HANSON — The Board of Selectmen is seeking legal counsel to review two of the three citizen’s petitions for the Oct. 4 special Town Meeting brought forth by Brook Street resident Frank Melisi, after they discussed the articles with him Tuesday, Aug. 24.
The petitions would require that: elected town officials reside in town — similar to one Selectmen are seeking for appointed officials — another to support local business and a third to permit retail marijuana sales in town in order to increase the town’s commercial tax base. Melisi said he has been gathering signatures for his petitions outside Shaw’s supermarket nearly every day for a month, garnering more than 320 signatures from the hours he gathered them alone.
They then voted to engage legal counsel to work on the marijuana warrants to make them legally sufficient to present on the May 2022 warrant and ballot, if so indicated by legal research. Melisi indicated that he would be willing to pass over his residency article at Town Meeting in favor of the board’s article.
Selectman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said the Select Board’s petition was aimed at “any board or committee.”
“We didn’t differentiate between elected and appointed,” she said.
Selectmen Chairman Matt Dyer also reminded residents that there are certain times when expertise is required and, if a board or committee member has recently moved out of town amid a project requiring that expertise, the town may want the leeway to retain them until the project is completed.
“It would never be intended for it to be a permanent situation,” agreed FitzGerald-Kemmett, noting she does not feel particularly strongly about it one way or the other. Dyer also pointed to the requirement in Meilsi’s petition that those residents be registered voters, recalling his service while in high school as a 17-year-old member of the Energy Committee.
“I wouldn’t want to shut out the younger generation that does want to get involved,” he said of his question on how residency is determined. He suggested a concerned person who is 15 or 16 might want to serve.
“It doesn’t mean you have to vote, you just have to register to vote,” said Melisi, pointing to state law that allows 17-year-olds to register to vote.
FitzGerald-Kemmett saw some validity in Melisi’s argument.
“I would want to think that somebody who wants to serve on a town board or committee is already engaged enough that they would have registered to vote, to the extent they’re eligible,” she said.
Town Counsel Kate Feodoroff said people who move within the state have something akin to a grace period in which they can still vote in their former community before they have to reregister in a new town. She said Hanson could consider making that form of residency immediate when a person moves in or out of town.
“I like to keep it simple, to just have it that a person has to live in the town of Hanson to serve on a board or committee,” Selectman Joe Weeks said.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said she liked Melisi’s approach which would leave that determination with the Town Clerk.
“That’s fine, that’s part of the job,” said Town Clerk Elizabeth Sloan, noting that she would favor a waiver for non-residents to serve on search committees, such as with the Police Department, where the chief or another officer would be non-residents.
“I didn’t intend this to be amendment-proof,” Melisi said, holding up the petition papers. “This is the first citizen’s petition I’ve ever done. This one’s the second. This one’s the third.”
Dyer and Sloan pointed out that any amendments to the petitions would be made on the Town Meeting floor.
Selectman Jim Hickey argued that youth involvement was all well and good, but “I do not want that person voting on any committee,” he said. “I just think they don’t have the life experience to vote on some committee at 15 or 16.”
Hickey also said he could see retaining those board or committee members who move while they are in the middle of a project, otherwise they would have enough to do with where they are going than with what’s going on in Hanson.
Dyer suggested a time limit for those situations, suggesting 90 days as an example.
“We’ve got [Baseball] Hall of Famers and Olympians in this town,” Weeks said. “I’m sure we can find a way to have a great amount of talent for these committees without having to make exceptions for something.”
Resident Christine Cohen suggested committee members sign a disclosure if they move and, if they fail to do so and are found out, it should be grounds for immediate removal from a board or commission.
“This citizen’s petition is what it is, you won’t be amending this,” Feodoroff said. “What you would be amending would be your article for your own competing articles.”
Melisi said he would rather Selectmen take their petition up and, whether or not it is amended, have Town Meeting vote on it. He said he would be willing to have his passed over.
Regarding the marijuana petition, Melisi said he was not happy with the voting options open to Hanson residents regarding the school budget at the May Town Meeting — a $1.8 million override.
“I looked for some ways we could bring some revenue back into the town without me starting a business in town, which I am not in a position to do,” he said. “The obvious thing for me, since we already have a good working relationship with Impressed LLC, is to put back on the ballot for 2022 retail marijuana.”
He stressed that he has not spoken with the owner of Impressed LLC, but the petitions he sponsored are aimed to help the town improve its revenue outlook.
“It’s an obvious moneymaker,” Melisi said of the law’s provision that towns may impose a 3-percent tax on retail marijuana sales. While he put a lot of work into the petitions, he admitted he is not a lawyer and Town Counsel has the expertise to go by.
“I’m not trying to put drugs on the street,” he said. “From what I understand, these facilities are a lot more secure and a lot more [stringent] in verification of ID that liquor stores. I’m just looking for a way to bring revenue to the town.”
He said he would be willing to have it passed over if the Select Board draws up it’s own article.
“I can tell you one reason right now why this thing is going to go down in flames,” Feodoroff said, pointing to Melisi’s petition concerning marijuana sales applicability in all zones of Hanson, including residential. The town has limited such business to the industrial park on Commercial Way off Route 27. “There are some problematic areas in here,” she said.
The time frame for the petition process for a zoning issue is also too tight, according to Feodoroff.
“If the board would get this going for the 2022 election, then I would definitely pass over this article,” Melisi said. “I want as many people as humanly possible to be informed and have a debate on this. I don’t want it to be rushed through in a month and a half.”
Melisi also said he was looking for assistance from the board in fine-tuning the petition. Dyer said he was willing to work with him, if he moved to pass it over, for presentation at the next town meeting, if necessary.
Hickey, who voted with the board to place it on the warrant, said it would be the only positive vote he would ever cast on the petition.
“I am not going to hinder you from doing this, but I am 100-percent not going to support it,” Hickey said. “I’ve said, right from the start, when this first came up that I’m against retail marijuana in the town of Hanson.”
“I’m not telling anyone to vote for this, I’m asking to have a debate about this,” Melisi said. “When I opened my tax bill from last quarter, I almost threw up. … I have interest in the money of it.”
Another citizen petition certified by Sloan which would give Selectmen the power to remove all members of the Zoning Board of Appeals at the first board meeting following the Town Meeting.
Feodoroff said the petition does acknowledge that it is a nonbinding resolution and is only advisory.
“I think there’s a question as to whether or not it’s legal because there’s another bylaw in place that doesn’t allow removal except for cause,” she said.
“I am embarrassed that it took a group of citizens coming to us with a citizen’s petition to remove ZBA members, when we’ve gotten a number of complaints and we have been hamstrung and stopped as a board from discussing it,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said, stressing she was not expressing an opinion on the matter.