AYER -- Two members of the Zoning Board of Appeals have resigned after former selectman Pauline Conley failed to gain an open ZBA spot, leaving the board with a lack of quorum.
Along with new ZBA member Michael Gibbons, Conley expressed interest in joining after Jim Lucchesi resigned at town meeting.
Lucchesi's resignation still left the board with a quorum of three, but the five-member board needs a vote of four members in some cases.
At their May 21 meeting, selectmen Gary Luca and Christopher Hillman voted to appoint Gibbons, but Luca did not second Hillman's motion to appoint Conley.
Luca later said he did so because of an ethics complaint filed by Jim Fay against Conley regarding a document taken from Town Hall, although at the next meeting Conley claimed that there was no ethics complaint against her with the State Ethics Commission. After realizing no complaint was ever filed, Fay filed one.
Within a week, ZBA members Dale Taylor and John Cadigan resigned.
In his resignation letter, Taylor cites the "selectmen's inability to put old difference and animosities aside" as the reason for his resignation. He wrote that his communication with the town administrator and selectmen about ZBA membership requirements has gone unheeded.
"I did find it ironic, however, that the board did accept my recommendation of Mr. Gibbons for appointment," he wrote, "a fine candidate, a candidate they have never met, yet could not agree to appoint Ms. Conley, an experienced candidate with past service on the Board of Appeals."
Taylor wrote that up until now, he has enjoyed his nearly three decades of service on the board.
"Over those years we have functioned well as an apolitical body, as we should under the statutes governing our responsibilities and power," he wrote. "I cannot, however, continue to serve without the support of the Board of Selectmen and their willingness to put petty political issues aside for the good of the community."
In the second resignation letter, Cadigan reiterated three points he originally gave in support of Conley's candidacy, including insufficient membership.
State law requires that zoning boards of appeal with five members have a concurring vote of at least four members for certain matters, including variances on an ordinance or bylaw.
Petitions, appeals or applications that a local ZBA does not act on within 100 days are given automatic approval under state law.
"Recent troubling Town Meeting and appointment events have rendered the ZBA both completely unfunded and powerless to act in accordance with its statutory mandate," Cadigan wrote.
At town meeting, voters decided to cut the ZBA and Planning Board budgets to zero, eliminating the funding for the administrator of both boards, currently Susan Sullivan.
The two resignations leave only Gibbons and Ron Defilippo on the board, with Steve Wentzell as an alternate member. In his letter, Cadigan explained that Wentzell is unable to attend meetings.
Defilippo has not resigned from the board, but said that it can't do any business as it stands. Even if there were three members, he noted, the board is still lacking the appropriate number of members for normal types of business.
"If we lost administrative support, how can it go anywhere?" he said. "I certainly don't have the knowledge and experience to carry it on, and I'm not sure about the new guy there."
He said the decision not to appoint Conley was a political one and a big mistake.
"She would've at least been able to carry the thing," he said, adding that the zoning board is not a political one.
Sullivan's position, he explained, is also important.
"You need somebody there for that time," he said. "It's not just a matter of typing up stuff, it's answering questions and being there during the normal business day."
Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand said the Zoning Board of Appeals needs to get members, and also the town needs to resolve how it will supply administrative support and supplies for both the Planning and Zoning boards.
Town counsel and the Board of Selectmen, he said, are working on a resolution to these issues.
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