Portsmouth council hears protest over west side panel makeup

Taxpayer group: Town violated charter by appointing 2 school board members

By Jim McGaw
Posted 6/12/19

PORTSMOUTH — The recent appointment of two School Committee members to the West Side Development Advisory Committee violated the town’s own rules on hirings, the president of …

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Portsmouth council hears protest over west side panel makeup

Taxpayer group: Town violated charter by appointing 2 school board members

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — The recent appointment of two School Committee members to the West Side Development Advisory Committee violated the town’s own rules on hirings, the president of Portsmouth Concerned Citizens (PCC) told the Town Council Monday night.

On May 28, the council voted 3-2 to appoint Allen Shers and Thomas Vadney, both members of the school board, to the panel that was formerly known as the Tank Farm Development Advisory Committee. The panel is charged with advising the council on strategies for the reuse of properties to be disposed of by the U.S. Navy on the town’s west side.

Larry Fitzmorris, president of the PCC, said the Town Charter’s section on dual office-holding prohibits a person from holding “more than one elected or appointed office simultaneously in the town, state, or federal government.” Mr. Shers and Mr. Vadney are both elected members of the school board, he pointed out. 

“We think the appointment is in violation of the town charter,” said Mr. Fitzmorris, who asked that both appointments be “rescinded.”

Town Solicitor Kevin Gavin said in his opinion, the appointments did not violate the charter. Advisory committees, he said, are not subject to the rules on holding duel offices, he said. 

Council President Kevin Aguiar agreed, saying the west side panel can only make recommendations to the council, which is ultimately the decision-making board. 

That isn’t made clear in the charter, Mr. Fitzmorris countered. In fact, there is no definition of administrative boards anywhere in the document, he said. 

The issue of dual office-holding has been skirted for years, he said, but that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate. “Every time we appoint a person to more than one position, we’re saying ‘no’ to someone else,” said Mr. Fitzmorris. “If you don’t have latitude, you shouldn’t be taking it.”

Council member J. Mark Ryan said he didn’t see any conflict with two school board members sitting on the panel, since there were no overlapping issues between school matters and the development of the west side.

Responded local resident Tom Grieb, who put his name in for the west side panel but was not appointed, “In all deference to Dr. Ryan, it’s not what he thinks; it’s what the charter says.”

Council member Keith Hamilton, who along with Mr. Aguiar voted against naming both school board members to the committee on May 28 — Mr. Hamilton wanted to appoint only one (Mr. Vadney), along with Mr. Grieb — said the town should strive for more diversity on its boards.

“It would be better for the town in the long haul if we had more voices,” he said.

Mr. Aguiar and council member Len Katzman said the current Charter Review Committee should study the issue to bring more clarity to the policy.

No one made a motion to support Mr. Fitzmorris’ request, so no action was taken.

Cynthia Andreola appointed

In a related matter, the council accepted Gary Gump’s resignation from the West Side Development Advisory Committee and appointed Cynthia Andreola to fill the vacancy. 

Ms. Andreola, who moved to Portsmouth only recently, was among seven other candidates bypassed at the May 28 meeting. At that meeting, she expressed concerns over the appointment process, saying the application allotted only two lines on which candidates could write about their desire to join.

“If you don’t know members of the Town Council and they don’t know you, there’s really no opportunity to get involved,” she said.

Expanded membership denied

Also Monday night, Mr. Hamilton tried unsuccessfully to increase the size of the new Parks and Recreation Committee from seven members to nine. 

At the last meeting, Mr. Hamilton pointed out, residents Ray Berberick and Nancy Grieb were among nine applicants for the seven positions. He said they could both bring a wealth of knowledge to the panel, and recommended adding them to the committee.

“It’s not a huge request to add two people to a committee,” Mr. Hamilton said. 

Daniela Abbott, who was named the council liaison to the parks panel Monday night, was opposed to increasing membership at this time. In the future, she said the Glen Park Working Committee and the Melville Park Committee will both be incorporated into the Park and Recreation Committee, so there will be plenty of additional input.

There was no second to Mr. Hamilton’s motion, so no action was taken.

The members of the Parks and Recreation Committee are David Fiorillo, Katherine Gagliano, Maureen Kielbasa, Scott Moody, Francis (“Sam”) Obert III, Paula Smalec and Jenny Wiliams. Their terms expire in May 2022.

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