HANSON — Proposed bylaw changes governing recall elections sparked more heated debate during Hanson’s annual Town Meeting on Monday, May 7 — while bulk soil removal and storage as well as marijuana business placement also spurred discussion.
“It’s amazing we have 124 people who don’t give a damn about the Celtics,” Moderator Sean Kealy said in announcing that a quorum had been achieved to permit the session to begin. There were 177 total voters signed in for the meeting.
After more than two hours of civil discourse on financial and bylaw articles, debate boiled over when the recall amendment came up for discussion. The amendment was passed, 80-50.
While Kealy managed to keep his humor for most of the meeting, the recall debate tested his patience as a resident repeatedly ignored his admonition to confine debate to the current issue and not dwell on past recalls.
The recall revision article changes the time window for recall votes and provide seven specific reasons for recall elections:
• Conviction of a felony or misdemeanors [domestic violence, DUI, illegal manufacturing, distribution or dispersing of controlled substances, assault or criminal harassment — while presently in office;
• Admission to facts, while presently in office, sufficient to be convicted of a felony or the above misdemeanors;
• Was found in violation of the conflict of interest law while presently in office as determined by the state Ethics Commission or the Attorney General;
• Attended less than 50 percent of the posted public meetings of the board of office of which the official was an elected member or to which he or she has been elected or appointed as part of his or her elected position during the previous 12 months;
• Lack of fitness and sobriety while performing official functions, involuntary commitment to a mental health facility, being placed under guardianship or conservatorship by a probate court;
• Corruption, conviction of a felony involving moral turpitude, conviction of bribery or extortion; or
• Violation of law, regulation, bylaw or other abdication of the applicable requirements for the elected position.
Former Selectman Bruce Young, who wrote the current bylaw, reiterated his objection to changes, citing the fact that it is similar to the bylaw used in many other towns. He added that it would be difficult to recall an official elected without voter knowledge of a conviction in another state. He “totally agreed” with Kealy’s admonition not to rehash prior recall debate.
“We tried to use some elements of the existing bylaw for recall,” said Selectmen Chairman James McGahan. “This change proposed is to make this bylaw more fair, responsible and reasonable.”
But resident Mark Vess, wielding a sheaf of recall petitions from a 2014 recall election, raised the temperature of the debate. Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett made repeated point-of-order objections as Kealy worked to rein in Vess’ comments.
“Do not restrict my speech,” Vess said raising his voice. “Hold it right here.” He charged Kealy could not dictate what goes on at Town Meeting, to which Kealy responded was, indeed, his function as moderator.
“I know you’ve got the Enterpriseon speed-dial, but I can decide what is within the scope of this argument,” Kealy said.
Vess then challenged Kealy to have him ejected from the meeting by police, which Kealy said he preferred not to do. Vess then continued to refer to the 2014 recall.
“There are no names mentioned in what I’m presenting here tonight,” Vess said.
“It’s a small town,” Kealy responded.
Vess continued to read from the 2014 recall petition.
“There’s no need to reread what was put forward as the recall several years ago,” Kealy said. “Is this a wise change to the bylaws or not?”
Vess said it is not a wise change because recalls are intended to remove officials voters do not feel are doing their job.
Holmes Street resident Adam Valachovic noted only half the towns in Massachusetts have recall bylaws.
“The fact that we have one is actually somewhat amazing,” he said in support of the article. “If we’re going to have a bylaw, let’s have it as transparent as possible.”
Another resident said it appears to insulate officials a bit, asking what prompted the drafting of the article.
McGahan reiterated his position that misuse of a bylaw to control a selectman is wrong, but it included valid reasons to remove an official not doing their job.
“In most towns and communities, people are removed from office by recall for malfeasance, misfeasance or non-feasance,” said West Washington Street resident Joe O’Sullivan in support of the article. “The toxic political environment in this community causes good people not to run for those seats up there [on the town officials’ dais].”
Voters grudgingly voted to approve a zoning bylaw governing marijuana sales in town, with an eye toward future amendments and/or a referendum and also approved a 3-percent sales tax on marijuana products.
