WILMINGTON, MA — In a recent letter to Town Clerk Sharon George, Assistant Attorney General Margaret Hurley announced that the Attorney General’s Office is not prepared to issue a ruling yet on Article 2 from the Special Town Meeting on December 16.
Article 2 changed the town’s zoning bylaws to place any future hospitals, nursing homes, and detox centers exclusively in industrial zones with a special permit.
“The Attorney General’s Office is essentially delaying their ruling on Article 2, the article to make modifications to the zoning bylaws to address detox centers,” Town Manager Jeff Hull told Selectmen at this week’s board meeting. “They’ve established a new deadline of June 19, 2018. They’re looking to take additional time to review the merits as to whether the article complies with state law and the state constitution.”
Hull noted that the other articles (Article 3-5) from the Special Town Meeting were approved by the Attorney General’s Office. Article 1 was never taken up at the meeting.
Selectman Mike McCoy, who was the lead petitioner of Article 2, had a lot to say about the Attorney General’s delay.
“I believe if the Attorney General thought the article was discriminatory, the AG’s Office would have disapproved it immediately, but she has not,” said McCoy. “I believe this has become a political football. That is why, I believe, the Attorney General’s Office is delaying their decision.”
“The Attorney General’s Office has heard from the opposing side. Local lawyers and residents have submitted briefs against Article 2,” said McCoy. “The AG has to really realize that — the bottom line is – 1,571 people in this community signed 3 petitions and 85% of the vote at the Special Town Meeting supported Article 2, plus a majority vote from the Board of Selectmen at that time… Now she needs to hear from the winning side.”
McCoy made a motion to “have Town Counsel engage with the Attorney General’s Office in order to have Article 2 approved,” noting “Town Counsel needs to defend the vote of Town Meeting.”
“We need to put the Attorney General’s Office on notice that if she disapproves it, the town has a right to sue the Attorney General’s Office and bring it to court…. We have that constitutional right,” added McCoy.
“I may disagree with a vote of the Town Meeting, but I’ve always accepted it. It is our duty and obligation to fight for a Town Meeting votes passage,” ccontinued McCoy. “Town Counsel Foskett believed Article 1 would not stand up… but felt Article 2 would probably hold water with the AG’s Office.”
McCoy’s motion failed for a lack of a second.
“I appreciate your passion, but am not prepared to endorse your motion at this time,” responded Selectman Mike Champoux. “When the Attorney General does come back with her findings, it may be a moot point… And if she doesn’t rule [in favor of Article 2], I might give some consideration to your request, but – at this point – I don’t think it’s necessary. We ought to let her do her job.”
Selectman Kevin Caira questioned why the town should get involved since it was a citizen-backed petition, not a Selectmen-backed petition.
“Why can’t the petitioners (“Mike McCoy and others”) and get the attorneys together to fight, why should the town have to do that?,” asked Caira.
“When I walk out the door tonight, the AG’s Office is going to find out what that exact vote was,” said Selectman Mike McCoy. “I’m also going to solicit our legislative delegation – our state senator and our two state reps – to do their jobs and engage with the Attorney General. This has become a political football. I know local attorneys have submit briefs in opposition in Article 2. Residents have contacted her. Now she needs to hear from the winning side, plain and simple.”
Two residents spoke on the matter.
“Article 2 has become a political football, largely due to Mr. McCoy’s efforts,” said Mary Giroux. “I don’t believe in name-calling, or bringing up issues that don’t pertain to this particular one. I do believe, from the very beginning, the intent, itself, was discriminatory all along. It does require further review. I’m glad the Attorney General is looking at it. The intent could open up the town to liability later. This really does need to be looked at patiently and thoroughly, not just for the good of the people with substance abuse disorder, but also for everyone in this town.”
“We change people’s mind one problem at a time, not with conflict and name-calling. I hope everyone keeps a cool head on this,” continued Giroux. “I hope we continue to help everyone in our community — not just a group of neighbors — but also those people suffering from substance abuse disorder, as they need our help most of all.”
