Published in the January 6, 2016 edition


LYNNFIELD — Another Open Meeting Law (OML) violation complaint has been filed by a sitting member of the Board of Selectmen against two other board members and the town administrator.

On Monday, Jan. 4, Selectman Thomas Terranova filed the complaint alleging that Chairman Philip Crawford violated the state’s Open Meeting Law (OML) by not including a discussion item on the agenda that Terranova had requested.

The agenda item concerns a development taking place at 15-17 Apple Hill Lane and an adjacent rear parcel. An application to redevelop the property is currently the subject of a public hearing before the Planning Board and will be a future topic of a Conservation Commission public hearing.

Crawford stated that he declined to put the matter on the selectmen’s agenda because the Planning Board is an independently elected board and this matter is legitimately before the Planning Board. He believes it is outside of the jurisdiction of the Board of Selectmen to intervene in the affairs of another board.

Terranova, who resides at 37 Apple Hill Lane, maintained that time is of the essence in this situation because concerned neighbors on Apple Hill Lane had come to him seeking assistance with what they view as possible “illegal activities in preparation of development” at the property, according to a letter Terranova wrote to Crawford outlining the reasoning behind his OML violation complaint.

According to his letter, the neighbors alleged “some 60 dump trucks of untested fill have been brought into the area adjacent to a wetlands area.”

Terranova subsequently stated that he requested Town Administrator James Boudreau put the Apple Hill Lane issue on the Jan. 4 agenda as a discussion item and Boudreau refused to do so.

A third attempt to bring the matter before the board by Terranova was thwarted by Boudreau, according to Terranova, who stated he was informed that if the chairman refuses to place an item on an agenda then a quorum of the board (which would be two members for the selectmen) could override that decision.

Acknowledging that he believes this premise is wrong, Terranova still asked Boudreau to seek the consent of the two other members, Crawford and Christopher Barrett, to place Apple Hill discussion on the agenda.

“Mr. Boudreau refused fearing that such a request would place him in violation of the Open Meeting Law, by polling,” Terranova’s letter stated. Terranova believes this is an incorrect interpretation of the OML because Boudreau would be acting as the board’s agent and in that capacity, the handling of “scheduling” and “procedural” matters are exempt from the OML, his letter of complaint stated.

At the outset of Monday’s meeting, Crawford stated, “We were asked to put it on the agenda for this evening to discuss it. I felt that was both improper and unethical of this board to be talking about (Apple Hill Lane) at this time.” He added that the subdivision is not under the selectmen’s purview, stating, “we didn’t have any jurisdiction over it.”

Public comments to return

Crawford also announced that beginning with the board’s Jan. 25 meeting the agenda will once again include a public comment period.

“During a public comment session, we don’t discuss it, we don’t debate it, but if you have a topic you want to bring up about something going on in the town you can do it during that period,” he said. Subsequent to the public comments received, the chairman said if the board feels a subject raised deserves further consideration by them they could vote to put it on a future agenda.

Selectman Chris Barrett said he believes this particular issue “doesn’t fall under our jurisdiction and our town counsel strongly supported us on that.”

However, Barrett said that he has always been an advocate of having agenda time set aside to receive public comments, as was done while he was a school committee member, because do so allowed “parents to come before us as citizens and address us on any issue that they might care deeply about. We were not always able to handle those issues, but it provided them the opportunity to voice their concerns and it allowed us to send them in the right direction.”

Commenting that he had heard from several residents over the weekend on the Apple Hill matter, Barrett said he agreed that the residents hadn’t had a chance to come before the Board of Selectmen on this matter or other town issues, therefore, he “commended” Crawford for bringing the public comment option back onto the board’s agenda.

Terranova said regardless of whether the selectmen can address the specific concerns raised during public comment sessions, he believes the residents have the right to be heard.

“After all, they voted us into office and we’re here to serve the people. The people are Lynnfield, so they deserve the right to come in and be heard even if we are not able to do anything,” Terranova said.

Terranova explained that after Crawford declined his request and Barrett did not respond to his email request to include Apple Hill Lane on the Jan. 4 agenda, “I filed a complaint with the attorney general today so that we will have to address this issue.”

Planning Bd. upset

Planning Board Chairman John Faria was none too pleased over the potential inference by one elected board into the jurisdiction of another elected board, stating that the Planning Board and the Conservation Commission are given the “direct responsibility for examining this issue. And it’s not a superficial examination. We spend hours going over these plans. We’ve spent hours going over the rules and regulations. We work in concert with the Board of Public Works, with the town engineer.”

“Everything is examined very carefully and it is a process that is primarily ministerial. If the developer meets all the rules and regulations, and complies with the law, that developer is entitled to build. You cannot stop it,” Faria said.

Faria explained that the ConCom “will look at this from a totally different perspective than the Planning Board. It will determine where the wetlands delineation will be.” He explained that result “could have a bearing on the planning board because if the wetland delineations are set at certain boundaries they may or may not be able to develop two house lots.”

“This is a long-term process. The town has two well-versed boards looking at it,” Faria said. Additional reviews are being done by Linden Engineering and the town engineer, he said.

“The boards will do the best they possibly can. I can guarantee you one thing. We will do the right thing. We will be fair and we will not be influenced by any other board that has no jurisdiction over this whatsoever,” Faria stated.

Faria urged the withdrawal of the open meeting law complaint. “I don’t think it is going to accomplish anything of any good effect,” he said, adding, “What we need to do is work in concert. The correct board should be hearing the correct issue.”

Town Counsel to investigate

A vote on the whether to delegate an investigation of and response to the OML complaint to town counsel was delayed until the rest of the meeting agenda had been heard. The vote to approve delegating this task to attorney Thomas Mullen passed 2-0, with Terranova opting to abstain because he had made the complaint.