Select Board held up member reappointments to four committees — discussion on June 18 (Updated)

Hamilton opines members should resign if they "can't support" Select Board's positions. CPC, SHOPC, OSPC, and Stewardship are asked to come in to discuss goal alignments and other issues.

Above: Former Select Board Member Lisa Braccio took issue with current member Al Hamilton’s stated philosophy on committees appointed by the Select Board. (images cropped from video of June 4th meeting.)

Last week’s Select Board meeting became contentious after member Al Hamilton asked the board to hold up the reappointments of members with expiring terms on the Community Preservation Committee, Southborough Housing Opportunity Partnership Committee, Open Space Preservation Commission, and Stewardship Committee.

There are multiple issues that the Select Board wanted to discuss with each of the committees before making reappointments. But Hamilton made clear that his overriding concern was ensuring committees agree to follow the Select Board’s direction and positions.

Doubling down later in the meeting, Hamilton responded to pushback from some CPC members, stating that if members on committees “can’t support the positions of the elected board, the honorable thing in my opinion is to resign.”

The held committees are being asked to attend the Select Board’s June 18th meeting to discuss issues. While the majority of the board didn’t assert full agreement with Hamilton’s view (and there was some, at least partial, dissent), it will clearly be a part of that discussion.

There’s a lot to go over here. So, I’m going to break this down into the following sections::

  • Hamilton’s stated philosophy
  • Specifics on why each committee was held (including other members’ reasons)
  • Board reactions & public debate over Hamilton’s vision
  • Fact checks for Hamilton’s statements, and some related history/context
Hamilton’s stated philosophy

The discussion of why committees were being held began with Hamilton outlining his “vision”:

when we appoint people boards and commissions, we are appointing people to help us implement the policies, directions that the voters elected us to set as the Town’s chief executive. And I think there are a few cases where we need to have understandings with some of the committees about what they’re doing and whether they are operating in the directions that we want. . .

I want to make sure that the individuals that we appoint are in you know are willing to take the sort of direction that we want to provide, because, quite frankly, that’s what the voters elected us to do.

Hamilton said those that disagreed could pull papers to run for a seat on the board when the time comes.

Specifics on why each committee was held (including other members’ reasons)

CPC & SHOPC
Hamilton raised “substantial concerns about the timeliness” of CPC closing out projects funded by the Community Preservation Act, and returning unspent funds to their proper buckets. Chair Kathy Cook agreed it was an issue and believed the Town was about to get a state report pointing that out. But she followed that they received an email from the Chair saying that the committee has been making good progress.

Hamilton also said that he thought the committee wasn’t necessarily aligned with the Select Board on prioritizing Affordable Housing, and that they need to be on the same page.

Last year, SHOPC selected its Chair Doriann Jasinski to fill its vacant seat on the CPC. The Select Board voted against the appointment. That decision was said to be based on their view that SHOPC had made insufficient progress on affordable housing and not put forward any CPA projects. Four of the five Select Board members agreed that a “shake up” was needed. (Andrew Dennington was the minority vote.)

The position has remained vacant since. And in CPC’s meeting on June 6th, Chair Ben Smith referred to issues making quorum for their meetings.

Now, Jasinski is one of the two returning members whose terms are up for reappointment on SHOPC. Last week, Select Board members didn’t target her or criticize the committee in their comments about holding up the reappointments. Instead Hamilton said that the hold was due to in-progress efforts to change affordable housing committee structures. 

Merging SHOPC with Affordable Housing Trust Fund Committee into one “more effective” committee was on the Select Board’s to do list of goals to tackle over the past year. (Since SHOPC is established in the Town bylaws, that would require Town Meeting to approve changes.) Since those details are still up in the air, Cook said that she assumed reappointments would be made in the interim.

But Hamilton, the Select Board’s rep on SHOPC, pointed out they hadn’t had a conversation with the committee about proposed changes yet. He followed that they should have a clear direction on their path before reappointing members.

Back to the CPC. . . Select Board member Marguerite Landry gave her own reason for a sit down with that committee. She said that she was disappointed that members weren’t interested in pursuing a suggestion she had made to help them with long term planning. She thinks they should meet with different boards and committees to solicit ideas of what projects would be good to consider. She noted that she had believed CPC was receptive to the idea, then suddenly it wasn’t.

Landry opined that boards and committees should talk to each other once or twice per year. Member Sam Stivers pointed out that they would have a chance to talk to CPC at its forum last Thursday.

