A Board Member Resigns, And The Rest Prepare For A Court Case

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Politics , Marijuana

Cecil Newcomb. ED MARONEY PHOTO

ORLEANS — You might say Cecil Newcomb is keeping his own counsel in declining requests to explain why he resigned from the select board last week.

Meanwhile, his former colleagues were planning to meet in executive session last night (June 23) to discuss a legal complaint filed by a cannabis company that was not invited to negotiate a host community agreement to open a retail marijuana dispensary. A hearing on a preliminary injunction to block the town from moving forward on an agreement with Seaside Joint Venture is scheduled for July 1 in Barnstable Superior Court. It’s part of a complaint filed by B\Well Holdings against the town and the board.

At the board’s June 2 meeting, members Andrea Reed (for procedural reasons) and Newcomb voted against designating Seaside Joint Venture as one of two companies to move forward in the process. Seaside finished a close third in the board’s composite scoring of applications by the five contenders for two available licenses. After the 3-2 vote in favor of Seaside, Reed’s motion to advance B\Well as the second company to negotiate for a license failed to get a second, and the board moved on to offer the top finisher by composite score, Ember Gardens, an invitation to continue in the process. That vote was unanimous.

In a telephone interview this week, Select Board Chair Mefford Runyon said he always felt the application questionnaires and their ranking “would be a tool we would use” rather than the sole determinant of who was invited to proceed. “It was always clear to us that the select board was pretty much free to follow whatever methodology it wanted. I viewed that questionnaire as a way of trying to advance the dialog and analysis but not trying to come up with a final answer.”

Newcomb, who was heard to mutter “Unbelievable” after the Seaside vote, submitted a resignation letter June 16, effective immediately. “It has been an honor to serve the town of Orleans as a member of the select board,” he wrote in a statement that did not specify the reason for his action. “What’s there to talk about?” he wrote in an email June 21. “I resigned. End of Story.”

“I think he was clearly unhappy with the process of the cannabis (decision),” Runyon said. “I think that didn’t help, but I know he was feeling, I think, for a while that this job was just too frustrating for him. I don’t think it was a single issue. I think by and large he had been sort of impatient with the pace of change.”

It’s up to Newcomb’s former colleagues to decide whether to continue as a four-member board until May’s annual town election or to call an earlier vote, possibly as part of the special town election proposed for Nov. 2. That decision might be made at the board’s July 7 meeting. Runyon said his preference is for a vote in November.

Newcomb’s service on the board began with his election in May 2019. He received 966 votes to 946 for Mark Mathison, who was re-elected, and 638 for Erik Oliver, who was encouraged by Newcomb that night to try again. Newcomb said he had “big shoes to fill” in succeeding Alan McClennnen, who had decided not to seek another term. “I think it’s a change,” Mathison said, “but also more of the same. People who know and appreciate Alan and what he brings to this town think that Cecil would bring that to the town.”

In his time on the board, Newcomb could be a critic or a collaborator, sometimes in the same evening. In May 2020, his was the sole vote against putting an article for wastewater infrastructure on the town meeting warrant after bids came in significantly higher than expected. He also voted against placing a debt exclusion question for the project on the town election ballot, which could have become a one-man veto. With colleague David Currier recusing himself because he owns businesses in the area to be sewered, there were only four members available to vote – and four votes were required to put the question on the ballot. After hearing that technical requirement explained, Newcomb changed his vote.

In April 2020, Newcomb’s was the only vote against adding a part-time housing consultant to the coming fiscal year’s budget; given the town’s financial situation, he preferred to wait until the fall town meeting. He was not reluctant to denounce careless dog owners who were putting conservation land such as Kent’s Point on the path to being “totally destroyed.”

Newcomb argued for reform in town government, questioning the logic of having the natural resources operation under the department of public works. He decided to hold office hours at town hall to encourage citizens to bring issues forward.

With Mathison, he voted against a three-year renewal of Town Administrator John Kelly’s contract. “Mr. Kelly received a 3.2, which is subpar in my estimation,” he said in August 2020. “Then he refused to take anything other than a three-year contract.”

The retired commercial fisherman and mooring business operator, who was decorated for his service in Vietnam, was a strong advocate for housing opportunities and historic preservation. During his campaign, he declared, “I still think this is a fiscally responsible town.”

“I’ve known Cecil for a long time,” Runyon said. “Cecil really is a wonderful guy. He brought a lot to the board by just knowing so much about this town and its history. I’m gonna miss him, and I think the town will miss him. People like him are valuable for helping to keep us sailing in the right direction.”