By Beth David, Editor
At its meeting on Tuesday, 10/12/21, the Fairhaven Select Board met with Historical Commission members to discuss the controversy surrounding their plan to install decorative lighting around Town Hall. The six Victorian style lights will be placed on the sidewalks: Two each on Center, William and Walnut Streets.
HC chairperson Wayne Oliveira had submitted a formal complaint against Office of Tourism Director Chris Richard. Mr. Oliveira wanted to discuss Mr. Richard’s posts that were “negative and disparaging,” about the street lamp project.
Mr. Richard had also submitted a letter to the Select Board that he also posted on Facebook saying his office “strongly opposes” the project. He said in his letter that Henry Huttleston Rogers built the town hall and Millicent Library with “no concern for expense,” and that the proposed lamps are “relatively cheap, modern, imitation ‘Victorian’ lamp posts.”
He said the Historical Commission should not be doing that kind of project. He also noted that Town Meeting voted down the project.
“The Commission is trying to circumvent that vote by raising the funds privately, when they should, in fact, be the ones advocating for more historical accuracy,” wrote Mr. Richard, adding it will be step toward turning the “historical center into a fake Disneyland-like environment that is not true in spirit to anything that was there in the past.”
Mr. Oliveira told the board that some of Mr. Richard’s posts were “unacceptable behavior for a town department head.”
He said Mr. Richard should “be ashamed of himself for attacking thea Town Committee on a page reserved for tourism for our town.”
In addition to being “unprofessional,” wrote Mr. Oliveira, it is a violation of the town’s social media policy.
“Anything short of a formal reprimand would be misguided and I demand an apology be given to the Historical Commission,” wrote Mr. Oliveira. “Further, he needs to cease his unprofessional and immature tactics on social media.”
During the meeting Select Board chairperson Bob Espindola said they would not discuss the dispute between Mr. Oliveira and Mr. Richard. He said Mr. Richard is supervised by interim Town Administrator Wendy Graves, so Mr. Oliveira needed to bring the matter to her attention.
Town Counsel Thomas Crotty was also present at the meeting and cautioned that Mr. Richard was not present and had a right to be there with counsel if they were going to discuss that kind of issue about him.
Mr. Espindola did say, however, that there were several questions about the fund-raising efforts. The concern, he said is that town meeting had not approved the article and now the HC is using the fund-raising process to get the project done. He said it may not be that TM simply did not want to spend the money, but that TM maybe did not want the project.
There were also questions about the gift account, when and how it was set and who is authorized to spend the funds.
Ms. Graves said the commission already had the gift account set up and that the committee votes on how to spend the money.
Mr. Espindola also asked if donors to the fund must be identified, and Ms. Graves said that the identities of the donors and amounts are public information.
Mr. Espindola noted that the Rogers Re-Use Committee sent out a postcard not using town funds, but it is a town committee. They do not have a gift account, he said. The postcard was created with donations.
“We need to tighten up on how these gift accounts are managed,” he said.
Ms. Graves said the Town Accountant, Anne Carreiro, makes sure all expenditures are lawful.
Select Board member Stasia Powers asked for clarification on who has authority to alter the town hall and grounds.
Mr. Crotty said that town hall is under the control of the SB, regardless of where the money comes from. He said just because they raise the money for a purpose, the SB does not have to approve that purpose.
The Historical Commission is advisory to the SB.
Mr. Oliveira and Mr. Espindola went back and forth a bit, with Mr. Oliveira trying to criticize Mr. Richard, and Mr. Espindola trying to stop him and direct him towards making his complaint directly to Ms. Graves.
Mr. Oliveira said social media just gives “angry people a platform to spew their venom,” and said Facebook has become a “very nasty platform,” that people use to “attack, insult, and degrade people.”
Liberally peppering his comments with complaints about negative comments and being “ridiculed by other departments, Mr. Oliveira clarified some points about the street lamp project.
He said the side streets around town hall are very dark for people leaving meetings at night. He said the Community Preservation Committee said the project was not eligible for funds, not that they were against the project. He said the project has been talked about for seven years, and the conduit was placed under the sidewalks years ago in case a light project came to fruition.
Mr. Oliveira also clarified that nothing has been purchased yet, and the style has not been definitively decided. He said the HC will be looking for public input and will hold a public hearing.
He also said that if the project does not happen, donors will get their money back, that he is keeping careful track of all donations.
“I want to see people talking to each other, not attacking” said SB member Stasia Powers, noting it is why she ran for the seat on the board.
Mr. Oliveira also said he took issue with people saying they were trying to “circumvent” Town Meeting and CPC. He said they were just trying take the taxpayers “off the hook,” not circumvent anyone.
Ms. Powers and Mr. Espindola made sure it was clear that the project would have to be approved by the Select Board.
Mr. Oliveira agreed and asked for anyone with ideas to contact him directly through the town’s website.
In another matter, the board discussed how to proceed to fill a vacancy on the Board of Public Works. Frank Coelho has resigned for health reasons. The Select Board chooses the replacement, but both boards want the BPW to have a say in the choice. The Select Board will invite the BPW to join them in the meeting where they will make the decision, and will encourage individual board members to make their choices known.
Anyone interested in the position should contact the Select Board by 10/21. See page 5 for details
The board also filled several vacancies on boards, including appointing Ron Fortier to the Cultural Council, despite his disclosure that he is applying for two grants from the council.
When Ms. Powers asked if it was a conflict of interest, Mr. Crotty said, “probably.”
The board voted unanimously to appoint Mr. Fortier.
The board met in executive session to discuss litigation regarding the Atlas Tack property, and to discuss 61A land purchase at 732 Sconticut Neck Road.
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