Selectmen rule: Bartolini to remain on ZBA if recused from Park Central (until conflicts resolved)

Board of Selectmen members ruled that Leo Bartolini will keep his seat on the Zoning Board of Appeals. The vote was contingent on Bartolini recusing himself from any Park Central proceedings until conflict of interest issues are resolved.

Each of the three voting selectmen read a long statement explaining their thought process and concluding with their decision. Opinions differed on the ZBA member’s treatment of residents. But all agreed his behavior wasn’t enough to take the unprecedented action of removing him.

And one member expressed regret over having held the removal hearing. While another indicated he had just recently reversed his opinion based on complainants’ attorney’s actions.

Chair Brian Shea’s recommended adding the temporary recusal as a condition. The other two members agreed without any debate.

Although not a condition, Selectman Paul Cimino directed Bartolini to work immediately with Town Counsel to correct his conflict of interest forms “within the letter of the applicable requirements” and not have any repeated errors going forward.

Many petitioners lobbying for Bartolini’s removal will likely be relieved that he won’t continue to weigh in on Park Central decisions. And that perceived political motivation by Park Central opponents was called out by selectmen as part of the reason for keeping the board member on.

Up front, Shea said that committee members shouldn’t be removed for the decisions they make. He explained that committees have to vote on difficult, controversial issues where there are strong arguments on either side.

All three selectmen said that legal issues on the process for Park Central and alleged conflicts of interest are outside their jurisdiction. Those will be ruled on by higher authorities – the courts and the Ethics Commission.

Their given reason for holding the hearing had been to decide whether or not Bartolini’s purported disrespect of residents was egregious enough to remove him. 

One key example by complainants in the petition that prompted the hearing was Bartolini’s reference to a resident as “the girl”. There has been a lot of debate over whether or not the statement was sexist.

Based on the video of the incident, Selectman Dan Kolenda told the public that while it was “inartful” he saw no indication that Bartolini intended to be demeaning.

But Shea observed that both the resident and others in the room clearly reacted as offended at the time. He said the ZBA official should have recognized that and apologized then whether the offense was intentional or not.

Instead, as Shea recounted, Bartolini’s attorney later suggested that the offended resident should send a letter of apology for what “reeks of age discrimination”. Shea said that “turning the tables”, which he disagreed with, was the “most uncomfortable part of the hearing”. He said that situation came “the closest” to violating standards that had been given to Bartolini in a 2010 letter from selectmen.

And Shea told complainants that “on December 19th, you had me”. He indicated he had planned to vote for removal.

But between then and last night, they lost him. Shea said that a recent action “has tainted this jury member”.

He reconsidered his vote when the attorney representing the petitioners filed a complaint on their behalf against fellow board members John Rooney and Bonnie Phaneuf. The complaint alleges that the selectmen should have recused themselves from an executive session last August on complaints about Bartolini’s behavior. The letter to the Ethics Commission also complains about their presence in the room during the public hearing and related discussions.

Referring to his respect for his fellow selectmen, he said the new ethics complaint weakened the complaint against Bartolini, raised the credibility of the defense in his eyes, and introduced a level of doubt in his mind.

But Shea’s change of heart may be moot as neither of the other two selectmen indicated that they had ever intended to vote to oust Bartolini.

In fact, Cimino said that voting to hold the hearing was the only vote he has ever regretted making since he took office:

I believe that the issues in question were and are addressable by other means and I believe that at this point the motivations of both the petitioners and the respondent alike are open to question in terms of the best interest this town.

And selectman Dan Kolenda told the public that after viewing all of the evidence:

I did not find a clear and consistent pattern of purported abuse.

Kolenda did opine that the way officials and residents have been behaving is not “who we are or want to be”. He urged everyone to elevate the way we speak to one another. But he observed that often Bartolini’s argument with residents was based on residents being argumentative as well as speaking out of turn. And he pointed to residents that supported Bartolini as always looking out for residents and taxpayers.

Cimino had a much harsher assessment of Bartolini’s behavior. He said the former Chair’s demeanor was more than “rough around the edges” as defenders have labeled.

