Marion's Election Conundrum

Apr 14, 2017

To the Editor:

Marion’s annual election cycle is in full motion. This year there is an odd twist voters need to consider.

There is no statutory probation limiting the number of elected positions a candidate may hold. Steve Gonsalves holds an elected Planning Board and Board of Selectmen seat.

Norm Hills is running for the Planning Board and Board of Selectmen. Norm Hills is also an appointed member of the Energy Management Committee and Conservation Commission. He is a Planning Board Master Planning Subcommittee member. He is a former member and Chair of the Capital Planning Committee and former member of the Marion Community Preservation Committee.

Now here is Norm Hills' problem and the Town’s problem. If he is elected to both the Planning Board and Board of Selectmen then the presence of Norm Hills and Steve Gonsalves will constitutes a quorum of the Board of Selectmen and Water and Sewer Commissioners at each Planning Board meeting.

Since there will be deliberation on Town issues that are within the jurisdictions of the Planning Board, Board of Selectmen and Water and Sewer Commissioners the Open Meeting law requirements are triggered each time there is a meeting and deliberation. Town jurisdictional issues, policy and matters requiring deliberation are fungible and not easily separated.

One more element of complexity is added when you included Planning Board Member Will Saltonstall into the deliberation mix.

Will Saltonstall, an architect, is working on a Tabor dormitory project and has presented sewer plan proposals to the Board of Selectmen in their roll as Water and Sewer Commissioners. At some point the Tabor dorm project will come before the Planning Board for site plan review. Consider the legal predicament of Saltonstall, Gonsalves and Hills participating in site plan review and water and sewer deliberation as the Tabor Project progresses.

Furthermore, Norm Hills as a selectman cannot appoint himself as a member of the Conservation Commission the Energy Management Committee of other appointed standing town committees as this violates the state conflicts statute.

Knowing violations of the Open Meeting laws carries committee and personal fines of $1,000 per violation. The fines would be applicable to Hills, Gonsalves and Dickerson as Selectmen and Water and Sewer Commissioners.

The concentration of political power by one individual in a small town is bad public policy. The voters need to manage this issue by electing other qualified candidates that do not carry the baggage of conflict and potentially perennial legal violations of the state statutes that are designed to protect the integrity of municipal government.

 

Ted North

 

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