Published December 19, 2019

By MAUREEN DOHERTY

NORTH READING — A series of routine votes taken by the Select Board Monday night during the annual appointments of members to town boards, committees and commissions took a sudden, raucous turn on the final vote of the evening for two seats on the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA).

There were four names up for consideration for two three-year terms to expire December 31, 2022: two incumbents, James Demetri and Paul O’Leary, and two newcomers, Kerri Antonuccio and Bob Breen. Demetri is the current chairman of the ZBA and O’Leary is a former chairman. Both have served multiple terms.

Paul O’Leary was not recommended for reappointment by the Select Board’s liaison to the ZBA, Andrew Schultz.

Schultz had recommended Demetri for re-appointment to his seat and also stated that he would be recommending Bob Breen for the other seat.

Schultz cited Breen’s experience as a practicing attorney, in particular, his experience in appellate law before the U.S. District Court of Appeals, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts and the Court of Appeals of Massachusetts, as well additional experience in litigation in Superior, District, Probate and Housing courts in the state plus his background in real estate as making him a suitable candidate for the position.

Paul O’Leary is the brother of longtime Select Board member Stephen O’Leary and a local businessman. Earlier in the meeting, when the board was voting on the renewals for Class 1 and Class 2 licenses, which are required to sell new and used vehicles, Stephen O’Leary abstained from voting, as he has always done, because Paul holds a Class 2 license. Schultz also abstained from that vote because as a lawyer himself, he had represented another used car dealer, Route 28 Motors, prior to serving on the Select Board.

It was pointed out at that time in the meeting that had another member or members been required to abstain from a vote on the car dealerships or other matters due to their personal affiliations there is a provision that allows board members to disclose the potential conflict and still take such votes out of necessity in extenuating circumstances, such as if a quorum was not possible without the member’s participation.

There were a couple of other instances Monday night when members chose to abstain from a vote earlier in the meeting. Schultz abstained from the vote on the Youth Services Committee because his wife serves on it, and Select Board Chairwoman Kathryn Manupelli chose to abstain from two votes involving licenses for local restaurants because her daughter works for one of them.

Prior to the vote taken for the ZBA appointments, Stephen O’Leary again disclosed his relationship with his brother as a candidate for one of the two seats and he stated he believes there was no need for him to abstain from this vote since no money changes hands. Both positions for Select Board members and ZBA members are as volunteers whereas the Class 1 and Class 2 licenses affect the license holder’s livelihood.

No candidates for any of the positions voted on Monday night were present during the ensuing heated discussions; in fact, the meeting room was empty except for the press, local access cable, the board members, their recording secretary and the town administrator.

The discussion that followed Schultz’s recommendation for Breen over Paul O’Leary led to heightened tensions between both Stephen O’Leary and Schultz, with O’Leary arguing that experience has value too, and both incumbents are qualified and remain interested in serving as ZBA members and were both deserving of endorsement while Schultz maintained that virtual lifetime appointments to any board or committee should not be an expectation for anyone. Paul O’Leary has served on the ZBA for 28 years.

It got to the point where the gavel had to be used by Manupelli often throughout the debate between the two for several heated minutes, but with little effect, which led to a call for a five-minute recess to diffuse the tension.

O’Leary argued to table the discussion until their next meeting to give ZBA Chairman Demetri an opportunity to come before them to state his case for the status quo, but that motion failed.

During the first recess, Schultz left the room to call Demetri at home. During the discussion Schultz stated that as the liaison to the ZBA he and Demetri had spoken within the past few weeks, although he had not discussed how he intended to vote with him because he did not believe that would be appropriate.

All town board and committee appointments were originally slated to take place on December 2 but the Select Board had canceled that meeting due to the timing of the first snowstorm of the season. Plus, a technical issue with the online application process had also come up within the last month so the board extended the deadline for candidates for any board or committee until Dec. 12. Monday night was the last meeting for the board in 2019 and the appointments were slated to expire on December 31.

A roll call vote was taken for each ZBA candidate with Schultz, Manupelli and Select Board member Liane Gonzalez casting their votes for Demetri and Breen while Stephen O’Leary and Select Board member Rich Wallner both voted for Demetri and Paul O’Leary.

After the vote was taken, Stephen O’Leary pointed out that consideration should have been given to making longtime alternate member Jennifer Platt a full member with the newcomer taking alternate membership.

After the meeting, Schultz told the Transcript that he stands by his decision for both of the candidates he supported and reiterated his belief that term limits are needed. He also favors term limits for members of the Select Board.

Contacted by the Transcript Wednesday morning for a follow-up comment after the meeting, James Demetri stated:

“I would like to say that if they consulted with me I would 100 percent been arguing for Paul (O’Leary) to be reappointed, however, if I knew they definitely were not going to reappoint him I would have lobbied to have Jennifer (Platt), Matt (D’Angelo) or Billy (Bellavance) appointed and asked to have the new member as an alternate so that he could learn about what we do as a board. All three of the alternate board members have put in so much time, especially Jennifer.”