Stewardship Committee & OSPC
Hamilton expressed upset that the Stewardship Committee had submitted official comments to other boards in opposition to the proposed 40B housing project at 120 Turnpike Road. He noted that the project was one that the Select Board had publicly supported and wanted to see built. He argued that a committee appointed by the Select Board shouldn’t have worked to undermine its will. Instead, they should have come the Select Board to explain their opposition.

Hamilton didn’t specify that OSPC’s position on the 40B was an issue. (They also argued for the Town to protect the land that the prior owner of 120 Turnpike Road had promised to the Town.) Instead, he opined that the OSPC has been exceeding its “statutory authority”.

Hamilton previously raised the issue in September when the board was appointing a new member to fill one of the commission’s vacancies. At that time, he said that he’d like OSPC to respect the four corners of their enabling legislation. He called it inappropriate for the OSPC to have submitted comments on letterhead to the Planning Board about the Historical Society’s site plans for Fayville Hall (41 Central Street). He opined that the parcel wasn’t open space and therefore wasn’t under the commission’s purview in the bylaws. Last week, he said he was also dismayed that their seat on the CPC gone unfilled for too long.

Cook gave her own reasons to have Stewardship and OSPC come in for a talk. She spoke about the possibility that the committees could work more effectively if they were merged. (She referred to OSPC’s issues with lagging and outstanding minutes*, helping both more easily meet quorum, and the fact that one member serves on both.) But she stressed that she would only want to make changes if both committees supported it.

Board reactions & public debate over Hamilton’s vision

Fellow Board members’ reactions
Landry said that even though Select Board members are elected, she believes the appointed committee members also bring their “own thing of value” to the table. She indicated that board and committee discussions should deal with opposing personalities and people “feeling slighted or that what they are trying to contribute isn’t being understood”. She opined that was leading to wasting people’s “energy, time and courage to participate”.

Vice Chair Andrew Dennington agreed with Hamilton that the Select Board shouldn’t simply “rubber stamp” reappointments. And Cook had initially suggested that the board should hold individuals that anyone had issues with so that they could discuss them on the 18th. But neither elaborated sentiments that went as far as Hamilton’s. And it was Hamilton’s suggestion to bring in entire committees rather than certain individuals.

Cook rebutted Hamilton’s take on the Stewardship Committee’s opposition to the 40B project abutting the Town Forest at Breakneck Hill. She highlighted that the committee’s sole charge is to take care of Breakneck Hill Conservation Land. Although she disagreed with the conclusion they reached, she defended their responsibility to raise their concerns about potential impacts to the conservation land.

CPC Reactions
Jasinski was in the room when the Select Board held up the SHOPC reappointments. She declined to make any comment that night.

One of the CPC members whose reappointment was held is former Select Board member Lisa Braccio. She said she learned from someone via text while she was out to dinner that her reappointment was held. After her hand raised online was ignored/missed, she showed up in person but initially had to wait over a half hour for the board to return to the topic.

Responding to Hamilton’s explanation and the board’s discussion, she angrily argued:

I didn’t realize the [five] of you sitting here on this board are the gods of who sits on committees and Boards in this town. and if we choose not to serve on your agenda then you have no need for us to volunteer. . .

I sat at that table for six years and never, ever did I not appoint somebody or even consider not appointing somebody because they didn’t want to follow the agenda. In a democracy every voice has a right to be heard [and if mine] is different from yours that’s great. That creates a discussion. It just creates collaboration, and it creates an opportunity to serve all of the taxpayers of this town.

Braccio also highlighted that she was elected to the Planning Board, and the board’s chosen representative to the CPC.

Cook responded by asking the former Select Board member a “theoretical” question about how she would respond to a person on a committee that “doesn’t like” someone on the Select Board and appears to intentionally undermine the board “over and over and over”. Braccio said that she would first have a conversation with the person. Cook replied that’s what they are trying to do by having conversations on the 18th.

Kristin Lavault spoke out over zoom as the Recreation Commission’s CPC representative, whose term on the committee was also up for renewal. She wondered aloud if Cook’s hypothetical referred to her. [Editor’s Note: Lavault argued against the Select Board’s original plans for handling the potential disposition of the South Union Building, 21 Highland Street. And as a resident Lavault, publicly criticized the board’s position on the 120 Turnpike Rd 40B.]

