TOWNSEND – The Conservation Commission appointed its newest member, Karen Hill, on September 17. But she’s no newcomer.
Hill previously served on the board until her term was up this summer, when, despite the commission’s recommendation to reappoint her, the selectmen voted 2-1 not to do so.
Selectman Veronica Kell, in particular, objected to Hill’s continuing to serve, citing a letter Hill had written to the board, asking that Kell abstain from voting on her re-appointment. Kell refused.
She tied her objection to “disparaging remarks” Hill made about the town in her letter.
But in a later interview with the Nashoba Valley Voice, Hill pointed to another possible motive. Hill once owned land in Kell’s neighborhood and Kell, who was on the Conservation Commission at the time, opposed her plans to build on it, Hill said.
Hill built a house on the property and sold it, she said, but it didn’t sit well with Kell.
The commission settled the appointment issue when it recently re-seated Hill, bypassing the Board of Selectmen, which in most cases has that authority, per the town charter.
The charter sets a time period for filling vacancies on boards and committees that operate under the selectmen’s’ umbrella and the clock starts ticking when they are notified of the vacancy. If they miss the deadline, individual boards can fill the vacancies on their own.
In this instance, the deadline had expired.
But when they voted earlier this month to fill only one of the Conservation Commission’s three open slots, it seems the selectmen were not aware that the time limit applied to all three.
Before that vote, Town Administrator James Kreidler suggested holding off until the other board had met and made its recommendation, per the usual procedure. But Kell said they couldn’t wait.
Citing the charter and the pending deadline, Kell argued that the seat left open by a resignation had to be filled right away to avoid ceding appointment authority to the other board, apparently drawing a distinction between a vacant seat and a vacated seat.
At that time, there were three applicants for as many conservation slots. One of them was Hill. Another, Dalton Herrick Wagman, was appointed.
At a subsequent session on September 15, the board appointed Jennifer Eaton, leaving one vacancy to fill and Hill still waiting in the wings.
Last week, the window of opportunity had closed when the commission stepped up to appoint her, Hill said. And if the selectmen had assumed otherwise, she said, that assumption was incorrect.
As Hill explained it, the section of the town charter that spells out the appointment process makes no distinction between vacant seats and vacated seats; that is, end-of-term openings vs mid-term exits. Simply put, a vacancy is a vacancy and the same rules apply, either way.
Town counsel was consulted, she said, and he confirmed that.
Hill said the selectmen were notified on July 29 that the Conservation Commission had two openings. The seats were left vacant by a member’s death and another member’s resignation, respectively.
A third seat – Hill’s — opened up when her term expired and she was not reappointed.
With two of the three seats filled, that left one vacancy. Absent another appointment by the selectmen, the commission then had the authority to act on is own. Which it did.
Asked how it feels to be back, Hill said it’s a mixed blessing but she’s ready. “I didn’t mind the peace and quiet,” she said. Now, it’s back to business, with a full, 7-member compliment on board.