By Brenda Crowell
Following a hotly-debated and often contentious exchange, Mendon town voters passed Article 20, a citizen’s petition calling for elected members of the Select Board and Planning Board to be prohibited from serving on the Conservation Commission or the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) by a 113-63 majority vote at the Annual Town Meeting on May 6.
“We should all be aware that the town of Mendon, like so many other communities in the Commonwealth, is in the path of this surge of growth and development,” said Kathy Schofield, the sponsor of Article 20 and the Recording Secretary of the Historical Commission.
Schofield wants to broaden the town’s talent pool rather than having the same people serve on multiple boards and/or committees.
“What is missing in Mendon, in my opinion, is a broader spectrum of representatives, those who do not have a financial stake in the game but who can bring valuable insight and balance coming in from a different perspective,” she said. “It’s also difficult to steer completely away from perceived or potential conflicts of interest when making decisions regarding variances, etc., for fellow friends and developers.”
ZBA Chairman James Carty objected to the article, noting that the ZBA has one member – John Vandersluis – who’s also on the Planning Board.
Joyce Gilmore, who used to serve on the Board of Health, agreed with Schofield. “Mr. Carty, I have great respect for him, but I think that you can get the advice (from different boards) without having them be on your board. I think that’s a very important separation.”
ZBA alternate member John D’Amelio said that he had also served on the Planning Board and believed that he had once been on that board and the Water Commission at the same time, adding that he had been a construction supervisor for 30 years. “You have to think of the experience that a lot of people on these boards have,” said D’Amelio.
Selectman Mike Merolli said he was grateful for everyone who stepped up to serve on boards and committees, and doubly grateful for those who served on multiple boards. Merolli added he attended his first Annual Town Meeting in 1975 as a then-12-year-old Boy Scout, and there were not enough interested people in the town to fill the seats on town boards and committees.
“That’s not the case any longer. We’ve got more than 6,000 people, close to 7,000 and growing,” Merolli said. “I think it would be a better idea to have different sets of eyes.”
Fellow Selectman Lawney Tinio took a different take.
“This is a very targeted attack on a couple of folks that are on these boards because they want these people off so they can move another certain group of people in because they don’t like a couple of decisions they made lawfully,” said Tinio. “
“This is about checks and balances, it’s not about malfeasance,” said Mike Goddard. “This is about having as much expertise on these boards, leveraging that expertise for the good of the town.”
After nearly half an hour of discussion, Moderator Tom Merolli called for the vote.