Lavault stated that anyone who knows her or other CPC members:

knows we do not do anything because of our personal agenda. I can’t state the same for you anymore. We do things right and what we think is up right on behalf of town. Mr. Hamilton if we deferred to your agenda last fall, you would have gotten rid of 21 Highland Street with little to no people knowing it. . .

you were at least pursuing option, it’s very unclear. But that to me proved we need this checks and balances. . .

This highlights why people are really hesitant to volunteer in this town.

Grant Farrington, the Historical Commission’s representative on the CPC (whose term isn’t expiring), said he found what he heard “pretty disturbing”.

Farrington noted, “I think it’s kind of ironic that, this you know the comments from Mr. Hamilton are from a member of the Select Board who has openly stated that he wants to get rid of the CPA in town.”

For those unfamiliar, CPC’s role is related to oversight and recommended use of the CPA funds. Earlier this year, Hamilton suggested that he would like to ask Town Meeting to vote on whether or not they still want a CPA surcharge of 1% on their taxes, since the state’s match has declined over time. (That was in contrast to some officials who want to ask voters to increase the surcharge. Advisory Chair Andrew Pfaff has argued that a resulting increased match from the state would help reduce Southborough taxpayer burdens by using CPA funding to offset costs of some Town projects.)

CPC members noted at the June 4th meeting, and during their own meeting two nights later, that the board hadn’t had a problem “rubber stamping” a long list of reappointments. They questioned why just the four committees were targeted.

At CPC’s June 6th meeting, Smith addressed the situation. The CPC Chair quipped:

what Mr. Hamilton seems to envision is that we would be a committee basically of bobble head dolls that just nod a yes at their request. . .

if that’s what they expect, I think they’ve appointed the wrong folks

Smith said that in watching the June 4th meeting, he agreed that some of the comments seemed to have been directed at Lavault. He voiced full support of her service on the committee. He followed that if they lost even one member, their work would grind to a halt due to quorum issues. The Chair also said he raised his points with Dennington who he had received a call from that afternoon.

Farrington suggested that Hamilton may purposely be trying to hamstring them with quorum issues, since he seems to be against the CPA.

Citizen-at-large member Ellen Marya noted that at no time had she been asked to support the policy positions of the Select Board as a condition of her appointment, or even been told what those positions were. Rebutting Hamilton’s view, Marya said:

we do not operate in a parliamentary system in this town. Committee members do not sign on to a party list or platform when we volunteer our time to serve our town. . .

We all bring our own expertise, knowledge, and commitment to try to best fulfill the mission and obligations of our committees. . .

I would invite them to transparently and clearly lay out their process for considering committee volunteers.

Marya highlighted that part of her reason for serving on the CPC was her interest in supporting affordable housing. But she later referred to a bone of contention between the Select Board and CPC over how to approach funding affordable housing projects.

She asserted that the CPC shouldn’t just rubber stamp applications in front of them or “transfer thousands of dollars of our Town funds to other committees without so much as an application before us let alone a vision of how those funds will be spent.” She followed that she was open to continuing to improve how the committee operates in collaboration with the Select Board and other committees.

Lavault and Braccio both expressed admiration for Marya’s calm tone, acknowledging that being unprepared for the events that evening, they had reacted passionately. But Lavault said that while she would try to reign it in a little, she stood by the passion she expressed. Braccio said she was humbled by having heard from about 90 to 100 people. A lot of what she heard was people upset over open space.

At CPC’s meeting, Planning Member Debbie DeMuria*** opined that the Select Board has “diversity of thought”, but is “weak”. There is one member with a “very extreme opinion” and “others who didn’t stand up for what they know is right”.

Fact checks for Hamilton’s statements, and some related history/context

At the June 4th meeting, Hamilton told the room, “I was elected on a platform. I told the voters what I wanted to do and I intend to try and do those things.”

It is true that when running for the post, Hamilton expressed a desire to make progress on facilitating affordable housing projects. But while those familiar with Hamilton in Town politics may have been familiar with his governing philosophy on appointed committees, he didn’t outline his “parliamentary view” to voters. And despite it being true that as he stated last week, he previously resigned committees “when they didn’t go his way”, there are some notable differences between those actions and asking people to either follow the Select Board’s lead or resign.

Hamilton told voters he wanted to better support committees, not expand Select Board authority
Hamilton’s Candidates Statement on this blog included language that some voters may have interpreted very differently than the view he stressed last week. He wrote:

My overriding goal as a member of the Select Board is to get us back to normal, reasonable, mostly boring municipal government.

