Housing Trust Member Underwood Submits Resignation

By: William F. Galvin

HARWICH – Affordable housing trust member Judith Underwood tendered her resignation on Friday, four days after she learned the select board had voted to replace her when her term expires on June 30.

Underwood served on the trust since 2018.

"It has come to my attention by citizens of Harwich, not by the (board of selectmen) that I am to be put off the trust come July 1," Underwood wrote in her resignation letter. "This public disregard for a volunteer is unbecoming and inexcusable. Because of the egregious behavior of those elected to serve this town I am not comfortable attending the next few meetings and am resigning." She added that she was proud of the way trust members worked together site affordable housing on a town-owned parcel on Sisson Road and the Marceline property in Pleasant Lake.

"This piece of property, if (finally) allowed to move forward and indeed is not sold, will afford the town of Harwich a significant amount of affordable housing," she wrote of the Marceline property.

Selectmen on May 15 appointed two new members to the trust. Robert Spencer was appointed to fill the unexpired term of the late Larry Brophy through June 30, and was also appointed to a three-year term beginning July 1. Claudia Williams was appointed to serve a three-year term beginning July 1. She will take Underwood's position on the trust.

"Michael, I understand you fired me last night," Underwood said when Select Board Chair Michael MacAskill entered the community center the following night as the annual town election results were being announced.

"It's not just me, it's a five-member board," MacAskill responded. There was a brief back and forth between the two.

Underwood told The Chronicle she had intended to continue serving for another term on the trust. She received notification from the town several weeks ago thanking her for her past service and asking whether she wished to serve another term, she said.

The letter instructed her to contact the selectmen's office by April 1 if she did not wish to be reappointed. Otherwise, it read, "we will assume that you are willing to continue your service to the town and you will gratefully be considered for re-appointment by the selectmen. If you wish to continue serving on your committee for another term, you do not need to respond to this letter."

On the night the board voted to replace Underwood, MacAskill said the first he learned of the proposal to not reappoint Underwood to another term was when he saw the agenda item. The recommendation to appoint Williams instead came from the select board's subcommittee, which conducts interviews of candidates seeking to serve on town boards and committees.

MacAskill said Underwood missed four consecutive meetings of the trust; the town charter allows removal of committee members who miss four consecutive meetings. Underwood denied missing four consecutive meetings.

Since a confrontation between Town Administrator and trust chair Joseph Powers and Underwood at the trust's Jan. 17 meeting — for which Powers made a public apology — the trust has met three times: March 20, April 24 and May 22. A review of the videos of the March 20 and April 24 sessions shows Underwood was not present. She resigned before the May 22 meeting.

Underwood said she did not miss four consecutive meetings of the trust. Her attendance could not be verified because minutes for the affordable housing trust have not been posted on the town's website since its Nov. 14 meeting. Channel 18 videos of trust meetings show Underwood present at the Nov. 14, Dec. 12 and Jan. 17 meetings.

In the wake of the Jan. 17 session, Select Board member Mary Anderson recommended Underwood and trust member Larry Brophy be removed from the trust. That discussion ultimately resulted in select board member Donald Howell agreeing to relinquish his seat as the select board's representative to the trust. The trust's enabling document requires a member of the select board to serve on the trust.

Larry Ballantine, who only had several weeks left in his term, was appointed to replace Howell. Ballantine, no longer on the select board, has since been named by the town administrator to serve as his designee to chair the trust.

The select board has not appointed a member of its board to serve on the trust, leaving the group with just three members. Williams is not scheduled to join the trust until July 1.