HANSON — Zoning Board of Appeals Chair Kevin Perkins was removed, but Alternate Sean Buckley was not removed, as the Select Board, held a public hearing on Thursday, Nov. 10 to determine their status on the ZBA.
Select Board member Jim Hickey voted to allow Perkins to remain on the ZBA.
The two ZBA members were investigated for charges of unprofessional conduct, failure to disclose and failure to cooperate with the investigatory process. Both Perkins and Buckley requested the hearing be held in a public meeting instead of the executive session offered.
Perkins’ attorney William Simms, before a motion could be made, accused both Select Board Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett and member Joe Weeks of having complaints filed against them by Perkins and asking why they didn’t recuse themselves from a vote.
FitzGerald said she knew what the complaint against her was — that she did not like Perkins and kept voting against appointing him.
“I don’t need to like somebody, I don’t need to appoint somebody,” she said. “I don’t know him. … I just felt based on things I had been told over the course of several years that I did not feel comfortable endorsing Mr. Perkins to the Board. … That’s my job.”
He claimed Weeks was a member of a Facebook group “Investigate the Board of Appeals,” which Weeks said he had once been a year ago, but had deleted his Facebook account in April.
“I am absolutely unbiased, because I don’t know what you are talking about,” Weeks said.
At an August 2021 the board received a citizen’s petition signed by 150 voters seeking an investigation of the ZBA citing potential conflict of interest between and among its members, Select Board Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said. Selectmen were compelled to include in the October special Town Meeting warrant that year, which voters approved unanimously.
The Select Board voted Oct. 19, 2021 the Select Board votes to hire an investigator, hiring James Lampke that November. She noted that the town received the results of the ZBA investigation as they were meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. The Select Board received it the following day and the ZBA were given copies and public the opportunity to view it the following week on the town’s website hanson.ma.gov.
Simms requested that specific allegations and any supporting evidence read in the open session.
FitzGerald-Kemmett read from the letter sent to Perkins listed:
•Unprofessional conduct displayed on Sept. 27, 2022 at which time he was heard by meeting attendees and the Select Board of using profanity during that meeting; on June 21, 2022 after William Cushing an Joshua Pratti were appointed to temporary terms, Perkins “behaved in a disrespectful manner and used contentious language when leaving;”
• Failure to disclose: Lampke’s report concluded that Perkins failed to file a potential conflict of interest form regarding his business relationship with Ed Johnson with the Town Clerk;
• Failure to cooperate with the investigation process by refusing to meet with Lampke.
Specifically, Perkins had done electrical work for the Elizabeth Brown Trust at 143 Woodbine Ave., in November 2020, which was the initial applicant for the 40B development on Spring Street. The project changed back and forth between Cushing Trails and the Trust, FitzGerald-Kemmett said referring to permits on file at Town Hall.
Simms maintained that Perkins disclosed “what he thought was appropriate” about a business relationship he had in the past. He felt he could sit impartially and hear a proposal. FitzGerald-Kemmett stressed he, to the contrary, said he had no relationship.
Simms countered that the relationship has ceased.
“Professionalism is a critical component of members of the Zoning Board of Appeals, and as a public official, the breaches in question deviated substantially, publically and overtly from the expectations of a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals,” the letter concluded.
Simms said he requested an un-redacted video recording of two of the Select Board meetings, but instead got and edited version, which was available online to anyone in the public.
“We do not tape those meetings,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “That is Whitman-Hanson Cable. They are a separate entity and we’ve got no control over that.”
He said they had filed public complaint requests with WHCA for the un-redacted version and have not yet received it.
“So we are not fully prepared to address everything tonight,” Simms said. “We’ll do our best, but we think there was a lot of information presented in public by this board that was not available for me to review and the public to comment on.”
Minutes of the meetings, which Simms received only 24 hours before the hearing, were unapproved drafts, rather than official minutes.
“We’re dealing with information that is incomplete and unavailable to me to adequately respond,” he said, further arguing the allegations were not specific. “We’re talking about cause here. You want to dismiss a member from the [ZBA], you need cause, and I want to hear exactly what that cause is with specificity.”