Among the specific details he listed:

Town Volunteers – Almost no big decision, or many small ones, happens in town without the review, input, and direction of dedicated volunteer-based committee. Over the years, service in town committees has declined. I want to explore how we can better recognize and encourage this selfless service and how we can ease the administrative burden placed on these folks who so generously give their time to our community.

He followed,

I am asking for your vote because I want to make running the municipal side of local government less volatile, hostile, and contentious. I am not interested in expanding the powers and authorities of the Select Board at the expense of Town Meeting or other Boards. I want to listen and respond to the practical needs of our town’s residents.

Past committee disagreements and resignations
Hamilton resigned from the Advisory Committee in 2010 after 10 years. On this blog, he indicated that was based on his disagreement with the decisions of the majority of that committee. While he expressed respect for his colleagues, he also gave the impression her resigned out frustration with their approach rather than to honor to the majority’s will.

In April 2016, he urged the Select Board that as elected leaders they should be giving directions to the boards and committees they appoint. Although reappointments happened without incident that summer, selectmen initially appeared to plan to “vet” some committees at reappointment time. My coverage prompted a lively debate in blog comments, many from Hamilton defending his position.

At the time, Hamilton was the Chair of the Public Safety Study Committee. He worried that members’ efforts to support the board’s desired building project would be wasted time and energy if other committees convinced Town Meeting to vote it down.

Ironically, Hamilton eventually was an unsuccessful public voice of opposition. In February 2017, after stepping down as chair, but still serving as a member on the committee, he issued a letter on this blog advocating for the public to by vote No on the Select Board’s Article to fund the project. (He did resign sometime later that month, after participating in one more meeting.)

That’s not necessarily hypocritical. Hamilton’s letter interestingly positioned himself as acting in support of the Select Board. He claimed it was the majority of the committee (and Town employees) that were disrespecting the board by not taking proper steps to lower the budget as had been requested by the board.

It is worth pointing out that he had been serving on an ad hoc committee specifically created by selectmen to help them with the big project — not a committee created under a bylaw statute passed by Town Meeting.

Were Committees intended to be under Select Board control?
The OSPC, CPC, and SHOPC were formed by Town Meeting and enshrined in Town bylaws. Both committees were to be appointed by the Select Board. But the language for the first two specifies that concurrently serving on the Select Board is prohibited since it would pose a conflict of interest.

In the case of the CPC, the bylaw states that the committee “shall consist of” followed by a list of members to be “designated by” the committees they represent. And the Select Board is just one of several Town boards that the CPC is meant to consult with. The bylaws state that its duty is to make recommendations to Town Meeting.

At CPC’s June 6th meeting, Chair Ben Smith disagreed with Town Counsel’s interpretation of the bylaw, defending the Select Board’s right not to appoint members. Smith opined that the Select Board was violating the bylaw, state law, and the will of 2003 Town Meeting voters by not appointing designated representatives.

SHOPC’s bylaws specify “it shall also include one member each from the following: Planning Board, Select Board, and Southborough Housing Authority” but not how those members would be selected.

As for the OSPC’s charter, it is true that their charge in bylaws is simply defined as “Said Commission shall serve as facilitators for protecting and preserving open space in the Town”. Over time OSPC has expanded its work to encourage protection of native plants and pollinators. While that isn’t in the bylaws, that expanded vision is reflected in the Town’s Master Plan.

The “2021” plan created by the Master Plan Committee was a collaboration of Town boards and committees, and adopted by the Planning Board in 2022. In it, the OSPC is assigned responsibilities that include collaborating with Planning and Conservation on policies and conditions for native planting schemes to be incorporated into reviews of site plans and permit applications. (Still, that doesn’t specify that they should comment on individual applications for privately owned parcels.)

Although the Stewardship Committee is appointed by the Select Board, it’s stated mission is to support the Conservation Commission in overseeing the conservation land. And the Conservation Commission also opposed to allowing the 40B to be built on land that the previous owner had gifted to the Town.

I was curious about why Conservation isn’t charged with making the appointments. It turns out, there aren’t any bylaws for the committee. It was created almost 20 years ago by the Select Board as an ad hoc committee.** Normally, those are meant to be temporary to handle a project with an end date. But this one was never subsequently brought to Town Meeting for adoption into the bylaws as a standing committee.

Prior controversial non-reappointment decisions
This isn’t the first time the Select Board has voted to not make reappointments. But past instances I’m aware of were also contentious. In 2018, the board (including Braccio) voted to not reappoint Michael Weishan to the Historical Commission. That was purportedly not over the positions he had taken, but based on allegations made about his inappropriate/disrespectful “tone” in correspondence with the public.

