AYER -- Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand answered and denied immediate fulfillment of Nashoba Publishing's public-records request for closed-door selectmen meeting minutes and recordings relating to the board's deliberations over a recent lawsuit filed and closed against the town.
The records request was filed to settle a dispute that broke out at the Jan. 22 Ayer selectmen's meeting. Selectman Frank Maxant alleged that attorney Leonard Kesten, who defended the town in U.S. District Court in November, recommended amendments to Ayer's new sex offender residency bylaw, which restricts where Level 2 and 3 sex offenders may live in town.
"It's good news that we won the lawsuit but we still have this bylaw that's unconstitutional," said Maxant. Maxant said Kesten advised "yes, the bylaw is unconstitutional" and that Kesten "gave us two very clear black-and-white reasons" why. The other four selectmen denied that Kesten had advised that the bylaw is susceptible to constitutional challenge.
On Jan. 23, Chairman Jim Fay asked Nashoba Publishing to "accurately report what legal advice was provided" to the board, stating "the public has been misinformed in my opinion as to how selectman Maxant represented what the legal advice was regarding the sex offender bylaw ... to my knowledge the bylaw has never been characterized as unconstitutional."
Nashoba Publishing asked for executive session meeting records and any legal advisories written by Kesten. While Pontbriand granted that access on Jan. 24, Kesten never responded to the newspaper. Instead, Pontbriand changed course in a Feb. 4 email to Nashoba Publishing.
"Though the King v. Ayer trial is over, the Town has yet to receive the final, signed documents ending this matter, thus it is still an 'open matter,'" said Pontbriand. Pontbriand added that the selectmen haven't yet reviewed and approved the closed-door meeting minutes, which will not occur until final releases are signed between the parties. Finally, Pontbriand said he was seeking legal advice on the release of the records in light of the plaintiffs' right to appeal the court orders.
Husband and wife John and Ashley King sued the town and Ayer Police Chief William Murray in September, alleging violation of their civil rights and that the town bylaw was unconstitutional.
The Kings claimed Murray tried to stall John King, a Level 3 sex offender, from properly registering his residence at Ashley King's home at 6 Whitcomb Ave. as required by state law in order to lobby to get a new town bylaw on the books that would have kept King from living in the home.
Though approved by Town Meeting in October 2011, the town bylaw banning Level 2 and 3 offenders from establishing residence within 1,000 feet of public parks, schools and senior housing complexes took effect on April 25. U.S. District Court Judge William Young ruled on Dec. 20 that King properly registered when he first visited the police department six days earlier on April 19, 2012.
Had the bylaw been in effect, the bylaw suggests King would be prohibited from living at the Whitcomb Avenue home, which is located within 1,000 feet of both Pirone Park and the Park Street senior housing project.
Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata.