Cite concerns of transparency

Rockport officials wait to appoint Zoning Board applicant

Wed, 05/12/2021 - 7:00pm

    ROCKPORT — At a vote of 3 to 1, members of the Rockport Select Board chose not to appoint applicant Bob Hall to the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals for a term that would begin June 9. The decision came after some board members expressed concern over appointing Hall to the ZBA while his wife, Debra Hall, Chair of the Select Board, was still in office.

    Debra Hall’s four-year term on the Select Board will expire at the time of the June 8 elections; Town Manager Bill Post suggested June 9 as a starting date for Bob Hall on the ZBA because under Maine law the spouse of a municipal officer is not allowed to serve on the Zoning Board of Appeals. Bob Hall currently serves on the Rockport’s Ordinance Review Committee (ORC).

    Debra and Bob Hall, both attorneys, worked with Select Board member Denise Kennedy-Munger, also an attorney, to draft a proposed ordinance which would regulate short-term rentals in Rockport.

    A number of contentious public forums were held remotely via Zoom seeking resident input on the draft ordinance, during which citizens expressed concern over the need for such legislation as well as the manner in which it was created.

    Ultimately, the Select Board voted in March to place a non-binding warrant article related to short-term rentals on the June ballot. Over the past week, signs in opposition to the warrant article have appeared throughout Rockport, which read “Protect property rights, Vote ‘no’ on #4.”

    Post, who will be stepping down from his role as Town Manager later this month, said he had consulted with the town’s legal counsel, Phil Saucier, and said that giving Bob Hall the opportunity to begin on the ZBA June 9, once Debra Hall’s term on the Select Board had ended, “passed muster” legally.

    “Bob Hall has expressed a desire to fill recent vacancy created by the resignation of David Cockey, which term ends in June 2021. Rather then renewing term again in a month, I recommend that Bob be appointed to a new three-year term to end in June 2024. Please note that state law does not allow a spouse of a municipal officer to serve on the Zoning Board of Appeals. Because Debra Hall is not seeking re-election to the Select Board, Bob’s appointment should begin effective June 9, 2021 (day after the June 8 election),” said Post in his Town Manager’s report.

    At the Monday night meeting, Bob Hall appeared before the Select Board via Zoom to express his interest in joining the ZBA and to receive and questions from board members. Debra Hall did not participate in this portion of the meeting or voting on his appointment due to conflict of interest.

    “I’ve had the pleasure of working with Bob on the ORC, and I think Bob brings a lot of willingness to put the time into the work that’s needed and is not overbearing. He’s a lawyer so he has the background to provide help and information and has worked really well with the ORC and has kept us going as far as cleaning up some of the Land Use Ordinance provisions and I think he would be a welcome addition to the ZBA,” said Kennedy-Munger.

    “I don’t doubt that he’s more than capable. I just don’t want to get into another public display of less-than-transparency and if Bob were amenable to it, I would just as soon see him wait the 30 days and until there is a new [Select] board,” said Mark Kelley, referring to the first meeting of the newly-appointed members to the Select Board, which will be held following the municipal elections on June 14.

    “I realize we’re dating this ‘June 9,’ but we still have a board member who is perhaps influential in the rest of this to choose him or not. I know he is more than qualified, but I’d rather see him come in in June after Debra has left, versus signing him up now even though it’s dated June 9,” Kelley continued.

    Kennedy-Munger said she didn’t feel influenced to appoint Bob Hall to the ZBA while Debra Hall was still Chair of the Select Board. Board member Michelle Hannan asked Post to further explain the legality timeliness of the appointment, and to explain more of his conversation with Saucier on the matter.

    “I would be concerned only because we’re making a decision now which technically does not follow the law, even though we are going to post-date something,” said Hannan.

    “Debra would not be voting on the motion, and the appointment would not be effective until June 9. So there is no concern there,” said Post, adding that Bob Hall would not be included in e-mail communications from ZBA members until his term began.

    “In terms of the timing, it seems to me that’s up to the Select Board, it doesn’t matter to me which way you go. I would like to know what my future is going to be because I’m anxious to get in and assess the Zoning Board of Appeals. One of the things I’ve learned by being on the ORC is that we have some really talented people on these committees. They’re smart, they’re experienced, they know what they’re doing. They could use a little help in organizing some of the ordinances and to make them flow together well, and I can do that and I’ve been doing it on the ORC,” said Bob Hall.

    “This one’s a tough one. I want to see Bob on the ZBA in a hurry, but I’m thinking it could happen at the meeting when the new Select Board is in place,” said board member Jeff Hamilton.

    Kelley, Hannan and Hamilton voted against appointing Hall to the ZBA beginning June 9; Kennedy-Munger voted in favor, and said the board would revisit the matter at a future meeting. The next meeting of the Rockport Select Board will be held Monday, May 24 at 5:30 pm via Zoom.