He referred to Bartolini’s interrupting of residents to tell them they are wrong and interrupting of fellow members. He called it inappropriate and furthered it was ridiculous that needed to be said. But he followed that perfection is not the standard.

All three selectmen expressed concern about the impact a removal (and even the hearing) would have on keeping and recruiting volunteers.

Shea opened his comments by referring to citizen petition articles to allow removal of appointed officials and recall of elected ones. He followed:

I’m sure that all eyes are on this proceeding to see if this decision might be an indication of what might potentially come from any other citizen volunteers.

And Kolenda reminded that they often have only one application for an opening. He said that out of the 10,000 residents, only a few (like Bartolini) volunteer put in countless hours to serve the Town.

You can hear their full statements here.

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D. McGee
7 years ago

I watched the meeting on SAM, and was disgusted. Perhaps the most disappointing and disturbing part of last night’s meeting was Shea claiming that he changed his vote not as a result of the facts presented to him, but SOLELY due to the actions of the complainants’ attorney. That is unacceptable, inexcusable and downright petty. If Shea is incapable of separating the facts of the case as presented to him from his personal reaction to filings against fellow Selectman, he does not deserve to be a Selectman of this town.

In the end, the buck apparently does not stop at the Selectmen’s desks, as all they did was kick the can down the road to the State. As a result, the town’s long running embarrassment on the ZBA will continue to serve. Shame on them.

D. McGee
7 years ago
Reply to  D. McGee

I should also say that before yesterday, I was leaning against the recall issue on the Special Town Meeting Warrant. After watching last night’s meeting, I am now 100% behind it.

mark dassoni
7 years ago

It was fair to the point, the best part was adding the reclusion from all upcoming park central from April 12 on ,decision to have ethics commission and court do what they do is all good, I sat and listen was educated on process now it in ethics and courts hands .Mark Dassoni .

7 years ago

Selectman made the only proper vote. This whole thing was political. Mr. Kolenda raises a very good point. Wonder how many proponents of removal will step up and serve. Every time an opening exists, all town resident should ask, if not me, who, if not now when.

D. McGee
7 years ago
Reply to  Publius

Not wanting to serve in an elected or appointed office is absolutely unrelated to the need for townspeople to believe that the duties of such officers who do choose to serve are being carried out ethically, transparently and with the dignity required for the office. The two are mutually exclusive, and it’s a red herring to suggest otherwise.

7 years ago
Reply to  D. McGee

You may be right about lacking of willingness to “step up and serve” but you would be kidding yourself if that didn’t applied to everyone, including those defending/supporting Mr. Bartolini.

I really would like people to stop using “political” and say what they really mean! Umm did you mean “of or relating to government, a government, or the conduct of government”? Yes, it is!

I am disappointed in Selectmen Shea for reasons D. McGee said already.

I am also disappointed in Selectmen Kolenda. Trust and respect is a two way street and if town officials don’t set a good example then how can you expect it from ordinary citizens?

I don’t agree with Selectmen Cimino’s vote but at least is something I can respect.

7 years ago

Publius, I agree with you 110%. Having watched the video of the removal hearing, the so-called petitioners were upset with a decision and their attorney was ridiculous. Why in the world anyone would want to do anything for this town is beyond me.

mike fuce
7 years ago

Beth, Do you think it wise to have a policy that in order to contribute to discussion a person should be form Southborough? It makes sense to me.

7 years ago
Reply to  mike fuce

Love that idea. Mark Dassoni is so interested in everything that goes on here but has no skin in the game. It is annoying and really, why do we care what he thinks? Hope he is as active in his own town. I think he is a Southboro-wanna-be!

D. McGee
7 years ago
Reply to  Resident

If you don’t care what he thinks, why do you keep reading his posts? Stop reading them. Problem solved.

Downtown Resident
7 years ago
Reply to  mike fuce

How could that possibly be enforced?
I am sure that you know that the 3 W’s in the web address stand for ‘World Wide Web.’ Anyone, anywhere in the world can access this blog.
We are not a private club.
Get over your “I live in Southborough” selves.

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