By Jean Perry, Neighb News Correspondent
Fairhaven received the names of its three finalists for the town administrator position during the Fairhaven Selectboard meeting on 2/8, and board members tentatively scheduled a meeting for Tuesday, 2/16, to hold final interviews in open session.
The Town’s hiring consultant, Community Paradigm Associates President Bernie Lynch, announced the three finalists: Jennifer Callahan, Thomas Hutka, and Ari Sky.
Ms. Callahan has been the town administrator for the Town of Oxford since mid-2018 after serving as TA in Millville the two years prior. She has a Doctorate, a Masters in Public Health, and has held a variety of elected and appointed positions
Mr. Hutka is an engineer with a Masters of Public Administration. He served as the director of Public Works for Broward County, Florida, and has held a variety of municipal positions around the country.
Ari Sky has been the chief financial officer for the City of New Bedford since 2013 and holds a Masters in Public Education. He has held a variety of positions in municipal government, and has served on a number of municipal committees and associations.
The TA Screening Committee received 39 applications.
“I think you have three outstanding candidates,” said Mr. Lynch. “[The committee] put them through the wringer, if you will, with their questions. The Town of Fairhaven would be well served by any of these people.”
The three finalists will be interviewed via Zoom, and the board may have Fairhaven Government Access delay the broadcast of the interviews to prevent candidates from having access to other candidates’ interviews. Mr. Lynch suggested invoking the “honor system” by requesting they refrain from joining the Zoom meeting outside their scheduled interview time.
“I think it’s just fair for everyone that way,” said Mr. Lynch.
Each candidate will be given an hour for their interview.
Also during the meeting, Town Counsel Thomas Crotty informed the board that Stratford Group’s changes to the roofline and reduction in the number of units for the proposed Oxford School housing development project had already been vetted by the Zoning Board of Appeals and approved.
Selectboard Chairperson Daniel Freitas asked whether the board had any right to say or do something, and Mr. Crotty eventually replied, “Whether you like it or not, this is the design.”
According to Mr. Crotty, it was the Massachusetts Historical Commission’s (MHC) decision to lower the roof height and restrict it to a flat roof so the new construction would not impede the view of the old school building.
“They wanted it to be like the old 1950s addition,” said Mr. Crotty, “So, we’re kind of stuck with that.”
He said when the ZBA approved the changes back in 2018, it decided the changes were not substantial in nature, and the developer’s letter and associated materials that referenced the roofline change was attached to the ZBA’s decision.
Mr. Crotty said the process was likely affected by “a little bit of miscommunication” during personnel changes in the Building Department and perhaps “lost track of what was going on with the design. But, in fact, these have already been approved. There’s actually nowhere we can go with this.… Short of going to court and fighting that, you’re really not going to go anywhere.”
Selectboard member Keith Silvia argued that any discussion of the roofline never came up when the ZBA approved the changes. He then pointed out that Selectboard member Bob Espindola was the chairperson of the board back then and referenced several email communications about the proposed changes that Mr. Espindola had been sent.
Mr. Espindola recalled giving the “preliminary go-ahead so [Stratford] could keep spending money,” and said there was a team effort throughout negotiations that included former Town Administrator Mark Rees, former Building Commissioner Wayne Fostin, and Mr. Crotty.
“But in no case,” said Mr. Espindola, “can any one selectman make a decision.”
“But you knew about it,” Mr. Silvia contended.
“[Mr. Rees] took the ball,” he said, and then the matter came before the Selectboard — while Mr. Freitas was also a member, Mr. Silvia pointed out. He added that an unidentified ZBA member told him that the ZBA did not review any design changes to the roof when they were approved.
Resident Ann Richard did not accept the explanation and concurred that her review of ZBA documentation revealed no discussion of the roof design.
“And they did not hear this. If they saw it on a plan, nobody questioned it,” she said.
She wondered if ZBA members are “appointed for life” and continued, “How do you get on the ZBA and not get off the ZBA and not read what you’re voting on?”
She suggested the town withhold the $200,000 in Community Preservation Act funds that Town Meeting approved based on the prior design. She also suggested that Mr. Freitas did not respond to her email asking about the design change; he said he never received the email.
Community Preservation Committee Chairperson Jeff Lucas said his biggest concern was that “this whole thing was done under ‘other business’ in a public meeting for the ZBA…. That should have been posted as an item on the ZBA agenda.”
He called it “underhanded to sneak it through under other business” and added, “I don’t know what to make of it. I can’t believe that the [MHC] is preferring a flat roof to a peaked roof.”
Mr. Crotty said that the ZBA’s written decision could have been “more comprehensive” with each change voted on individually.
“But the bottom line is the vote referenced the letter and incorporates the letter,” said Mr. Crotty. “Could it be better worded? Yes, but does it cover the bases and incorporate the changes? It’s basically a done deal; the [ZBA] has approved these changes.”
Mr. Freitas pointed out that when the project was first proposed, some residents called for fewer units, a smaller footprint, and less parking with a preference to keep the old school as the focal point of the site.