And in 2011, the board voted unanimously not to reappoint a 7 year member of the Zoning Board of Appeals after developers and residents publicly accused the board of having “an air of disdain” towards development. Notably that volunteer is now a Select Board member. Stivers will be on the other side of the table at the follow up reappointment discussion a week from tonight —Tuesday, June 18th. (Look for an agenda to be posted here by this Friday afternoon.)

And, in 2022, before Braccio joined the Planning Board, that board voted against reappointing a member of the the Public Works Planning Board. Sue Baust sought to continue her role. Instead, over the objections of the PWPB Chair, four Planning members chose to replace her with fellow Planning member Debbie DeMuria. (That was based on DeMuria’s arguments that the PWPB was meeting too infrequently and needed to take a more active role.)

*[Open Space minutes from November 9, 2023 and March 21, 2024 have yet to be posted. Minutes for many other meetings were submitted several months later over the past year. The Town Clerk’s office documented that minutes from Oct 25, 2023 and Dec 14, 2023 meetings weren’t received until March 6, 2024. 2023 minutes for April 5, June 21st, and July 10th were marked as received on January 2, 2024, along with a Draft version for the May 5, 2023 meeting, which has yet to be replaced with an official approved version. Most of the OSPC’s meetings are held without video recordings, making the minutes the only way for the public to follow what the committee has been up to.]

**Conservation Agent Melissa Danza shared a document that she located for the Stewardship Committee — Minutes from a 2005 Conservation meeting referring to the establishment of the ad hoc committee.

***It’s worth acknowledging that DeMuria could be argued to have multiple biases. She is the wife of Stewardship Committee member Kevin Farrington, mother of CPC’s Grant Farrington, and a member of the Planning Board who voted for the board’s appointed representatives to the CPC and SHOPC.

Updated (6/13/24 12:22 pm): I recalled that there was one more controversial reappointment decision that I had initially intended to include. Planning Board’s decision against making a reappointment in 2022 seems relevant to the history and context around this issue.

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Michael Weishan
9 days ago

“I didn’t realize the [five] of you sitting here on this board are the gods of who sits on committees and Boards in this town. and if we choose not to serve on your agenda then you have no need for us to volunteer. . . I sat at that table for six years and never, ever did I not appoint somebody or even consider not appointing somebody because they didn’t want to follow the agenda. In a democracy every voice has a right to be heard [and if mine] is different from yours that’s great. That creates a discussion. It just creates collaboration, and it creates an opportunity to serve all of the taxpayers of this town.”

Former SB Chair Lisa Braccio at the 6/4/24 SB meeting
 
Well, after incredulously hearing the above at the last Select Board meeting, all I can say is: I hope Ms. Braccio never visits the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome. There, tourists line up to stick their hand into the famous Bocca della Veritá —the Mouth of Truth. Legend has it that serial liars will have their arm immediately bitten off at the wrist.

If that myth is true, sorrily Ms. Braccio would certainly come back to us maimed. I should know: I have been twice subjected to Ms. Braccio’s partisan efforts to remove me from the Historical Commission because I disagreed with her stated SB policy.

The first time supposedly occurred because of the “tone and tenor” (her phrase) of my public remarks. But, in reality it was because, while serving on the Commission, I had uncovered an unholy land swap perpetrated by various governing members of the St. Anne’s parish council, including her pal on the board, Brian Shea. The result cheated the previous owner out of the rightful value of their sale, assured the destruction of yet another of our historic homes, and deeded us the horrible development you see next to the church today on what was once six bucolic acres in the center of Southborough.

When I refused to retract or grovel, I was booted. But the developer made a bundle.

The second time was when the Commission discovered that the BOS, then chaired by Lisa Braccio, had illegally tried to use money for a history walk to pave an intersection on private property—the famous St Mark’s, aka “Bermuda,” Triangle affair. Braccio couldn’t get rid of sitting chair for alerting the State to the fraud, so instead she personally organized and led the monkey trial over a $200 reimbursement from 6 years previous. Because of the town’s accounting error, I was forced to resign or be the first ever chair of the Historical Commission to be removed. Braccio also led the charge to report me to the state Ethics board. There, I was ultimately exonerated. Braccio, of course, never bothered to apologize. Yet, she now considers herself ill-used by the SB for not being automatically re-appointed to the CPC.

