Hearing on ZBA Removal: Selectmen reviewing and considering evidence

Last night, the Board of Selectmen held a hearing to consider removal of Leo Bartolini from the Zoning Board of Appeals. The board will now take time to review the “evidence” submitted and testimony given by both sides. They have not yet scheduled a meeting to deliberate on the matter. And whether or not Bartolini will sit on, be removed from, or recuse himself from a December 14th appeal hearing on Park Central is yet to be decided.

Charges of past and current retributions were lobbed by and at both sides of the case. The hearing included several speakers accusing Bartolini of inappropriate behavior and one claiming misdeeds. Bartolini didn’t directly respond, instead relying on his attorney and witnesses to defend his behavior and character.

It was unclear whether new evidence presented last night on purported “falsified” Conflict of Interest documents would be considered.

In public Park Central sessions, Bartolini noted that he had filed disclosures that a construction company owned by the developer has rented self storage from him for many years. In contrast, copies of the forms submitted by petitioners show that Bartloni filed that he had never done business with developer Bill Depietri or any building companies owned by him.

Meanwhile, another form on a different project purportedly listed that Bartolini has done business with Depietri. And there were purported oversights in how the forms were completed and signed.

Bartolini’s attorney Warren S. Heller stated that accusation wasn’t included in the formal complaint lodged against his client. Therefore, he said that selectmen couldn’t consider it. Town Labor Attorney Tim Norris later agreed, stating that the board could only consider the accusations in the notice provided to Bartolini.

Heller rebutted that the conflict was part of the petition’s accusation #6 “Mr. Bartolini’s long record of missteps”. Norris didn’t comment before closing the hearing.

During testimony, the most sinister accusation against Bartolini came from John Gulbankian. Gulbankian claimed that after his father refused to withdraw in a selectmen’s race against Bartolini (which both lost), Bartolini promised retribution. 

Gulbankian asserted that the family had been properly zoned for three businesses for many years, but a few years after the election somehow papers were missing from their official documents. It was the beginning of a long saga between the family and ZBA that cost the family hundreds of thousands of dollars.

According to Gulbankian, during the process Bartolini bullied his way around the property taking photos, making incorrect accusations, and not behaving impartially. After urging by their attorney, he finally sat down with Bartolini who insisted his father to not be present and in “good old boy” tactics told them what they needed to do.

No direct rebuttal to those claims was made by Bartolini’s attorney. But Gulbankian was clearly included in Heller’s characterization of one group of complainants – long-time political enemies. He claimed the other group of petitioners are opponents to Park Central hoping to bolster their appeal case by having Bartolini removed for cause.

Of Bartolini’s purported disrespect of residents, Heller said:

He may not be as articulate as his detractors when it comes to public speaking. But Leo speaks his mind and tells it like it is, he does not sugar coat things.

He spoke of the important experience Bartolini brings to the ZBA. He detailed his career in construction (starting at the age of 16 when he left Keefe Tech Voc School to go to work) and his long time public service to the Town through the ZBA and previous commitees.

Other “highlights” from the night:

  • Attila Herczog called on Selectmen to answer public concerns about who is in charge by replacing ZBA leadership with neutral, impartial members to dispel believe that it is “an insider’s club advocating for each other”
  • Former ZBA Chair Sam Stivers (who Bartolini helped to see wasn’t reappointed) called Bartolini a “ZBA dinosaur” who failed to protect the Town’s Safe Harbor from 40Bs, cost mitigation funds, bullied residents and was disrespectful to women
  • Chris Perkins outlined how Bartolini disregarded Town Counsel’s advice after approving waivers “he had no business approving” by going on to approve a complete set of waivers. He said that after stepping down as chair, the member often continues to behave as chair, interrupting speakers and shouting out when in disagreement.
  • Lisa Braccio said selectmen haven’t adhered to the 2010 promise (following Bartolini’s apology to her for a personal attack in a meeting), directing ZBA members:

courtesy, respect and open dialogue are absolute prerequisites for continued membership on the ZBA. There is no room for compromise on these conditions. A basic principal of our Town philosophy is to encourage volunteerism and participation. Anything that is done to infringe on those ideals will not be tolerated.

