By Chris Lisinski
TOWNSEND — One man had to be blocked from entering the Board of Selectmen’s chambers by a police officer during another contentious meeting in Townsend.
On Tuesday night, the Board of Selectmen was set to hold an executive session to consider complaints filed against Conservation Commission members Veronica Kell and Jennifer Pettit. As is their right, however, both Kell and Pettit requested that those discussions be held in an open public hearing, and dozens of residents packed the room.
Townsend Police Sgt. Randy Girard was assigned to the meeting as a precaution, and he spent the four-hour discussion standing by the door.
There were several complaints filed against Kell surrounding allegations of trespassing. In April, during a Conservation Commission site walk on Karen Hill’s property, Hill reportedly told Kell that cameras on the land had captured Kell and a resident, Todd Melanson, “walking on her property,” according to a report of the site walk Kell gave to a reporter.
Kell and Melanson both denied the accusation, and they both said they received formal notices of trespassing.
Melanson then attended the April 27 Conservation Commission meeting, which Hill attended as well. At that meeting, he pressured her to retract her accusation because, he said, she did not produce any video or photographic evidence. Hill complied with his demands “under duress,” she said.
But before the May 11 Conservation Commission meeting, she wrote in her formal complaint that Kell approached her and demanded a similar retraction. Then, during the meeting, Kell asked to see the footage and Hill said she did not have to provide it, according to audio presented during Tuesday’s meeting.
Kell then asked Hill if her husband, Building Commissioner Richard Hanks, had acquired the cameras from the recycling center.
Hill and Hanks both filed complaints against Kell for this incident. Carla Walter, who oversees the recycling center as head of the Board of Health, also filed a complaint alleging that she had been personally disparaged by Kell’s comments.
Melanson had been in attendance during the early portions of Tuesday’s hearing, but had to leave early before the complaint in which he was mentioned came up. But then, around 9:30 p.m., he suddenly appeared at the door to the meeting room with an angry demeanor.
Sgt. Girard blocked him from entering and escorted him to the hallway, and yelling could be heard for a brief period. Selectmen Gordon Clark and Carolyn Smart quickly sprung up and called for a recess, and Clark called police to request backup.
Melanson, reached via Facebook by a reporter after the incident, said he was upset that testimony given during the discussion falsely accused him of trespassing. He said Girard helped calm him down in the hallway.
“I was brought up to be honest, speak the truth and have lived that way my entire life, so when someone lies about me under oath, I take exception and wanted the truth to be heard,” he wrote in a message. “(Girard) saved me … He knows my family and wanted to make sure my anger did not get the better of me and for that I am forever grateful.”
After the meeting, Interim Town Administrator James Kreidler could not confirm whether any additional officers did come to assist, but he praised Girard for handling the situation.
“The sergeant did an outstanding job,” he said.
The Board of Selectmen decided to take Hill and Hanks’s complaints against Kell under advisement, which means they will deliberate on them at a future date after reviewing audio recordings of the Conservation Commission meetings. They voted to consider Walter’s complaint without merit because they could find no specific evidence when Walter’s name was used in a public meeting.
Earlier in the evening, the board heard a complaint filed by Sean and Dawn Dunbar against Pettit, another Conservation Commission member, alleging that Pettit improperly stopped the Dunbars’ children when they were riding ATVs in Old Meetinghouse Park and took their pictures.
The Dunbars allege Pettit had one of their children, a minor, take his helmet off and stand next to his ATV for a photo, but Pettit denied that and said the pictures she took were of the children on their ATVs still wearing all their gear.
Pettit said she spoke to the boys because they were riding ATVs on town-owned conservation land and wanted to stop that behavior without getting the police involved.
The board will wait to make a determination on that complaint until they get further information from town counsel.
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