The Planning Board is again asking for permission to hire special counsel. It’s the second time Chair Don Morris has brought the official request to selectmen over the Park Central project. This time around, the request has a ticking clock.
Morris claimed that special counsel is necessary because Town Counsel said he can’t advise Planning on the matter.
The appeal period for the decision related to the 40A project expires September 15th*. Planning needs time to reach out to counsel, get advice, and potentially act on it. He said that a “slow yes” would be better than a “quick no”, but a “slow yes” could also prevent them from acting.
It’s the acting part that caused concern for selectmen. If special counsel advises Planning they have grounds for appeal, one Town board would be looking to sue another.
Morris said he knew that was a “slippery slope”. But his board believes standing by and ignoring potentially inappropriate or overreaching decisions by the ZBA would also be a slippery slope. Planning members believe that as elected officials, they have a duty to look into the matter.
And the Planning chair claimed that the board hopes counsel would tell them there aren’t grounds for appeal.
Town Counsel Aldo Cipriano wasn’t present at last night’s Board of Selectmen meeting. Selectmen were wary of acting without hearing his opinon.
The last time the Planning made the request, Cipriano said it was his job to represent the Town and all the boards. And the attorney claimed there wasn’t a conflict preventing him from advising Planning.
Morris admitted that Cipriano is against his hiring special counsel. But since Morris purportedly can’t advise them on a potential appeal, he believes selectmen should approve the request.
Counsel would be funded through the Planning Board’s budget. The board has the dollars to spend, but Town bylaws require committees to get selectmen’s approval for consulting Town Counsel or hiring outside counsel.
Selectman Dan Kolenda suggested that granting permission didn’t need to be done by voting in a meeting. He recommended selectmen hear from Town Counsel and then decide.
Selectwoman Bonnie Phaneuf opted out of the discussion due to appearance of conflict. Selectman John Rooney had conflicted himself out of past Park Central matters and the last decision on hiring counsel for Planning. This time he did take part in the discussion.
*Morris said that their housing project consultant advised that they can’t sue on the 40B project. But, because she isn’t an attorney, she couldn’t advise them on the 40A project.