But hey: “I sat at that table for six years and never, ever did I not appoint somebody or even consider not appointing somebody because they didn’t want to follow the agenda.”
Yep.

I agree with Mr. Hamilton that there is something very wrong in how the CPC and Open Space Commission function, in particular the fact that Ms. Gillespie, who is chair of the later, also happens to be a paid consultant of the former at 24K per year. Could there be a more obvious conflict of interest? Ms. Gillespie needs to resign from one post or the other. And, if she remains on OS, she needs to nominate a member from OS to the CPC, which she has refused to do for years. That is why the CPC often doesn’t have a quorum—not as the current chair alleges, because the SB failed to appoint a totally unqualified SHOPC nominee.

After a particularly disastrous CPC application by the Historical Society this fall for support of our new history and arts center at Fayville Hall, the Society decided that the CPC was so dysfunctional that we simply gave up—to the great loss of the citizens of Southborough who truly want a new cultural center. Why? Against all evidence, the CPC consultant opined that there was “nothing historic left at Fayville Hall”; Ms. Levault caustically exclaimed “I don’t even know why we are bothering with this application, it’s OUR money”; our representatives were talked over, ignored by Ms. Gillespie and other CPC members, and treated like supplicants, rather than applicants who pay their own tax dollars towards the CPC fund. I suspected, and continue to suspect, that our application was deliberately sunk behind the scenes as payback. I pulled a PRR to see the behind-the-scenes communications, got stonewalled, and am still trying to sort out the truth of the matter. The fact is that there is zero transparency currently on the CPC. It has become largely a tool to build special-interest sports projects around town, neglecting its historic and housing obligations almost entirely. That’s two-thirds of its stated mission, completely ignored.

I differ with Al, however, in that not all appointed town boards and committees should be a port parole of the Select Board. Some ad hoc entities are set up precisely to support the SB. So there, a commonality of mission is to be expected. But for the more permanent entities created by town meeting, there needs to be a certain respectful remove. Bonhomie is all well and good when we have a benign and largely well-intentioned SB group at the helm, which I believe we do now. There can be a disaster, however, when previous SB members like Braccio and Kolenda go off the rails, as they did. Further, certain commissions, such as Historical and Conservation, have sovereign powers granted by the State, and are designed specifically to be counterweights to the whims of often transient (and poorly informed) elected officials. Clearly, experience has shown us that simply winning an election doesn’t mean you have any claim to field-specific knowledge, and a certain amount of “loyal opposition” often needs to be exercised against what have historically turned out to be highly misinformed SB decisions.

That being said: it has become clear that certain appointed boards have totally failed in their responsibilities, or exceeded their legal authority, or become mired in personal politics, or all three, and that’s when the SB needs to start asking the hard questions. (I will also note, Beth, that merely having additional responsibilities mentioned in the town’s Master Plan does not give an entity legal right to increased authority. If Open Space wishes to be the pollinator/native plant arbiter, then, by all means, it should appear before town meeting and request, and defend, a revision of its charter.)

So: I commend Al for finally asking some tough questions about who is serving, what their actual qualifications are, what the applicants have accomplished to date, and why they wish to continue—without the partisan sword that was previously been wielded by SB members in pursuit of their own vendettas. We don’t need or want an allegiance test, but I do think it’s fair game for the SB to gauge a candidate’s desire to advance town priorities rather than their own agendas, examine an appointee’s record to date, as well as assess their collegiality. Appointees who stomp out of public town meetings when they consider their views ill-received, or rant at the SB, should NOT be reappointed to further positions, period. We should be working together to advance our shared priorities, amicably engaging in spirited debate, and jointly resolving our differences to our shared benefit. This has not been the case for far too long, and Al Hamilton is right to call this out. Hopefully the other SB members will have the courage to listen, and act.
 
Michael Weishan served over twenty years on the Historical Commission, including as Chair. He is currently the president and CEO of the Southborough Historical Society, Inc. The views expressed in this editorial are his own.

Lisa Braccio
7 days ago

I have no desire to continue a diatribe with a non-fact based, he said she said with you Michael, but to correct the half truths you are presenting to the public regarding your actions, the response to them and be done with this.  
I plan to reply with facts and mainly posts from this very blog to events you mention.  

Here are some facts regarding “my partisan” efforts to remove you..

