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Proposed Stoneham Bylaw Would Ban Town Employees from Select Board

Mar 26, 2019 09:47PM ● By Lisa Redmond

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STONEHAM –  A proposed town bylaw that would prohibit town employees from serving on the Board of Selectmen has been lambasted by some selectmen as  “ discriminatory’’ “clearly political,’’ and specifically “targeting’’ Selectman Raymie Parker, the only board member who is a town employee.

“I feel like it is directed at me,’’ Parker said during the March 5 meeting to review all the warrant articles for the upcoming May 6 Annual Town Meeting.

Stoneham resident Christopher Whitney obtained the required signatures on a “citizens’ petition’’ to put Article 25 to a vote at Town Meeting.  Article 25 amends the town bylaw by adding the provision: “No person elected to the office of Select Board member shall also hold any other compensated employment as an employee in the town of Stoneham other than Select Board.”

“If this passes you (voters) are telling Ms. Parker that she has to either leave the Board of Selectmen or quit her job,’’ Selectman Chairman Shelly MacNeill said.

Selectman Anthony Wilson questioned the legality of Article 25 because it infringes on free speech and prohibits certain groups of people from seeking public office.

At the March 19 board meeting, Town Counsel Robert Galvin said in his opinion Article 25 is “technically legal,’’ but he warned a bylaw that “cuts off a whole class of residents could be subject to a legal challenge.’’

Whitney did not attend the March 5 meeting to explain the reasoning behind his petition.  Instead, board members turned to Selectman Caroline Colarusso, who appeared to have a connection to the petition.

When Parker commented about feeling targeted, Colarusso commented, “I know the feeling Raymie, I know the feeling.’’

Parker, obviously upset by the comment, asked for a 5-minute recess so she could speak to Colarusso privately in the hallway. Colarusso rejected the invitation.  Selectman Chairman Shelly MacNeill temporarily halted the meeting anyway to get the board back on track.

Stoneham’s public access television, which streaming the meeting live, went black during the break so it is unclear to the television audience what was happening between board members.

When the meeting resumed, MacNeill requested the board members “consider your words carefully’’ and refrain from personal comments, “even if it is under your breath.’’

Parker apologized for the earlier “exchange.’’ When Colarusso accepted her apology, Parker clarified, “I’m apologizing to the residents.’’

Selectmen George Seibold said Article 25 appears to be targeting Parker and blatantly discriminates against any town employee, who is a resident and wants to serve as a selectman. Seibold said he is unsure why Parker appears to be the target of this petition.

“Maybe it is jealously that in her 11 months she had done more than people who have been on the board two or five years,’’ he said.

“I take offense to it, ‘’ Seibold said. “What better person to have on the board than someone who has the pulse of the employees of the town,’’ he said.

MacNeill described Article 25 as “shortsighted’’ because it prohibits residents who are town employees – police, firefighters, teachers – from serving as a selectman.

Seibold stressed that while selectmen are paid a $3,000 annual stipend, Parker does not accept the stipend. Parker also abstains from voting on police department matters and confers with town counsel and the state Ethics Commission to ensure she avoids any appearance of a conflict of interest, he said.

Town Moderator Jeanne Craigie, who is a former selectmen and school committee member, told the board, there are restrictions in state law. The bottom line: “You cannot have personal gain and you cannot be your own boss.’’

Former Selectman Kathleen Sullivan, who was also a former town employee, told the board that under state law every town employee has the right to run for selectman. “You can’t take our rights away just because you have a personal difference with someone,’’’ she said.

She diffused some of the tension of the meeting by telling the board, “If you keep it up, I’ll run again at age 74.’’

Since Whitney wasn’t at the March 5 meeting, Colarusso asked the board to “wait and withhold judgement’’ until the proponent of the article can explain his reasoning behind it.

Whitney, who made a short appearance at the March 19 board meeting, said he drafted the petition because he was angry that a newly-elected state official voted for his own pay raise. He sees a possible conflict of interest if a selectman, who is a town employee, votes on the town administrator’s salary, while the town administrator sets the salary of the town employee.

“There could be a quid pro quo,’’ Whitney said. “It doesn’t feel right.’’

But Wilson said, “The way it is written, anyone who receives a paycheck from the town can’t be on the board of selectmen.’’

Whitney said his goal was to avoid a conflict of interest, as Parker being targeted by this petition, “I have not a clue what the board (members) do (for work).’’ He added, “If I’m wrong, it will be voted down.’’

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