HANSON — ZBA members William Cushing and Joshua Pratti effectively resigned on Tuesday, Sept. 27, as they declined to accept another temporary reappointment by the Select Board as the investigation into ZBA — spurred a citizens’ petition passed at Town Meeting — drags on and the board did not advance a motion to re-appoint the two to another full term.
Cushing said the Select Board should consider the non-reappointment his resignation. Pratti said he, too, would refuse to accept a temporary reappointment.
Select Board member Jim Hickey, whose motion to reappoint both men to a full term failed, resigned from his role as liaison to the Zoning Board of Appeals because his motions on the situation had been repeatedly ignored and he felt one of the other members would be better suited for the role.
The Select Board then voted to accept all three resignations.
“I appreciate the effort and the time that you have both put in, but we really are in a position where we are trying to do what’s in the best interests of the town,” Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said, expressing regret at the resignation. “We got a very strong read from town meeting and the citizens’ petition begging us to look into this, so I don’t see, as an elected board, how we could possibly do anything other than what we’ve been compelled to do.”
Cushing said he appreciated the position the Select Board is in and asked to see the final report when the investigation is complete. Pratti also indicated his willingness to be reappointed, if the Select Board was agreeable, after the investigation concludes.
“At that point in time, if you’d like to re-evaluate, I’d love to be reappointed,” Cushing said. Between now and then he said he would rather step aside.
Town Administrator Lisa Green said and email from Hull Town Counsel Jim Lampke on Aug. 25, indicated he is awaiting material the Building Department and Board of Health as requested. At that news, FitzGerald-Kemmett suggested the board could repeat its one-month appointment vote. Lampke was appointed to investigate the issue last November.
“We don’t want to give the impression that we’re trying to rush the investigation, or just the impression that we may have flawed it because we tried to rush it,” said Green. “We can’t take that chance.”
FitzGerald-Kemmett asked Green to press Lampke for a date when they could expect his findings. Green said on Monday, Oct. 3 that Lampke is hopeful that a final draft report will be submitted to the Select Board this week and the subject should be on the agenda for the Tuesday, Oct. 11 meeting.
ZBA member Kevin Perkins had been ejected from the meeting before the discussion — which had followed a heated dog hearing — really got started for what FitzGerald-Kemmett described as abusive language.
She had noted that the last time the appointments had come before the board there was a suggestion from town counsel that Cushing and Pratti be reappointed for only a month because the investigation into the ZBA should be first completed, which has still has not been done.
“If we appoint for the full term then we have to have a hearing for Mr. Cushing and Mr. Pratti,” she said.
FitzGerald-Kemmett reminded the public that the Select Board had not unilaterally decided to conduct an investigation into the ZBA, that was the subject of a citizens’ petition warrant article presented and approved at Town Meeting. There were 167 votes in favor of the investigation.
“Although I am disheartened at how long it’s taken, I think that generally the board has been of the opinion that we want to be thorough in this investigation,” she said. “We don’t want to close the investigation and not have Mr. Lampke feel as though he hasn’t done his due diligence.”
She did say she had the opinion that, about the time Green received his email that a decision was imminent, possibly only a couple of weeks away, but she asked Green to contact him to get a definitive update.
Hickey said he had been texting Perkins about ZBA issues, who gave a similar estimate of the time needed to complete the investigation.
“Two weeks is up and it’s still not done,” Hickey said.
Cushing said the reappointment was for three months approved on June 30, not one.
FitzGerald-Kemmett accepted that correction.
“This was supposed to be done in June,” Cushing said of the investigation. “This has been almost a year now.”
While he said he understands that the Select Board is doing what’s in the best interests of Hanson residents, Cushing said that, at the same time, if there is cause ZBA members should be removed, but they should not arbitrarily decide against re-appointing them because the investigation is incomplete.
“I think that you’ve had more than enough time,” he said.
Cushing advocated for his and Pratti’s reappointment, understanding that if the investigation determines there is cause, they could be removed.
“I don’t want a temporary reappointment,” he said. “I either want a full term and then be removed, or don’t reappoint me at all.”
Pratti also said he would not accept a temporary appointment.
“It sounds to me like not reappointing is more allowing you guys some latitude to not reappoint us if you don’t like what you hear, not necessarily with any malfeasance found with any of the board [members],” Pratti said.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said factors contributing to any decision against reappointment would not have to rise to the level of malfeasance. If sufficient concerns arose with Select Board members to where they might not feel comfortable reinstating them, that would be enough to warrant such action.
Pratti said he doesn’t see why non-reappointment or temporary reappointment are even options.
“We’re going to clog up an agenda regardless,” he said.
“I tend to think if we pay town counsel to give us an opinion, we ought to take town counsel’s opinion, FitzGerald-Kemmett replied, noting she did not feel she should act as an attorney and second-guess their reasoning.
Hickey said he argued for reappointment to full terms three months ago because the investigation was not complete. He advocated going through a hearing process, if necessary, when the investigation was complete and improprieties were discovered, but no one had seconded his motion.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said she did not offer a second because the motions went against town counsel’s advice. She also said she thinks a decision is immanent.
“My feeling is that we have a duty to the citizens of the town, who asked to have this investigated, and asked for us to be prudent in what we’re doing,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “Although I feel bad that it’s taken this long, there isn’t much that the five of us can do about how long it’s taken.”
She said Lampke has been hired to do a job and he has to do the job he’s been paid to do.
“I don’t feel comfortable appointing both them for the full term,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said.
Cushing, meanwhile pointed out that the delay was affecting the ZBA’s work.
“We just missed a meeting tonight because we don’t want to open meetings unless,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m going to be here.”
There was a ZBA meeting scheduled for that night, he said.
“They’re waiting upstairs,” Pratti said.
Without them there would be no quorum for that meeting. Cushing added.
Hickey noted that if they board is working on something and they resign or are removed, all the work that’s been done has to start over again, and Cushing added it could also result in legal action regarding such a case.
Hickey then moved that both men be reappointed for their full terms and, again, it’s not going to be seconded. It was not.
“For me, it’s hard because I’m incredibly frustrated with how long this has been going on,” said Select Board member Joe Weeks. “I feel we are in a position right now … I have no idea what’s going on with this investigation. I have no idea why it’s taking so long.”
But, he added, as maddening as the situation is, the town is already committed to the process and he hopes it can see it through.
He also lauded Cushing and Pratti for their cooperation.
For that reason, Weeks said he would like to see more pressure brought to conclude the investigation, but lacking more information he supported incremental appointments until the investigation is done.