Your removal in 2018 was based on your actions against the public as an acting member of the Historical Commission and the potential liability you created for the Town in the emails you sent.  Your non appointment, in fact as reported on this very blog “that the Selectmen referred to your communications as inappropriate and disrespectful”,  to a private land owner and a Priest/Deacon. To be factual about my voting not to appoint you I quote from this blog “…Selectwoman Lisa Braccio said that she needed to abide by a promise made to her by Selectmen in 2010, after she was disrespected (as a citizen), that she “fought” for them to uphold:
Courtesy, respect and open dialogue are prerequisites for continued membership on any board and that there is no room for compromise

if I veer away from that belief that I fought for, just because of someone who I know and respect, then I’m no better than the concern I had.

I am sharing a link to that blog post referred to above:  
https://www.mysouthborough.com/2018/06/08/bos-refuses-to-reappoint-michael-weishan-to-historical-commission/

In 2020 when you sought reappointment, again as reported on this blog:  He made a public apology regarding the “tone” but stood by his view of the accuracy of the communications

.  You were asked when you sought that reappointment if you would do anything differently and you replied you should have just “shut up”.  Subsequently Mr. Healey and I basically told you that you should never shut up.   I might add, again on this blog:  Braccio still had reservations about reappointing Weishan. But she noted that no one was more qualified than him for the role”

 And I did vote to reappoint you in 2020.  

The Historical Commission at the time sent a letter in support of your reappointment with the following caveat:
Please note that the SHC has implemented new procedures for review and approval of any outgoing communication by our members. Our work requires a fair amount of written communication with residents, and it can be challenging for a small group of volunteers to ensure all interactions are consistent in tone. Not only will this address such challenges, but all members will benefit from this procedure going forward.

Blog post regarding the reappointment as referenced above:
https://www.mysouthborough.com/2020/09/11/weishan-reappointed-to-historical-commission-after-forced-absence/
As far as your continued allegations of fraud on the pocket park, the State (Inspector General and MassDot) on all accounts have disagreed with you.  I understand and respect that the public did not like the process and I have publicly owned that many times saying as one member looking back I would have done things very differently. 
Regarding the Select Board’s ethics complaint against you and my lack of an apology, truthfully I don’t believe an apology was warranted based on the response we received from Ethics and the ethics violation you in turn filed against me.  And I am sure Mr. Shea, as a sitting Select Board member at the time,  would appreciate an apology after your and the Historical Commission’s very public ethics complaint against him to which was found to have no merit. 

The discussion that took place at the last Select Board meeting on 6/4 regarding appointments was not about disrespecting and inappropriate comments to the public as yours was but about protecting the right to serve.  My frustration and fight for the right to have different views regarding policy/agenda with the Select Board while serving our Town is shared by many, it is simply called democracy.

Michael Weishan
5 days ago
Reply to  Lisa Braccio

Lisa,

Al Hamilton famously once told you at Town Meeting that “when you’ve dug yourself into a deep hole, it’s best to stop digging.” I can see by your reply above that you have yet to heed that wise advice.

You can repeat your false narrative till you’re blue in the face, but that won’t make it true. Everyone now knows that I was not reappointed in 2018 because I had uncovered an unsavory real estate deal involving St. Anne’s, BOS member Brian Shea, who also sat on the parish board, and an applicant who repeatedly lied at public meetings. Saying there were “acts against the public” adds yet another falsehood to your pile. I spoke the truth to power, and you hid behind a fake “tone or tenor” excuse to support your pals. I will add that the sneering anti-gay tone of Shea’s and Kolenda’s remarks clearly still drips through the links you so kindly posted. Your actions make you complicit in that as well.

And yes, you voted, reluctantly, for my reappointment in 2000.  But when I stupidly thought you truly meant what you said, “speak up,” you quickly discovered that truth was not your friend.

Everyone also now realizes that the charges against me for 200 bucks were your deliberate fabrication. Something the public may not know is that you had personally instructed our Town Counsel to finalize ethics charges against me BEFORE I was even notified of the hearing, let alone wait for a board vote.

What does that say about your kind of “democracy”?

The fact is that you, Healy, Galligan and Purple were caught red-handed submitting a fraudulent application to the State for a “history walk,” when all the time intending to build an intersection on private property in a highly sensitive archaeological area. Yes, you escaped direct prosecution, but the town under your leadership was suspended from further road grant appropriations until either something corresponding to the grant request was built as promised, or the funds returned.  The result is a million-dollar patch of nothing. Your legacy.