FitzGerald-Kemmett said the board had clips from the videos and asked Town Administrator Lisa Green to play them. He clearly said “this is bullshit,” witnessed by the board, members of the audience in the room and watching the live meeting, but FCC regulations prohibit WHCA-TV from rebroadcasting the profanity.
Simms said it sounded “muffled” to him, which is why he wanted the un-redacted version.
The video of the June 21 meeting showed him storming out of the room.
“What was that about?” Simms said.
“We are the appointing authority of the ZBA and his conduct has been consistently disrespectful,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “Those were just a couple of examples.”
Simms argued he was sitting at the meetings as a citizen, not a ZBA member and asked if Perkins was heard using profanity at a sporting event, would that be unprofessional conduct?
“We haven’t had anybody else speak to us that way,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “Nobody.”
The failure to disclose allegation, concerns a business owner who “comes before the board on a fairly frequent basis,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said.
Simms replied that Perkins informed him about multiple disclosures he has filed over the years.
“We have one disclosure on file,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said, admitting in response to a question from Simms that Town Clerk Elizabeth Sloan was unable to fine one such form during an Ethics Commission investigation of Perkins. She later discovered she had misfiled it and apologized for it several times, including publicly and in writing.
“It’s pretty clear to evidence that there’s something going on that is inappropriate, and I don’t know exactly what it is, but it reappeared, we’ve got apologies from public officials and town employees,” Simms said, suggesting the investigation should “focus a little bit more on what’s going on in Town Hall.”
FitzGerald-Kemmett reminded him of the parameters of the hearing.
“We would like to see the additional disclosures that Mr. Perkins has filed, because we have not been provided anything other than the one that the town clerk misfiled,” she said.
“I’ve filed multiple disclosures over the time I’ve been on the ZBA,” Perkins read from a statement. “In these years I have served there have been at least four town administrators, at least three administrative assistants and various turnovers of selectmen and members.”
He said he has received conflicting information about filing disclosures and to whom. He pointed out that Town Hall security had “previously been an issue.”
When asked if he could provide copies of the disclosures, Perkins said he would “look to see if I can locate copies,” but he added that he has “moved twice since then.”
Town Counsel Jane Friedman suggested that, since Perkins is on the ZBA perhaps minutes of their meetings could shed light on those copies.
Former ZBA member William Cushing said his practice, when he served as chair, was to recuse himself from discussions in which he had an interest, and that positions he and other who recused themselves would not likely appear on the minutes for that reason.
Simms said Lampke called to ask if Perkins wanted to participate in an interview for the investigation.
“He said no, that’s all,” he said. “He said no.”
Select Board member Joe Weeks insisted the board know when that phone call took place.
“I want to know,” he said. “In the report it says there was no cooperation and I want to know how long that non-cooperation was happening … we’ve had many derailed Selectmen’s meetings in which ground rules were made, and we were not going to talk about certain things, and it kept happening. … I’m dying tp know … when the decision was made to not cooperate and then get on a soapbox every single meeting and say this investigation is going nowhere.”
Simms said his associate John Fink took the phone call and he didn’t have the information.
“I don’t think Mr. Perkins declining to be interviewed had any impact,” Simms said, but agreed to supply that information to the board.
Weeks was angered about continued accusations that delays in the investigation were the fault of the Select Board when it was being held up by other parties.
Cushing said the first time Lampke contacted him was on Mother’s Day and again on Father’s Day in 2022 and he spoke to him at that time. Another ZBA member said he was contacted in December 2021.
“I don’t like the idea that this is being put out in public as if there was something awry,” Weeks said. “I want answers.”
During the hearing, Perkins said he felt Lampke should get is information from “public documents and facts,” not to interject his opinion.
“I’ve always acted in the best interests of the town of Hanson,” he said. “I did what was right, I did what was ethical, I did what the town of Hanson needed, and that was to reduce their legal liability from pending applications.”
Select Board members Ed Heal and Ann Rein, who are both new to the board were adamant that the unprofessional conduct by ZBA members has been unacceptable.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said additional ethics education would be required of board members going forward.