The Thursday, Jan. 21 virtual meeting of the Halifax Planning Board began with four members present but was adjourned two hours into it due to two of the four members leaving the Zoom call without notice. At the onset of the meeting Chair Alan Dias was present as were Gordon R. Andrews, Rick Merry, and Amy Troupe. During a discussion on Cled’s Tree Service, Town Administrator Charlie Seelig interjected alerting Dias that both Andrews and Troupe had left the meeting and the Board no longer had quorum and would be unable to take any further action as a Board that night.
Cled’s Tree Service was being discussed due to non-compliance with the site plan. Andrews recused himself from the discussion. Cled’s Tree Service was previously discussed during the Planning Board’s January 7 meeting. A meeting that was largely contentious with several of the Board members engaging in heated debate about a number of topics including Cled’s. During that meeting, Dias said of Cled’s, “We need to kind of figure out where we’re going to go; we have a situation where we’ve got electricity there, we’ve got an office trailer that’s unpermitted, we have employees, we have no toilet facilities, and it just goes on and on so at this point we’re going to have to figure out how to bring it into compliance. I mean the other businesses in town comply with site plans and this particular site has no compliance that I see.”
Dias told the Board that there were emails certifying that the plans that had been submitted were “fraudulent.” Dias said, “I think, and I’m looking for some guidance from the Board, that based on the fact that we have plans that aren’t accurate that the action that this Board should take is that we should revoke the existing site plan which he’s not in compliance with… but I think we need to allow Mr. Cled the opportunity to bring the property into compliance.”
Troupe asked Dias for further clarification regarding the ways in which Cled’s was not in compliance. “We have emails that establish that the plans that were submitted were not prepared by the engineer that stamped them,” Dias said.
He also told the Board that there was an email from an engineer stating that he was not the one who did the plan. According to Dias, there is also email evidence that the plans had been altered. When pressed further, Dias said, “I really don’t want to get into much more detail… those are the facts that we have.”
Dias also said that he was unaware who marked up the plans and said that it was a legal issue and not one to be dealt with by the Planning Board. Regarding the plans, Dias said, “There is nothing at the site right now, the way it is on the ground, that represents those plans. Nothing.” Dias said that the Zoning Enforcement Officer could be sent out but suggested that it wasn’t necessary as they already knew Cled’s was not in compliance. “We just need to help him get the place in compliance,” he reiterated.
Cled’s had been asked to bring their lot into compliance with the fire code within 90 days of having been notified by the Fire Department. There was a fire on the lot and more than 5,000 yards of wood chips on the property. Those 90 days will expire at the end of February/beginning of March. Dias said that it was his understanding that Bracken Engineering would be drawing up new site plans for Cled’s.
Dias recommended to the Board that they ask Cled’s to be in compliance within the same timeframe given by the Fire Department. Merry agreed with Dias’ assessment and action plan. Troupe suggested letting the Fire Department handle the concerns.
The owner of Cled’s was in attendance during Thursday’s meeting where he insisted that they were making significant progress toward making their lot in compliance with the fire code. Dias said, “Our predicament is that you’re not in compliance with the site plan.”
Resident Chris Winiewicz, who lives on Circuit St., asked to speak complaining of a loud piece of equipment that proves disruptive to his family including his children who are learning remotely. According to Winiewicz there had been a previous agreement that stated that the piece of equipment would either be moved or a barricade would be put up around it. Winiewicz said that to date neither of those things had happened. It was during this discussion that Seelig notified Dias that the Board no longer had quorum and couldn’t discuss the matter as a Board nor could they vote on whether to revoke Cled’s existing site plan. The meeting was therefore adjourned at the two-hour mark.
Prior to the discussion on Cled’s and a few other ongoing projects, Town Counsel Larry Mayo opened the meeting by giving a general overview of General Law, Chapter 30A, Section 20 regarding the State’s open meeting law. He was asked to do so in response to some “disruptive behavior” that had occurred among the Board during their January 7 meeting.
“I’m just here to give you my interpretation of my outlook on how Chapter 30A may apply here,” Mayo began. He continued, “You have to take into consideration Section 20, subpar G in the context of the Chairman is the presiding officer at the meeting, at the Planning Board meeting, or at any other meeting of a public body in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He presides and regulates over the meeting, he decides all questions of order, and he makes declaration of all votes. Most importantly, I think in this particular context is that nobody should speak or address the meeting without first having leave of the moderator.”
Mayo went onto explain that after fair warning, a Chair may authorize a constable or other officer to remove the disruptive person from the meeting. He noted that in the context of a Zoom meeting, the Chair could ask the host to mute the disruptive member. During the January 7 meeting, a heated argument resulted in Dias requesting that Seelig mute Troupe. Mayo said, “The genesis of all of this or the purpose, again, is just to remember… the Chair is in control, you elected the Chair. The floor is his unless he recognizes another to speak and a civil discourse is what is intended to take place at the meetings.”
Andrews asked to make several inquiries regarding Mayo’s assertion. He first asked for confirmation that the Chair has the right to shut a member off during a meeting. Mayo said that the Chair could, in fact, do that assuming they, using sound judgment, found the member to be disruptive.
Andrews then asked for further clarification as to what constituted disruptive behavior. Andrews said, “We have civil rights to say our piece; that’s why we’re elected to the Board.” He continued, “Chairman doesn’t have the right to speak over anyone else either; once he recognizes someone, they have the right to speak their piece, their whole piece and he doesn’t have the right to shut them off.” Dias asked that members wait to be recognized before speaking, moving forward before proceeding with the rest of the evening’s meeting.