I’m glad to see that it has significantly improved since then. But I have been frustrated to see that far too many boards still allow far too many meetings to pass before posting minutes.

I’m hoping that the AG order to Town Counsel that will carry over to other boards starting to do a better job of keeping on top of “timely” approving and submitting their minutes to be posted. (That’s something I plan to follow up on if it doesn’t improve.)

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13 Concerned Voter September 13, 2018 at 2:23 PM

It’s this simple: It is AGAINST THE LAW to not keep minutes and approve them in a timely manner — and make them available to the public.

The importance of Agendas (equally as important as minutes) is TO ALERT THE PUBLIC AS TO THE TOPICS TO BE DISCUSSED IN ADVANCE of any meeting. It is AGAINST THE LAW to not post Agendas to the public 48 hours in advance of a meeting.

Who from the PUBLIC attended that July 2014 meeting held in the Building Engineer’s office? Who was the Building Engineer at that time? Was he in attendance in his office? Or his assistant? Can you re-post the Agenda for that meeting? How could Minutes be constructed of that meeting if the meeting was not taped? Can you re-post the Agenda for that meeting? On the July 15, 2014 minutes, under the box “Town Officials and Others,” the box is left blank. However someone had some source material kept by someone to concoct these minutes. Who was that person? Should their name be listed in the box as attending the meeting?

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14 beth September 13, 2018 at 4:12 PM

My point wasn’t that advance agendas aren’t as important! Of course they are. That’s why I dedicate a weekly post to looking at upcoming agendas for the week and trying to pull out highlights that readers might want to pay attention to.

I started the “highlights” practice when I realized that a lot of readers were irked by feeling they weren’t properly notified of upcoming meetings. Residents would complain to officials, and officials would respond that the agendas were posted in advance. But, of course, most residents don’t have time (or care to dedicate it) to read every agenda the town posts just in case there is an issue that concerns them.

The point I was trying to make in my last comment was that Agendas’ primary importance is in advance of the meeting. Historical agendas only become important if an issue arises that makes you question whether the agenda was sufficient at the time. And that’s what you can get a copy of the agenda through an email. Which is why, to me, it makes sense that the Town hadn’t dedicated resources to repopulating historical agendas.

I assume that if the minutes had been posted timely, the agendas wouldn’t ever have become a concern. (Or, at least, the concern would have been raised back in 2014 if people noted that minutes reflected business that wasn’t advertised on the agendas.)

You could have done it yourself (anyone can), but I just sent an email asking for the agendas for both meetings. (I didn’t ask earlier because based on my weekly highlights I could see that Park Central was advertised on the agendas.) I have to run – so don’t expect anything until tomorrow even if I get a faster response.

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15 beth September 14, 2018 at 8:23 AM

I updated the post with links to agendas for the 2/26/14 and 7/15/14 meetings. I also asked for the 3/26/14 agenda, because I was curious what application deadline was posted for the project at that time. It simply stated that the project application was filed on 2/12/14 and the Comprehensive Permit Filing deadline was 8/11/14. You can see that above as well.

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