HANSON — The Select Board on Tuesday, Nov. 1 voted to appoint an associate and a voting member to the Zoning Board of Appeals, following a discussion regarding the ZBA and “future mitigation efforts, and to schedule a hearing in which ZBA members mentioned in the report of the investigation, may address information in it.
“There’s nobody here that’s going to tell you that investigation didn’t take far longer than we would have liked, and I completely recognize that for all of us — and I do mean all of us — it made a difficult situation even more difficult,” Select Board Chair Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said of the delays in completing the probe. “There’s a lot of pent-up emotion around this investigation.”
She cautioned that discussion about the report had to be kept to a general basis because specific reference to the conduct of any individual could not be conducted in an open meeting unless it was posted as a hearing.
FitzGerald-Kemmett also said the report represented an illustration of how the town can improve it’s vetting process of applicants for town positions.
Applicants for the voting three-year term were William Cushing and Michael Fleming. Applicants for the three-year associate membership were Christopher Costello and Joshua Pratti.
Cushing and Pratti have been serving in their respective roles before resigning rather than accepting a second temporary re-appointment earlier this fall.
Fleming was appointed to the voting member slot by a vote of 4-1, with Select Board member Jim Hickey opposed. Costello was appointed as the alternate member by the same vote.
FitzGerald-Kemmett noted that the town received the results of the ZBA investigation as they were meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 11. The investigation was prompted by a unanimous vote on a citizen’s petition at the October 2021 fall Town Meeting, and the Select Board approved hiring an investigator who was hired in November 2021.
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.
“As the appointing authority of the ZBA, we knew it was our responsibility to do so,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said, noting that Town Administrator Lisa Green was made the point person for documentation requests.
Difficulty in obtaining necessary documentation, personal matters the investigator had to attend to and some people’s failure to fully cooperate with the investigation contributed to the delay.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said there were things that came up during the investigation, that had it been assigned a probe of a wider scope, would have added to the cost.
“We tried to stick to what the original citizen’s petition was [about], so that we were reflecting the will of the people,” she said.
“It’s a learning experience, that’s all I have to say,” Select Board member Ann Rein said.
Board member Ed Heal said it would be very hard to keep to generalities and expressed uncertainty about the next steps would be.
“There’s a lot of individual information in here,” he said.
FitzGerald-Kemmett suggested the investigator’s points about reorganization and difference in style of minutes — which were too vague and open to interpretation — but he did not conclude that there was any detriment in the way the ZBA reorganization was done.
“At the very least, we probably want to do some additional training around disclosures and when they are required to be made, under what conditions and to whom they should be made,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said of the report’s recommendations, which could apply to all boards and commissions.
Regarding the issue of missing disclosure statements, first mentioned in July 2021, when Town Clerk Elizabeth Sloan was asked about them. Up until last month, FitzGerald-Kemmett said, no one filed disclosures directly with the Select Board, they were always filed with the clerk, who would forward a copy to the board.
Sloan stated in an email to Green, that the disclosure from Kevin Perkins, during the scanning of the forms in fulfillment of public record requests from several individuals, “was not put back into the file.” She was later able to locate it and apologized to Perkins, when it was rumored there was no disclosure from him.
Cushing added the disclosure’s whereabouts became a concern when the state Ethics Commission called Perkins about it after he had called the clerk’s office looking for it and it was not on file.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said she fully accepts Sloan’s explanation and apology and felt no need to question her.
Heal noted there have been recent by laws or rules changes instituted to improve the process, and echoing the thought that the situation has been a learning experience.
“It is very hard to do this without mentioning names,” Hickey agreed, describing the report as “65 pages of not that much.”
Vice Chair Joe Weeks moved that a hearing be held on the report’s findings concerning Perkins and fellow ZBA member Sean Buckley, who is an alternate. Hickey sought an amendment to the effect that Cushing be added to the list for a hearing if he were to be appointed back to the ZBA later in the meeting.
Cushing was a member of the ZBA until about three weeks ago, resigning in protest against efforts to reappoint him for a temporary term pending the conclusion of the investigation. Now that the investigation is complete, he is seeking re-appointment, and said he welcomes a hearing.
He specializes in permitting, disclosing during his 2015 application his profession as a builder and developer.
He said he is well-versed in planning and zoning, as well as in storm water management, permitting aspects of Conservation, Board of Health and all other aspects.
Cushing is a resident of Hanson holds a bachelor’s degree and has worked exclusively in the real estate business.
Fleming is a 15-year resident has been a member of the Agricultural Committee and said he was asked a few weeks ago to sign up for the ZBA. He said he sees the position as an opportunity to “get my feet wet” in town affairs.
A production mechanic for a Boston liquor company, Fleming said he has no conflict of interest disclosures to make. He said he knows Hickey and Rein, but no other members of the Select Board.
FitzGerald-Kemmett stressed it is no conflict for anyone applying for the ZBA or any other board to know someone or to be friends with someone on the Select Board.
“There is no one person here that makes anything different for me,” Fleming said, pointing out three other past and present town officials in the room who he knows.
FitzGerald-Kemmett said she had been called out for not curtailing a cross-examination of an applicant about board members he knew and that she was not going to make the same mistake, before she halted the line of questioning.
“It is not our intention to make anybody who is applying for a volunteer position in town, particularly for the first time, to feel as though you’re not welcomed,” she said.
Pratti indicated he wanted to be considered for both positions. He served on the ZBA as an associate member before resigning over the temporary reappointment issue.
A licensed construction supervisor and home improvement contractor, Pratti holds a BS degree in electro-mechanical engineering. He said he is conversant in zoning regulations and Title V regulations from his work on septic and drainage systems.
“I don’t know how you could be more qualified for this position,” he said.
Pratti, for whom the investigation showed no information about his conduct, said he resigned out of frustration because he felt he and Cushing were considered guilty before the results of the investigation were in.
Weeks said he was wary of appointing someone who would “handcuff” the town in their own interests. Pratti countered that he only missed one meeting as an alternate, which speaks for his dedication to the position.
Seeking an alternate position, Costello is a 15-year Hanson resident who has worked in heavy civil construction for 25 years. He holds a degree in construction management from Wentworth Institute of Technology and is currently employed as an MBTA project manager overseeing new capital construction projects. He said he has no disclosures and knows no members of the Select Board.