“I’m not seeing a huge problem with this; I really don’t,” said Mr. Freitas.
Mr. Espindola pointed out that the MCH “basically determines if you’re going to get any grant money.
“Essentially, these changes, had they not been made [Stratford], would not have a project,” said Mr. Espindola.
He said most people would prefer the hipped gable roof, including Stratford.
After pressure from Ms. Richard to have a representative from Stratford address the meeting, Stratford’s attorney, Kurt James, joined via Zoom. He explained how the MCH demanded the changes.
When Mr. Freitas asked him what would happen if the Selectboard decided to “not go forward” with the changes, Mr. James asked, “The selectmen are considering this with what hat on?”
He said the building commissioner issues the building permits, not the selectboard.
Mr. Crotty concurred, saying, “The selectmen actually have no direct say in whether a building permit is issued or not,” and the Selectboard does not have the authority to tell the building commissioner not to issue permits.
The board could decide not to sell the property in the end, but that would be a “whole different issue.”
Mr. Freitas said he was “even more behind’ the project that night than ever before because the developer “actually worked out some of the details” that vexed residents early on.
No action was taken, but Mr. Freitas invited Ms. Richard to resend her email with questions and perhaps continue the conversation at a later time.
The discussion with Arch Communities and Lanagan & Co. was tabled that night so that the board could hold a public meeting just for the Rogers School housing development RFP so the public could participate and ask questions.
The board also met with A-1 Crane owner Patrick Carr over his cease and desist order conundrum, but to Mr. Freitas’s frustration, they were unable to conclude the matter amenably.
Building Commissioner Chris Carmichael said he met with Fire Chief Todd Correia, Conservation Agent Whitney McClees, Police Chief Michael Myers, Mr. Foley, and Mr. Crotty to come up with five bullet points of compliance for Mr. Carr, who has been defending his right to use his property on Middle Street as an Industrial zone business (grandfathered) within a Mixed-Use zone.
Mr. Carr argued that the zoning was changed through a Town Meeting vote, and business owners of the affected zone were never properly informed, and that he is unfairly made to abide by the five “stipulations.”
Mr. Crotty said that Mr. Carr’s property was grandfathered for industrial use, but neither the ZBA nor the Selectboard has authority over the existing cease and desist order.
“The building commissioner is the zoning officer. [Ms. McClees] is the wetlands statute and bylaw enforcing agency. The Fire Department is the fuel storage enforcing agency,” said Mr. Crotty. “Those departments are not governed in terms of enforcing the laws by somebody coming into the [Selectboard’s] … meeting and complaining, ‘I don’t like what your department heads are doing … so I want you to tell them to not do their job.’ They’re doing their job; they’re enforcing the bylaws [and] the state regulations. With all due respect, you don’t resolve all these issues at a [Selectboard’s] meeting.”
Mr. Carr began yelling in protest until Mr. Carmichael asked to interject. He said he entered into the middle of the situation three months ago.
In this case, he said, “No one wins, and no one loses in this situation, but we have to find common ground…. We’re attempting to find common ground where all the departments have their items addressed…. Again, we’ve come up with these points; we’d like Mr. Carr to agree with them… We are attempting to move forward as quickly as we possibly can on this.”
“This needs to be handled and done — finished,” said Mr. Freitas, often speaking in incomplete sentences. “And he needs to know which permit he’s running under….”
Raising his voice, Mr. Freitas demanded Mr. Carr and the department heads meet within a week.
“If you guys don’t want to be in the same room, then find another job…. It costs the Town a fortune every time [Mr. Crotty] has to write something down, and I’m tired of this. I’m tired of constantly hearing about this…. It’s over now; it’s enough!”
Mr. Carr continued defending himself, alleging that very few neighbors had been involved— mainly one that had been attacking him unfairly, and maligning his character online.
Mr. Foley asked to speak and said, “Several neighbors [come into my office] once a week, So, yes, there are other neighbors complaining.”
Mr. Carr’s property was grandfathered when the zoning changed, agreed Mr. Foley, but he added, “The problem is, when you want to expand, you need approval. The Planning Board is where they should be getting a special permit to see if it would allow them to expand.”
“If I choose to expand, I understand that I have to come through you,” said Mr. Carr. “And we haven’t expanded one iota.”
The board voted to allow Mr. Carr to meet once more with department heads and parties involved.
The board convened in executive session to discuss realty matters concerning Union Wharf and for strategy of litigation involving West Island Realty and Casey Boat Realty.
The board did not hold its executive session item to conduct contract negotiations because, as Mr. Espindola pointed out, the agenda failed to list the employees’ positions and names involved. Mr. Freitas responded to Mr. Espindola’s inquiry about the parties involved and revealed that it was for Finance Director Wendy Graves and Town Accountant Anne Carreiro. Mr. Crotty advised Mr. Freitas not to hold the executive session without properly posting the item.
Neither Ms. Graves nor Ms. Carreiro is currently working under a contract, they are both part of the wage classification plan, as are most town employees.
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