Renee D’Argento appointed to Board of Health

New member voted on after joint meeting with Select Board and no public input


PEPPERELL – The Board of Health and Board of Selectmen moved late last month to fill a vacancy on the health board, in a vote that generated controversy in the small Nashoba Valley community.

During the joint meeting of the two boards on Sept. 28, members voted to appoint D’Argento, a former member of the Housing Committee and the Light, Air and Noise Bylaw Committee, to the vacant seat on the Board of Health 3-2.

The majority votes came entirely from the Select Board members and the dissenting votes came from the two members of the Board of Health. Those members, Chairman Margie LaFleur and member Phillip Durno, gave their approval to former selectman and Planning Board member Stephen Themelis, who lost on a 2-3 vote thanks to the Select Board voting down his appointment.

No public comment was taken during either voting period and the ensuing discussion.

Town Administrator Andrew MacLean said that D’Argento was appointed to bring the Board of Health back to a functional three-person unit until the next town election in April 2021.

The board became a two-person team in June after then-member Grover Pillsbury announced his resignation. Pillsbury called the board “corrupt” in his resignation letter, citing his concerns with the board’s lack of action against the mobile home company Fairlane Homes and even filing an open meeting law violation complaint to Attorney General Maura Healey in January.

MacLean said that, if D’Argento wins her race next April, she’ll complete the remaining year of Pillsbury’s three-year term. If she decides to run again in April 2022 and goes two for two in town elections, she will then serve her first official three-year term on the Board of Health.

As for the lack of public input, MacLean said that it was “not anything intentional” but actually a policy from the Town Charter, which dictates that the Select Board is not obligated to take audience input on the board appointment.

“The charter calls for this process and the Select Board is the appointing authority in this situation,” MacLean added. “In the previous month, we had similar situations with the Planning Board and Recreation Commission and went through the same process. We received 20 letters of support with roughly an even split between the candidates who were vetted by the Board of Health and the Select Board, but this is not a popularity contest. If the population wants to help make a choice for who is on the board, they can do so next April.”

While Board of Health Chair LaFleur had no comment on the appointment process, Select Board Chair William Greathead also agreed with the joint appointment process and recognized the support letters sent in to the board before the final vote.

“I voted the way I voted because I thought it was time for a change and saw Renee as very capable,” Greathead added. “It’s not just about her experience but also her drive and enthusiasm to get stuff done. We need someone who would take great attention to detail and Renee has always been the one to notice those things.”

Themelis was not enthused about about the appointment process, saying he was “disappointed and discouraged” by the joint appointment process.

He was also “bothered” by the Select Board’s lack of disclosure by not having public comment or reading any of the letters of support out loud during the meeting.

He noted how when he was a member of the Planning Board and had to appoint a new member, the board would bring candidates in for a public meeting to interview them and let attendees ask their own questions to candidates.

“The Select Board should’ve at least allowed public input so it could be more fair to both me and Renee,” Themelis said. “I thought the process was flawed and they need some education on how to run a meeting like that.”

D’Argento attended her first meeting on the board on Tuesday, Oct. 6. with both LaFleur and Durno expressing warm welcomes and support for their new board member at the meeting.

As for Themelis, he said he’s “leaving things open” to run for the Board of Health seat next April and will “pay attention” to Board of Health meetings until then.