TOWNSEND – The board of directors voted to remove Karen Hill from the city’s Conservation Commission on Tuesday night.
On June 30, the council agreed to let Hill continue to serve on the commission for 30 days. Both sides had hoped to find a collaborative resolution, but tensions between Hill and the board appeared to reach a tipping point on June 8 when Hill wrote a letter to elected officials ending conservation committee meetings on two posts. remunerated unfilled.
Selectmen Chaz Sexton-Diranian and Joe Shank both voted to remove Hill without reappointment. Veronica Kell recused herself from the hearing on Tuesday and June 30.
In the eyes of Townsend’s board of directors, Hill had not lived up to his end of the deal.
During Tuesday’s public comment period, representatives from Townsend Community Access Media presented elected officials with a complaint against the Conservation Commission for violating the state’s open meetings law.
When the Conservation Commission met on July 28, a 4: 3 vote was taken by the commission telling TCAM’s Hartley Pleshaw to stop recording the meeting. At the time, Hill was the chairman of the commission and voted in favor of stopping the recording by Pleshaw.
Pleshaw was recording the town hall meeting for broadcast on local television and the town’s YouTube channel.
Conservation Commissioner Joan Savoy had defended TCAM’s rights under the Open Meetings Act, saying they did not operate any differently from any other member of the press. However, Pleshaw stopped recording after the courtesy vote, allowing the committee to continue its work.
Hill subsequently resigned as chairman of the Conservation Commission, but remained as commissioner. Even though she was no longer president, she had hoped to stay on the committee.
Shank admitted that not all town hall meetings were broadcast in the past, which he believes is an oversight.
âYou are right. They weren’t done and they weren’t done correctly. There has been no transparency in this community for many years,â Shank said. I have spoken several times in public meetings. We have to right the wrongs. This is how we start. But by stopping and being deliberately against it. It does not work for me.
TCAM said that as its staff grew, coverage of municipal meetings and community events was part of its plans. TCAM also said a note was sent to city bodies in May outlining how they would handle meeting recording, especially given the complications posed by Zoom meetings.
Former conservation commissioner Jennifer Petit said audio recordings of their meetings were previously available from the city clerk and added that “it’s not really new.”
The Board of Selectmen also noted two commissioners who felt intimidated by Hill’s approach. Hill is said to have come to the Commissioners’ homes at times to request signatures on decisions, including a 35-foot wetland buffer waiver for Wescon Inc. that had been denied.
Hill said without paid help, including an administrative assistant and a conservation officer, this has been standard procedure for the past four months. Commissioner Jennifer Eaton said Hill told her to “prepare for trial” in reference to the denial.
Hill said it wasn’t meant to be intimidating, but rather a comment from personal experience.
âI went to her house to get the signatures that were needed for the denial. And she happily signed. And I told him to prepare for a trial, âHill said. “Because one day, two or three months from now, it’ll be summer, you’re going to be in your backyard fooling around, and someone will show up and say, ‘Hey, are you okay, so-and-so? â¦ It was just an informative thing. It will happen.
Sexton-Diranian also expressed unhappiness with how Hill allegedly handled key access to the land use office. He said city workers were uncomfortable with a volunteer with the key to the office.
According to Sexton-Diranian, Hill had searched for key access to the facility and the next morning the office was found unlocked, accessible to the public. He said she told him that she would not return the key until there was no help paid for the commission.
Hill said she needed access to the office to be able to perform her duties and was given a key in February as she searched for a replacement. The original key issued to him is “missing” and probably somewhere in the town hall.
Richard Nylen, the attorney representing Hill, said the key issue could be his fault. He understood that the key was being used to retrieve mail and documents. Because Hill works full time, performing his duties during regular city hall hours can be difficult.
Nylen has also said in the past that the codes were changed over the phone and Hill was unable to leave messages for the commission. There had also been some commission mail that was missing when he arrived.
While Nylen felt her client’s response was “courteous” given the circumstances, it underscored for Sexton-Diranian why the chosen men had given Hill 30 days.
âWhat we said was we wanted to be open with communication. We wanted to be able to follow the rules and regulations of what we do. And that’s a small example of how she’s not following what we asked her to do, âSexton-Diranian said.
Sexton-Diranian said he had not heard from Hill in the past 30 days, reiterating his feeling from the July 28 meeting that he wanted to help.
âWe need to be collaborative and I’ve said this before. That’s all I ask. And none of this has been shown to me in the past 30 days. This is where my decision is made, âSexton-Diranian said.
To alleviate the lack of paid help, Commissioner Jennifer Eaton said she wrote to the Selectmen board and Hill to offer help.
As the meeting progressed, mulling over many of the same issues, longtime commissioner James Deroian expressed frustration with the situation, threatening to resign from the committee altogether.
“Karen, do you really want to stay as commissioner to get this attention?” Because that’s the only thing that’s going to keep coming out of it. You can have my resignation. It’s ridiculous. It is the worst thing I have ever seen in this city, âsaid Deroian.
Two conservation commissioners then spoke in favor of Hill.
âShe is the best, most skilled and most educated person on the Conservation Commission. If you replace her or remove her from the commission, you are doing the people of Townsend a disservice because no one, not a single commissioner, is going to put in what Miss Hill has put in all these years, âsays Anne. Le Cuyer.
âKaren Hill is an extremely intelligent and professional woman who has done her best to help the Conservation Commission. I will be supporting her all the way to the grid and I really think the coaches should consider the good she had done before the incident over the past four months, âsaid Jim Le’Cuyer.
The mentions did not change the minds of elected officials.
Nylen said they would “comply” with the board’s decision, but left the option to pursue the matter.