CHATHAM — Saying it cannot ignore “dysfunction” on the charter review committee or the complaint lodged against one of its members, selectmen will be putting that group under the magnifying glass.
Board members Monday resolved to take up discussion on both the complaint lodged against charter committee member Seth Taylor and on the ability of the committee as a whole to carry out its charge.
The concerns came to light following the committee’s June 18 meeting, after which there was a confrontation between Taylor and property owner George Myers, a frequent critic of the committee. After the meeting had been adjourned, Myers approached the podium and said he wanted to continue to talk about alleged Open Meeting Law violations, and Taylor and others told him that to continue would violate the law. Taylor, a former selectman, allegedly charged toward Myers, yelled at him to “shut up” and grabbed papers on the podium.
Following the incident, several members of the committee threatened to resign unless selectmen took action.
Selectmen Chairman Shareen Davis said she met with charter committee Chairman Elizabeth Taylor, who is the wife of committee member Seth Taylor. Davis offered to arrange a joint meeting of both groups with town counsel on July 2, “with the intent to get to the crux of the issues and to find a path to courteous conduct.” Davis said the chairman initially asked for such a meeting to be postponed until the fall, and later declined the offer altogether.
Davis said she is concerned about the committee’s ability to function because of conflicts among board members, and “I don’t see these issues ending.”
The board of selectmen, as the appointing authority, has a responsibility to make sure that committees are working to advance the best interests of the town, Selectman Cory Metters said. “And at face value, there are certain things that are happening that put that in doubt,” he said. Metters said the board needs to meet with the involved parties and seek clarification on the June 18 incident.
“We do have a responsibility to oversee how these boards are. Not micromanage them,” Metters said.
“We have a complaint that was sent to the board of selectmen by a citizen, a taxpayer, against a member of the committee,” Selectman Dean Nicastro said. If the allegations are true, they represent “uncivil behavior” that is unacceptable in a town official, he noted. But there is no video record of the June 18 incident, and there are conflicting accounts of what happened between Myers and Mr. Taylor. Since the police report came to no conclusion, the board of selectmen would need to investigate the facts of the case, or retain a special investigative counsel to do so. “That would take some time and expense,” he said.
But Nicastro argued that such an investigation would not be necessary, should the board instead focus on its concerns about the committee’s process, without discussing any individual members. Doing so could resolve the issue without the need to “step into the thickets.”
“I think the board ought to, at some point, consider whether we might determine it advisable to invoke our authority under the charter, section 5-1B, to abolish the committee, revoking all the appointments of all the members,” and appoint a new charter review committee, Nicastro said. He said he has a number of concerns about the way the committee has taken public comments on topics, and it has taken up potential charter changes “before ascertaining all the relevant facts.” Further evidence that the committee is not functioning well came when the group’s recording secretary resigned.
“That’s certainly a very puzzling development,” Nicastro said.
Board member Peter Cocolis acknowledged concerns about how the charter review committee is conducting its work.
“That committee has a problem,” he said. But the investigation of the committee’s dysfunction couldn’t preclude a discussion of the June 18 incident, he added.
“We had an incident. Someone felt threatened. We had a police report,” Cocolis said. “To turn our back on that goes against everything I’ve ever done before. That issue has got to get resolved.”
Selectman Jeffrey Dykens agreed that the board should consider dissolving the charter review committee and starting fresh.
“I would actually support it tonight,” he said. “The dysfunction is not going to go away without a reconstruction of the committee,” Dykens said.
Davis said she would schedule agenda items for both approaches. One item will include a specific review of the complaint against Mr. Taylor and how the board would go about doing its investigating and addressing it; and another would be a broader look at the committee’s processes.