By Anne O’Connor
ASHBY — In a small town, everyone who wants to be heard can be. Voters can become part of town government or can meet with the community’s boards to air suggestions or concerns.
As the selectmen met recently, issues from neighborhood problems to police- chief selection and replacing a bridge were broached.
A neighbor dispute was brought to the Ashby selectmen’s attention about six weeks ago. The board asked town counsel to look at what has gone on and evaluate whether the town is proceeding in the right direction.
According to Dennis and Anne Hayes, their neighbors, the Racines, were operating a mechanic’s shop from their home. They also complained about noise and use of dirt bikes on the property.
The building inspector had viewed a video and visited the property. He declined to take any actions and wrote a letter to the Hayeses telling them they could appeal to the Zoning Board of Appeals within 30 days.
Joel Bard, town counsel with Kopelman and Paige, said the registrations of the vehicles on the property at the time showed they belonged to the Racines or to their friends. This was not evidence of a commercial garage. If they are just hobbyists and not being paid for the work done at home; there is no violation of a bylaw, he said.
The next step is for the Hayes to appeal to the ZBA. If they do not file before the deadline is reached, Bard said the board can chose to overlook the fact the appeal is late.
The Hayes could also choose to pursue this in court as a tort. “Those are private actions,” Bard said. “They’re not in the town’s bailey unless you have a noise ordinance.” Ashby’s bylaws do not address noise issues.
“The Board of Selectmen does not have a formal role in this process,” he said. “It’s not really properly before you. It’s a neighbors’ dispute.”
The Hayeses were not present at the meeting. Roger Racine, the owners’ father, did not have any comment.
Residents are also starting to be heard in the challenge to find a new police chief. Ed Drew is serving as the town’s interim chief after Paul Lundin did not renew his contract this year.
Rebecca Walsh, formerly on the Finance Committee, appeared before the Board of Selectmen to rescind her petition to name Detective John Dillon to be police chief.
The petition asked for the selectmen to waive the requirements for a police chief and appoint Dillon, who serves on the force and has lived in town 10 years. It garnered 177 signatures.
Walsh said she rescinded the petition after learning an e-mail was circulating against Dillon’s appointment. “It was always my intention to avoid divisiveness within the town,” she read from a prepared statement.
Selectman Peter McMurray said the liability of picking a new chief is huge. “I know what it costs to remove a couple of individuals from that post and it’s a lot more than $7,000,” he said. The Finance Committee did not approve a request for $7,000 to hire a search company.
A committee is being formed to select a chief. “These people that signed the petition, be part of our committee,” McMurray urged. So far only three people have taken on the challenge.
The police union requested a representative, Officer Paul Alden, to serve on the committee. Town Administrator Linda Sanders said resident Steve Haynes asked to be on the committee and former Ashby Police Chief, Steve McLatchey from Hubbardston agreed to serve on the committee.
People will have another chance to be heard at an upcoming meeting on Sept. 23 at 7 p.m. to discuss the Bernhardt Road Bridge. It was closed in 2003 and removed this summer. The state did not fund a replacement and the town has invited legislators to attend an informational meeting with townspeople. Sanders said people from the offices of state Sen. Bob Rice and state reps. Jen Flanagan and Bob Hargraves will attend.