You furthered your connivance by trying to ram illegal easements through Town Meeting. Thanks to concerted, organized efforts by me and dozens of allies, you were roundly defeated, and Town Meeting sovereignty preserved. Too late to save the Old Burial Ground and its surrounds though, which have been irreparably damaged by your machinations.

Another part of your legacy.

However, I doubt the public is aware that while we were trying to do everything in our power to rescue and preserve Southborough’s history, you were doing everything in your power to hobble our efforts. A few select items from a far longer list:

1)   Attempting to legally force the Society to renew an outdated lease of the Flagg School, which would have made us responsible for 12K annual upkeep of a town building, after we had already invested hundreds of thousands of our own funds in restoration of a property we didn’t own.

2)   Illegally holding up authorized CPC payments for SHS consultants for over a year, to the point where they were threatening to sue the Society and the town.

3)   Vindictively removing our senior tax worker who had been helping to digitize our collections for school use, despite a 20-year history of employing our seniors at the Society including former Selectwoman Donna McDaniel.

4)   Abusing town moneys and resources to practically tear the Town House apart to find something, anything, to thwart the Society’s sale of the Declaration to save Fayville Hall. In fact, you went so far as to call dozens of people in your official capacity—including every living former selectmen—to find damaging intel against us.  I know this because several of them called me in disgust to report you. Another huge waste of taxpayer dollars, and a malicious infringement on private business practice.

In fact, your pattern of ill intent and harassment became so pronounced that it was your behavior, Lisa, that finally convinced an initially dubious SHS board to sell the Declaration and acquire Fayville Hall.

Again, this is all a matter of written record, not “he says, she says” as you assert, and should alone be enough to disqualify you from any post that has “preservation” as its mission.

Finally, since you brought up your own ethics investigation (which was hardly a single-person effort btw, I just rode point) there is absolutely no equivalency between a group of concerned citizens objecting to you enriching your household by 70K over six years without proper notice or recusal; or the entire Historical Commission unanimously objecting to Mr. Shea’s silent promotion of a million dollar land deal that bulldozed an historic home; and you personally mustering the Town Government to come after me for $200 bucks. And shame on you for trying to place those in the same bin.

I may have made mistakes, Lisa, but at least I did them on my own time and on my own dime.

It is my personal view as a 32-year taxpayer in Southborough that you are simply not fit to serve on the Community Preservation Committee. Your political record far more resembles a vindictive autocrat wrapped in populist red, white and blue tinsel, than the “caring democrat” image you’ve attempted —unsuccessfully—to project. Worse, your documented waste of town funds—now a million and counting—has revealed a disgraceful history of financial mismanagement, damaging preservation decisions, and shady political dealings, which you own in their entirety, despite your attempts to spread the blame. To my mind, that renders you unfit to serve in any capacity that requires handling of our tax dollars in an informed, unbiased, and transparent fashion.  

In the interests of real democracy, I suggest that you immediately withdraw your nomination and let someone more qualified and less biased represent the Planning Board on a (hopefully) reformed CPC.

Al Hamilton
4 days ago
Reply to  Lisa Braccio

Lisa
I am afraid that your vision of town boards and committee appointments looks to me to be far from “democratic”, quite the contrary.

To paraphrase, you appear to be advocating that once appointed to a board or committee the appointee should be reappointed regardless of whether their point of view is aligned with the appointing authority or not.

Further, you appear to advocate that a board or committee should feel free to use its official status and authority to oppose a policy directive that is approved by it’s elected appointing authority.

Both of these visions appear to me to be decidedly undemocratic, effectively removing authority from elected officials and delegating it to unelected officials who believe they are appointed for life.

Elections are supposed to have consequences. Joe Biden does not nominate Ted Cruze or Marjory Taylor Green to his cabinet. He will appoint people who he believes will help him advance the policies he ran on and advocates for. Governor Healey will not search the Libertarian Party when looking for a chief of staff or any other appointed position, no, she will appoint people who are aligned with her view of the proper path that her administration should take. The various elected executives in Southborough are no different.

It is an open secret that I do not believe that the Planning Board is leading the town in an appropriate direction. Does the fact that I think their administration of the Scenic Road By Law is deeply flawed mean that I am entitled to a position on any board or commission they might appoint? Of course not, they, by virtue of being elected, are entitled to appoint people who’s vision aligns with their own. Same for the School Committees, Board of Assessors, Library Trustees, and Clerk.

The proper place to contest the direction of any executive is at the ballot box not from within. That is how democracy is supposed to work.

Last edited 4 days ago by Al Hamilton
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