“[Article 2] is incredibly discriminatory, that’s all it is. It’s mind-blowing… Those suffering from substance abuse disorder are a protected class of citizens,” said Michael Gray, who noted he’s talked to the Attorney General’s Office on this matter several times. “I’ve never been more mad or disgusted of the town I’ve lived in for 42 years.”
In response to Gray’s plea that the Selectmen stand up against discrimination, Selectman Mike Champoux took umbrage.
“It’s our job to see that the government process goes effectively, fairly and equitably,” responded Champoux. “We had a Special Town Meeting where the entire voting population was invited to come and participate in. The fact that the vote didn’t come out the way you liked it, I’m sorry…. Let’s see if [the article] is determined to be constitutional. You may not like that answer too. It’s called democracy. Sometimes democracy kinda blows, but that’s the way it goes. I prefer it to any of the other systems.”
McCoy Drops Another Grenade
Towards the end of the meeting, under “New Business,” Selectman Mike McCoy surprised his colleagues with a possible revelation surrounding the detox facility proposal.
McCoy claimed, based on conversations he had with land owners on Lowell Street, that – to lock in the zoning on a property for 8 years prior to a zoning change at Town Meeting – a plan needs to be submitted to the Planning Department, and stamped by the Town Clerk’s Office, prior to the first posted advertisement date of the joint Planning Board/Finance Committee Public Hearing in the Town Crier. He had previously been under the impression that the deadline was prior to the actual hearing.
Paul Kneeland, the lead backer of the proposed Detox Facility Proposal at 362 Middlesex Avenue, submitted his subdivision preliminary plan on November 27. While the hearing wasn’t until November 30, the first Town Crier advertisement date for hearing was November 15. According to McCoy, Kneeland should have had his plan submitted no later than November 14 at 4:30pm.
“The stamp here on the application says November 27,” said McCoy. “This application is null and void. This man can’t go forward to the Planning Board and Finance Committee.”
McCoy felt confident his position, but did note he could be wrong. He asked Town Manager Jeff Hull to confer with Town Counsel on this matter.
Wilmington Apple followed up with the Town Manager on Tuesday morning via email, asking to be provided with Town Counsel’s opinion. On Wednesday night, Town Manager Hull responded.
“I appreciate your interest in receiving the Town Counsel’s legal opinion. At this point, based upon the advice of Town Counsel, I am not at liberty to provide specific details about the legal opinion,” wrote Hull. “In general, I can tell you that the Board has been advised that the filing of the preliminary subdivision plan with the Planning Board on November 27, 2017 preserves the rights of the proponent to develop the property at 362 Middlesex Avenue based upon the General Business zoning in effect prior to the December 16, 2017 special town meeting vote as long as the preliminary subdivision plan is followed by a definitive subdivision plan within seven months.”
It would appear that Town Counsel is disagreeing with McCoy’s assertion that Kneeland needed to submit his preliminary subdivision plan by November 14.
Open Meeting Law Violation Concerns
Town Manager Jeff Hull told the Selectmen that more care needed to be given when bringing items up under “New Business.”
“The Open Meeting Law is established so that the public can be informed, in advance, of what matters are to be considered before the board and any actions to be taken,” cautioned Hull. “When the board is looking to take up, or instruct me to take up, actions under ‘New Business,’ I’m concerned someone could make a case they weren’t forewarned that the matter was being brought up. ‘New Business’ is not for the purpose of taking up unadvertised items on the agenda.”
Hull pointed out that, as an example, two meetings ago, under ‘New Business,’ a motion was made relative to authorizing discussions relative to the acquisition of Sciarappa Farm.
“Every once in a while, we get these hand grenades from [Selectman McCoy],” observed Selectman Kevin Caira. “This concern [over the Kneeland application] could have been place on the agenda and the Town Manager could have already found out the answer. Now it drags on… All these hand grenades! You should have brought this forward [prior to the meeting] and communicated with your colleagues.”
Selectman Chair Mike Champoux said the agenda is put together on Thursday at 4pm. McCoy said he made this discovery on Wednesday around 2:30pm.
“Then it should have been on the agenda. The Town Manager could have done his homework ahead of time,” responded Champoux. “This is not the intent or spirit behind ‘New Business.'”
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