AYER — Citing a lack of response from the Board of Selectmen and a complete lack of budget, Ayer Planning Board Chairman Morris Babcock has resigned.
The resignation leaves four members on a board with a budget that voters decided to slash at Town Meeting, along with funding for the Zoning Board of Appeals. The cuts left both boards without their administrator, Susan Sullivan, whose salary was eliminated.
Babcock said he had requested multiple times that selectmen hold an emergency Town Meeting, or whatever else was in their power, to reinstate the board’s budget. But he argued they still have not done anything.
“I just wanted them to step up and do something and begin making a change, and they have done absolutely nothing,” he said.
Babcock said the board cannot even use a piece of paper without violating tax laws.
“To spend any money on anything, even so much as a simple piece of paper, is a misappropriation of funds,” he said. “I was stuck in a position where I could not do anything.”
Because Sullivan’s position is in a union, Babcock said the board can also not do any of the administrator’s tasks without violating fair labor practice laws.
“I refuse to be put in the position where I have absolutely zero chance of success,” he said.
Babcock’s departure is the latest problem the board has faced since May, when former selectman Carolyn McCreary urged voters to eliminate its budget at Town Meeting because the boards were not running efficiently.
She began to talk about the boards’ administration but was interrupted and warned not to talk about individuals.
Also in May, former board member Jeremy Callahan won an empty spot on the board with write-in votes. But Callahan cannot attend meetings in Town Hall because of a harassment prevention order Sullivan has against him, filed before her job was defunded. The order forbids him from being inside Town Hall in the evenings, when most municipal meetings are held, and restricts him from being within a certain distance of Sullivan.
Babcock has consistently argued that the board needs a budget and an office manager, and said he has letters from local contractors, builders and others who have said Sullivan has done a good job.
“Instead of following proper channels for disciplinary action of a town employee, they chose to take this absurd route of zeroing the budget to get rid of her,” he said.
Babcock also claims he was harassed by Callahan through emails. The emails, Babcock said, read that Babcock should get his own personal lawyer.
He said he asked for a review of the emails from Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand and Selectman Chris Hillman for violations of the town email policy.
“I was told they would get back to me. They didn’t get back to me. I requested the information again — no response,” he said.
“And then they reward (Callahan) by putting him on the (Zoning Board of Appeals),” he said. “You can’t tell me there isn’t something wrong going on at Town Hall that somebody who has a harassment prevention order gets rewarded by being appointed to the ZBA.”
Callahan said he has not heard about the complaint, but said as far as he knows there is no issue with harassment.
“If he had discussions with Robert or with the Board of Selectmen, no one has said as much to me,” he said. “I, honestly, I have not heard that complaint.”
Pontbriand said the correspondence he saw between Babcock and Callahan does not rise to a violation of the town’s electronic communication policy, and does not fall under the legal definition or criteria of harassment.
Pontbriand also claims there has not been any formal request of selectmen to call a Special Town Meeting. He said he did meet with Babcock to tell him that the selectmen’s office would provide administrative support to the planning and zoning boards.
“It’s always unfortunate when any volunteer, elected or appointed, resigns from a position of service to the town out of frustration,” he said. “I think that’s unfortunate. He was elected and his service to the town is duly noted.”
A resolution to the budget crisis could result at fall Town Meeting in October, if voters choose to restore the budget for both boards.
Hillman argued that selectmen can’t go back and declare a Special Town Meeting after voters already chose to eliminate funding.
“You can’t set a precedent that every time something doesn’t go your way and doesn’t work out, that we declare a Special Town Meeting,” he said.
There will be no Special Town Meeting declared, Hillman said.
“Whether I agree with it or not, it’s like saying you got the verdict wrong. So you went back and got a different jury,” he said.
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