There’s another ugly dispute between Historical Commission Chair Michael Weishan and members of the Board of Selectmen.
Last night, the Board of Selectmen were scheduled to hold a closed Executive Session to address:
the discipline or dismissal of, or complaints or charges brought against a Historical Commission member
I was therefore surprised to see some of the discussion shared on public video, including naming the member accused, under the Town’s Remote meetings. It turns out, the member in question had publicly opened the door to that.
On Monday night, Historical Commission Chair Michael Weishan publicly called selectmen’s investigation into invoices he submitted to the Town years ago “highly suspect” given timing of his impending plans to run against one of its members.
BOS Chair Lisa Braccio adamantly refuted that motivation on Tuesday night, calling his allegation “irresponsible”.
Selectman Marty Healey’s term expires this May. Candidates aren’t able to officially pull papers to run for a position on the Town ballot until February 14th. But given that Weishan ran for selectmen last year, and he has publicly been at odds with Healey, it’s not a surprise to learn he planned to run this spring.
Initially, an agenda and materials posted on February 4th for an open meeting showed that selectmen would be addressing 2016-17 invoices submitted by Weishan for website design work done by his company on behalf of the Historical Commission while he was a member. It included a memo from Town Counsel on January 25th about an apparent violation of Conflict of Interest Laws and a January 31st letter to Weishan.
The letter informed Weishan that selectmen intended to hold an Executive Session to consider conflict violations, though he had the right to request an public, open meeting.
Since the packet didn’t show a written response from Weishan, I reached out to confirm it was his choice to hold an open meeting. He responded that materials were posted “mistakenly”. He wrote that the meeting would be in Executive Session, though there might be follow up in a future open session.
Shortly after, the materials were pulled from the Town’s website. That afternoon they were replaced with a revised agenda for a closed Executive Session without additional materials. So, I honored Weishan’s request not to post them. (Though, I had already made a reference to the matter in response to a comment.)*
During Monday night’s Historical Commission meeting, under Chair’s Report, Weishan referred to a news item that they may have seen about a member “to be examined for ethical issues”. He told them he was the member and he wanted them to hear directly from him.
He explained that charges related to expenses submitted and approved in 2016 for the creation of the Historical Commission’s former website. Weishan stated that he couldn’t be more surprised since they were “signed off on by everyone there”. He followed:
all I can say is the timing of this, just in front of the election, when I intend to announce to run against Marty Healey, is highly suspect. . .
I’m hoping this is just a misunderstanding that I’m going to be Christian in that assessment, and say that this is a misunderstanding on the power of the town’s part and that this will all go away. We’ll find out.
Weishan assured the Commission there was “no validity” to the charges and hoped that with help from his attorneys it would be resolved. He also claimed that the posted materials had been taken down after his attorney objected that it contained “erroneous materials”. He said he was hoping and praying to be back at their next meeting, but if removed their “exceedingly adept” Vice Chair would take over.
On Wednesday, prior to going into Executive Session, BOS Chair Lisa Braccio shot back. She referred to Weishan’s public statement the night before. She said she wanted to address the “inconsistencies”, since they could impact their decision to go into a closed session:
To allude that this discussion before us tonight was to influence an announcement of a potential run for selectmen by Mr. Weishan and Mr. Healy is nothing more than irresponsible and damaging untruths. . .
By using his position on the historical commission under chairs report as an avenue to make false accusations during a public meeting against this board and Mr. Healey specifically prior to tonight’s meeting is at the very least questionable and troublesome on many levels.
She explained that the board hadn’t been privy to any of the findings, or her request for Town Counsel’s review, until January 28th and he was contacted on the 31st. She also followed that materials weren’t taken down based anything erroneous. They were removed after Weishan “rescinded” authorization for an open meeting through his attorney. (That indicates that the meeting posted as open based on the Town’s initial understanding that was Weishan’s preference.)
Given Weishan’s public comment, Braccio sought Town Counsel advice on their options and to find out how the Board wanted to proceed. Attorney Kate Federoff told them that they had the right to stay in open session, move to closed session, or to make a motion that would allow them to go into closed session with the possibility of returning to open session.
Braccio asked Weishan whether he wanted an open or closed session. He responded with a statement explaining that he had just retained counsel on Friday. His attorney was requesting a continuance. Asked whether to have that discussion in closed or open meeting, Weishan deferred to his counsel, Attorney Mark Smith. Smith requested a closed session, and the Board agreed, with an option to return to public session.
In a subsequent video, the Board reentered an open meeting to adjourn the meeting. As they were signing off, Braccio seemed to indicate that she would be seeing Smith again. No follow up agenda has been posted yet.
If Weishan is removed from the Commission, it would be both familiar and a first.
In 2016, after petitioners called for removal of Zoning Board of Appeals Chair Leo Bartolini, selectmen** reached a closed door compromise with him to demote himself to a member. After a formal complaint ws filed, selectmen opened a then “unprecedented” public hearing on the matter. The board described the need to meet a high bar for that decision, and ultimately voted to keep him onuntil the end of his term in June 2018. (Though, he resigned a couple months short of that.)
However, the Board has chosen not to reappoint members who fall short of their expectations. And Weishan’s position on the Historical Commission in June 2018** is one of the most public examples of that.
At that time, Historical wanted Weishan to continue in his role. Then- Selectman Brian Shea argued against it, sharing complaints from a developer and St. Anne’s Church over communications from Weishan. Those related to his efforts to impede demolition of an historic home. The Commission objected and filed an ethics complaint against Shea, claiming he wasn’t transparent about his role in the matter. That in turn drew the ire of the full Board. (In 2019, Shea publicly stated that the Ethics Commission ultimately ruled in his favor.)
In 2020, Selectmen re-appointed Weishan to the Historical Commission, which was badly in need of volunteers and expertise. During that meeting, Weishan blamed poor communications between himself and selectmen for the issues in 2018. Referring to statements he made back then that caused issues, he noted he should have just “shut up”. Braccio responded “he should never shut up” when he disagrees with something. Since then Weishan has publicly criticized the Board on several occasions and drawn heavy criticism from Healey at times over his public comments and communications with residents.
Last night, before the discussing Weishan’s behavior and how to proceed with the meeting, two selectmen and Town Counsel made disclosures about past dealings with Weishan’s attorney. Andrew Dennington said he filed an official disclosure that the law firm he works for had past interactions with Smith’s firm and attorneys. He noted that the disclosure was to avoid appearance of impropriety and to assure that he could act impartially.
Healey worked with Smith for a few years in the 90s and his firm occasionally has acted as opposing counsel on cases he supervised. And Federoff said Smith’s firm had represented hers to prepare some documents. Both said that nothing required disclosures from them, but they made statements of past interactions “for the record”.
*Prior to hearing back from Weishan, I did respond to an anonymous comment claiming selectmen were going after a Historical Commission member for confronting them about the trees taken down next to St. Marks Street. My response included that the accusation was about Conflict of Interest related to financial payments made to a member of the Commission.
**None of the selectmen from the 2016 removal hearings for Bartolini are still on the Board. The only current member who was serving when Weishan wasn’t reappointed in 2018 is Chair Lisa Braccio.