The Town of Sudbury's drive to increase its Board of Selectmen from three to five members hit a hurdle on Nov. 29 when state Legislature ruled the town's residents must go back and vote on the measure at Annual Town Election.
The ruling came two days after the hearing on Bill H.4471, “An Act Amending Chapter 131 of the Acts of 1994 to Increase Board of Selectmen Membership in the Town of Sudbury,” when numerous residents addressed the Legislature, arguing for and against the town's vote at Special Town Meeting in September.
One resident who voted against the town's vote, Stan Kaplan, told the Legislation a lack of facts prevented him from supporting the move.
"In Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 43B the legislature describes in great detail all of the procedures a Town or City must follow to change its Corporate Charter," he said at the hearing. "Changing the Town’s Corporate Charter should be a deliberative process. In fact, the last time Sudbury changed its Corporate Charter was in 1994 when the Town adopted a Town Manager form of government. The process required a vote at Town Meeting to move the motion forward and a ballot vote of registered voters for passage. So there is precedent here in Sudbury that the Joint Committee on Election Laws should consider on the merits of H4471."
The move for the increase was started by resident Michael Troiano after the selectmen were handcuffed over discussing the Lavender incident from May.
"'Lavendergate' was the spark that set this off where the town was effectively paralyzed by the recusal of one selectman and the presence of two others who don’t agree," Troiano said in September. "I think that caused some acute pain for some people."
"I've known Mike a long time," Vice Chair Bob Haarde said, "and as a petitioner he's done a good job of this. He's been open and transparent."
During a September meeting, the Board said it was not opposed to the change. But during the Nov. 27 hearing, Chairman Larry O'Brien asked for a delay.
"He clearly asked that the legisltors send it back to him as the chairman, so he could appoint a committee to study it," said Haarde, who added he also spoke after O'Brien. "I wasn't going to speak, but I felt compelled after Larry was called as an elected official. He didn’t even ask for a town-wide vote, but rather a nine-member committee to study it. I felt I had to get up and ask the wishes of people of Sudbury be respected."
The proposal, which is the sixth tried by the town, was last defeated in 2010 on the grounds it needed to be vetted or studied, and never was, Haarde said.
When asked if he felt O'Brien backtracked on statements about not objecting to the increase, Haarde said, "I would say so."
The only statement O'Brien has made to Sudbury Patch was he would be "glad to speak with you so that you can report accurately rather than using second hand information," but has yet to comment beyond that.
An email sent to State Rep. Tom Conroy asking for comment on the hearing has also gone unanswered.
"Tom was very supportive in a very open and inclusive legisltationg hearing," Haarde said, explaining how those who spoke, including Art Gutch and Susan Offner, were allowed three minutes. "I applaud the legislture for how they handled it."
Kaplan also told the legislature his attendance was not about objecting to the move. He just wanted to make sure if it happens, it is done properly.
" ... what I’m objecting to here is not the number of Selectmen, I’m objecting to the process," he said. "Home Rule Petition H4471 before you is nothing more than a legal loophole to thwart the prescribed 43B process. This matter should be brought before an Annual Town Meeting for all the voters to consider and not decided through a lesser noticed and lesser attended Special Town Meeting. Anything less would be expediency at its worst, a short-circuit to the principles, guidelines, and requirements established by Massachusetts law."
The attendance for Special Town Meeting was so large that it spilled over from the auditorium at Lincoln-Sudbury to a second room across the hall.