Marijuana establishment bylaws were required after state voters opted to legalize recreational use in 2016, but former Selectman David Soper wanted to know how Hanson failed to be among 189 communities restricting it or the 25 communities that otherwise regulate it.
A Planning Board-supported effort to pass a moratorium on marijuana establishments was defeated at Hanson Town Meeting, and Hanson was among the state communities voting yes to recreational marijuana in 2016, selectmen pointed out.
“The best we can do to mitigate any potential impact … would be to follow the lead of the Planning Board, which is to zone where these folks can set up,” said FitzGerald-Kemmett. “At least we can control that piece.”
Planning Board member Joseph Weeks said because the moratorium was defeated, Hanson no longer has the luxury of time.
“If we don’t zone it and/or if we zone it and make it too restrictive … there is a possibility in which litigation can come against the town and then we find ourselves really opening up anywhere within the confines of the law and it may go somewhere we just don’t want it to go,” Weeks said. “There is nothing to say you can’t do a referendum after the fact.”
Young asked what the true consequences of voting down the bylaw.
“I’ve been informed by town counsel that the licenses will begin issuing June 1,” Kealy said. “We won’t have another town meeting before then.”
BULK STORAGE BYLAW
The bulk soil storage bylaw revisions were opposed by former Selectman Bill Scott, as a change that would affect “every homeowner in town that decides to put an addition on their home.”
Even the installation of a 40-foot swimming pool would produce 350 yards of material that would have to be moved and stored, Scott said. He also argued it would impact the Highway Department and “anyone trying to run a business” in town while Cranberry growers, of which he is one in Wareham, would be hit hard because of the amount of sand needed in their growing operations.
“This is a knee-jerk reaction to something that has to be decided on its merits, not by putting this garbage in the warrant,” Scott said.
Another cranberry grower, who lives in East Bridgewater but pays taxes in Hanson, said there are already a lot of difficult regulations governing the business.
He doubted the town had standing to supercede state and federal regulations, but pledged to try to work around them if that was the town’s wish.
“I’m not so sure we have the right to tell them how to run their business,” Vess agreed.
Rosewood Drive resident Danielle Sheehan, said she and her neighbors began the bylaw revision effort because of problems with wind-blown sand in a nearby bog. She has lived on the street for 20 years with no problem until recently, saying they had been working with the town for almost a year trying to deal with it.
“We’re not asking them to not do bogs,” she said. “We understand the importance of it. My husband and I are in landscaping and trucking and dealing with sand as well all day long, but there’s a 4,000-yard pile of and out there that, when the wind blows it’s blowing in our faces, our kids can’t play outside. Our outdoor hockey rinks in the wintertime can’t go up because the sand is melting the ice — we have it in our window sills, we have it in our doors, we have it in our cars.”
FitzGerald-Kemmett said the board supports the cranberry business and that the bylaw only requires an annual permit.
Bog owners said that, with dropping water tables and uncertainty over which bogs would be threatened, the permit creates a hardship and that agriculture should be exempted.
McGahan said he has seen the size of the pile in question and noted the severe windstorms this year have exacerbated the problem.
“We didn’t want to do this, but we had to put some kind of control in place so that if it comes down to it, the Board of Selectmen can take action,” he said.
The bylaw change was narrowly defeated 73-67.
“I knew we were going to have a discussion about plants going in, but I didn’t expect it to be about cranberries,” Kealy said at one point during the evening.
Only two budget lines were questioned, one by Planning Board member Don Ellis seeking an additional $5,000 for the town planner’s salary, but that is not permitted via amendment from the floor.
The other, regarding Park and Fields expenses was raised by Soper, who questioned the $25,000 budgeted for an expense that he had understood has been covered by user fees in the past.
Selectman Kenny Mitchell said the funds were intended to maintain seven fields used by various sports leagues. He said sports groups do not support that effort financially. Fertilizer alone costs $9,000 each year, Mitchell said.
Sports groups have provided funding for upkeep of fences, one league representative said, but McGahan, who is active in youth sports, said most user fees go toward uniforms and equipment.
Both Hanson and Whitman town meetings were carried live and recorded for rebroadcast by Whitman-Hanson Community Access TV.