The Halifax Board of Selectmen met in-person on August 11 with the exception of Selectman Ashley DiSesa who joined remotely. On the agenda was a number of complaints that had been filed.
The first order of business was dealing with the July 20, 2021 open meeting law complaint from John Day. According to Chair Gordon Andrews the complaint read that a meeting was held on that date and the only agenda item listed was the appointment of the building inspector and a possible appointment of a temporary building inspector. The complaint further read that the Board went immediately into executive session coming back into open session at 7:30 when they entertained a motion to adjourn until that Friday at 9 a.m.
“The lack of any substantive discussion coupled with individual Board member’s collective expectation that they would be meeting at 9 a.m. on July 23 to discuss the building inspector’s position indicated the Board members had discussed the building inspector matter in executive session despite its placement on the open meeting agenda. This violation appears to be intentional given the conflicts of interest by virtue of Mr. Andrews’ pending lawsuits that he has filed against the town and town officials including Robert Piccirilli,” the complaint from Day read. Also included in the complaint dated August 5 was that the Town Administrator Charlie Seelig was on vacation that day and did not attend and the Administrative Assistant was told not to attend as Andrews would handle the minutes.
Andrews said that he would recommend that the Board have the complaint handled by town counsel Brooks and DeRensis. DiSesa made the motion, Selectman Troy Garron seconded it, and the Board voted unanimously to do so.
A second complaint from Day was filed regarding the July 23 meeting. The complaint, which Andrews read, stated that once again Seelig and the Administrative Assistant were not present and the Board went into executive session at 11 a.m., returning to open session at noon. It noted that Andrews recused himself from the building inspector discussion leaving Garron as Vice Chair to take control of the meeting. The complaint described Garron as “visibly nervous and remained so throughout the rest of the meeting.” It noted Garron’s insistence that Piccirilli remained the best choice for building inspector.
Again, Day’s complaint said that there was strong suspicion that the Board had discussed the matter in executive session and had decided on hiring James Perry as the building inspector due to the rapidity in which the events unfolded in open session. The complaint asked that any discussion regarding the position that was had during executive session be disclosed to the public. It also asked that an explanation be given as to why the Administrative Assistant was not the one taking the minutes. Garron made a motion that again, they refer the complaint to Brooks and DeRensis. It was voted through unanimously by the Board.
The next item on the agenda was another open meeting law complaint regarding the July 23 meeting, this one by Barbara Gaynor. The complaint referenced the June 23 meeting during which the Board of Selectmen interviewed five applicants including Piccirilli, who at the time was the current building inspector. The complaint claimed that at no time did the Board explain how they came to their decision to hire Perry into the position and asked that they disclose that information to the public.
The final complaint dealt with during the August 11 meeting was in regard to the June 29 meeting during which the Board of Selectmen voted to appoint Brooks and DeRensis as Town Counsel. The complaint said that Brooks and DeRensis were asked to investigate the complaint but noted that they have a financial interest in the matter. Andrews read a motion stating, “As the appointing official which is the Board of Selectmen as required by Massachusetts’ General Laws Chapter 268a, Section 19 I have reviewed the particular matter and the financial interests identified above by the municipal employee; I have determined that the financial interest is not substantial as to be deemed unlikely to affect the integrity of the services by which the municipality may expect from the employee.” The Board then voted unanimously to have Brooks and DeRensis continue on with the investigation into the open meeting law complaint.
The final complaint to be handled during the August 11 meeting was one regarding the June 29 meeting during which the Board interviewed a total of four applicants including the most recent town counsel. The complaint read, “Considering that the Board of Selectmen chose to advertise, interview, and appoint a new person into this position, should there not have been some discussion from the members of the Board of Selectmen as to how and why they came to their decision.” The complaint asked that the Selectmen explain their decision and the reason behind it. Again, they voted to send the complaint to Brooks and DeRensis to be investigated.
At the conclusion of the discussion on the complaints Seelig said, “Mr. Chairman, may I say something?” Andrews responded, “No, we are going to move on.” Seelig then responded, “I’ll send a letter directly to the Board and to your Counsel.” Prior to adjourning, it did appear that someone in the audience attempted to speak. Andrews responded, “We don’t have any public comment right now.”