  • Heller suggested selectmen should request the resident who accused Bartolini of being sexist for calling her “the girl” should apologize for “her insensitive age discrimination remark” because using the phrase girl is acceptable for a man of his generation. (He also defended the use by citing a dictionary definition of girls as women of any age and pointed out that women often refer to themselves as girls – as in going out “with the girls”.)
  • Fellow ZBA member Paul Drepanos’ submitted statement lauded Bartolini for his admirable job and service to the Town.
  • Desiree Aselbekian claimed that most friends and neighbors she speaks to agree with her that the attacks against Bartolini are “a political witch hunt, a smear campaign against Mr. Bartolini, and it’s just not right.”
  • Defense of Bartolini by a representative from Ken Foods and the attorney for Park Central, both of whom characterized Bartolini as giving the public fair opportunity to comment on concerns

Evidence selectmen were asked to consider by the defense includes many hours of videos from hearings on Park Central. Petitioners’ attorney Gary S Brackett presented a video highlight reel of Bartolini’s supposed missteps. (That section from the Southorough Access Media video of last night’s meeting is queued up below.)

In response, Heller claimed that in order to be fair selectmen should watch if not all, a “substantial portion” of the 30 hours of Park Central hearings. Due to sound issues with the complainants’ video, they will also be able to submit that for further review.

Selectmen Paul Cimino and Chair Brian Shea urged Bartolini to consider recusing himself from the scheduled hearing related to Park Central next week. They said it was do to the “pendency” of selectmen’s decision, not based on the Conflict of Interest issue. Initially, Heller admantly interrupted saying no. He partially recanted, stating he and his client would discuss it.

In ugly asides towards the end of the meeting, one commenter, John Green accused Town Counsel of having been negligent during the approval of the Use Variance. Town Counsel Aldo Cipriano angrily rebutted the “irresponsible and baseless” comment. He suggested it was “an attempt at reprisal” for enforcement issues with Green’s family in his role as Hudson’s Town Counsel.

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5 years ago

I fully support the complaintants. If you watch the testimony, it appears that Bartaloni intentionally mislead in filed paperwork. Case closed. I encourage our selectmen to do the right thing.

The Truth
5 years ago

Sounds like Leo has falsified and hasn’t been open with his relationship with Dipetri. I think that should be enough for removal. If you’re hiding something as simple as that then what else are you doing. It’s a smoking gun.

Mr. Cipriano seemed to have attacked Mr. Green’s family and I’m not sure how that is relevant. What is relevant is that Mr. Cipriano is out on the limb with Mr. Bartolini. He oversees the ZBA from a legal perspective, which he allowed to approve an empty use variance and coached them through it in May of 2015. He then allowed waivers for Conservation and the entire site plan review of the Planning Board. Then allowed a comprehensive permit to be approved with legal language that gave all of the waivers plus a waiver in case the developer needed one in the future all in a 2 hour meeting. Mr. Cipriano also allowed a use variance to be written with no deadline on it that goes against MA State Law.

Sounds like someone is not watching out for the towns best interest if you’ve been following this at all. He’s been the attorney for 15 years in town. I think there is a reason we have term limits on our elected officials and someone with the power of town counsel should maybe be re-evaluated periodically as a best practice.

mark dassoni
5 years ago

meeting\ lawyers free for all was best meeting I been to in all my 20 years, for a local town selectmen meeting having board sit quietly through proceedings was educational for them as well for citizens, I am not on either side it you watch cable playback you will see me sitting next to Mr. Bartolini before meeting started I said to him good luck tonight, after it was over I said to him no person heard nor understood ,he smile and said agree .,the labor rep. was as professional as you can get .to Southborough citizens you showed up in force you all should be proud tonight. Mark Dassoni .

Frank Crowell
5 years ago

After reading this article there is only one conclusion that can be drawn: Mr. Bartolini should have been removed from the Zoning board long before Park Central ever came up. Taking no action on personnel issues is never good which has been twice proven within the year in Southborough.

mark dassoni
5 years ago

By taking no action is best for now, Mr Bartolini will be at Dec. 14 ZBA meeting, the final ending probably will be in middle of January the earliest , Mark Dassoni .

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