AYER -- The Planning Board is facing a new challenge after this year's town election, as former member Jeremy Callahan returns to the board while clerk Susan Sullivan still has a harassment prevention order against him.
No candidates ran for the five-year seat with Callahan receiving the most write-ins on the ballot with 34 votes.
The order, which extends to November of this year, only allows Callahan in to Town Hall between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., making him unable to attend board meetings that are usually at 7 p.m.
Conflict between the two arose in 2011 after an alleged verbal altercation that took place at Sullivan's office on the third floor of Town Hall, The Public Spirit reported at the time. The two had been battling over meeting minutes from previous years that Callahan had requested. He eventually received minutes from 2009 and 2010 meetings through a public records request.
Sullivan initially received a one-year harassment prevention order that lasted until November 2012, in which Callahan could enter Town Hall only for personal and board business, The Public Spirit reported. He was not allowed to enter the third floor and was required to remain 10 yards away from Sullivan at all times, except for Planning Board meetings.
Callahan resigned last March, one day after learning that the state's ACLU would not help him appeal the order. The current order, issued in November of 2013, only allows him into Town Hall for business hours and still forbids him from being within 10 yards of Sullivan.
Now, Callahan said the order needs to be resolved.
"I did get elected and I do deserve to have a seat at the table," he said. Some of his supporters indicated that they would be willing to write his name in. The evening of the vote he told them that he would take the seat if he got enough votes, Callahan said.
"I didn't actively pursue it, but I think it's a good thing that the seat is filled and I think I left some unfinished business when I left last time," he said. "Hopefully, we can get past the situation with Sue Sullivan and move forward."
Callahan pointed out that the order also forbids him from going to Town Meeting and Board of Selectmen meetings, both held at 7 p.m.
The solution around this order would be for the board to meet on town property at a place other than Town Hall. Callahan said he emailed the board and proposed meeting in the police station, but members declined. When one person brought up the dilemma at the board's May 1 meeting, the board dismissed discussing it because it was not on the agenda, according to a video of the meeting provided by the Ayer Public Access Corporation.
Planning Board Chair Morris Babcock said in an emailed statement that the board believes issues with Callahan are not issues or concerns of the planning board.
"It is unfortunate that an important position on this board is being occupied by an individual whom, by his own means, is unable to fulfill the requirements of that position," Babcock said.
"It is also unfortunate that as a town we have resorted to electing a write-in candidate with 34 votes to such an important role in our community," the statement continued.
Babcock said that the board meetings are not the forum for this discussion.
"The only resolution is for Mr. Callahan to resolve his personal issues or relinquish the seat to someone that can fulfill the requirements of this position," Babcock said.
But the problem might become irrelevant after Monday's town meeting, in which voters completely zeroed out the budgets for both the zoning board of appeals and the planning board. The budgets include Sullivan's salary as zoning administrator and office manager for both boards. The zero-dollar budget takes effect in July, at the start of the new fiscal year.
When asked how she felt about Callahan's re-election and if she felt her safety is threatened, Sullivan said she did not want to discuss the matter.
Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand said the town will continue to comply with and enforce the court order, which it takes very seriously.
Callahan argued that the current order, issued after he resigned, is much stronger and more restrictive, calling it "unreasonable."
"There's no new complaint, I didn't violate the earlier order," he said. "I was very disappointed when the judge decided to implement the time restriction."
Callahan is clerk of the Green Community Committee, which meets at Town Hall in the evenings. That apparently made Sullivan uncomfortable, he said.
"I was surprised that she made an additional complaint that she was uncomfortable with me being in the building evenings," he said.
On Tuesday, selectmen voted to accept a remote participation policy that allows members of public bodies to attend meetings through technology such as telephone, the Internet or video-conferencing.
But according to the proposed draft policy posted in the selectmen's meeting packet, members can only remotely attend if attendance is "unreasonably difficult." This exception is limited to personal illness, personal disability, emergency, military service or geographic distance.
Callahan said it does not look like the policy would work for him because of the specific exceptions.
But Selectman Gary Luca said from what he understands, there is a little leeway.
"You have definitive stuff down there, but it can be interpreted," he said. "That's pretty much what town counsel's saying. I asked that question and they seemed to think that he could participate under that."
Pontbriand said the question of whether the policy can be applied to Callahan's circumstance is under legal review.
Callahan said he is going to hire a lawyer to file a motion for a modification to the order. He said he thinks the parties will be able to work something out.
"I wouldn't have accepted the seat if I thought the situation was impossible," he said.
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