The Board of Selectmen voted 3-2 to remove Jim Dombrowski, Karen Bowen, and Joanne Demack-Harding from the Conservation Commission following an unannounced site visit to a Dale Street property. The board also suspended Lynne Mullen for 15 days.
Bowen feels her dismissal is tied to a recent confrontation with the chairman of the Conservation Commission at the board’s Aug. 5 meeting.
“I was fired for speaking the truth,” she told Abington News. “God help the conservation efforts in Abington.”
“Being a first time member of a town commission has been an eye-opening experience,” Mullen said.
Richard Montgomery, the property owner, said the four commission members showed up unannounced on his property, and that Dombrowski slapped the back of his hand when confronting him about alleged wetland violations and tried to intimidate him. He asked the Board of Selectmen during a hearing Monday night to remove all four members.
During the hearing, Dombrowski acknowledged that he had Montgomery turn his hands over and lightly slapped the back of his hand, but said it was done in a non-agressive manner.
The other three members confirmed that Dombrowski hit the back of Montgomery’s hand but strongly disagreed with the rest of his testimony. They said Dombrowski didn’t speak in an intimidating manner, that Montgomery had extended an invitation for them to walk the property, and that they believed the conversation was overall friendly.
Demack-Harding told selectmen she was “flabbergasted” when notified about the complaint and took “great offense” to Montgomery’s version of events.
“This has all been blown out of proportion,” she said.
Mullen said she was also shocked to read Montgomery’s version of what happened. She said while they told Dombrowksi afterwards he shouldn’t have touched Montgomery, they left feeling overall it was a cordial encounter.
Conservation Chairman Michael Noonan sided with Montgomery, who said the four members were disrespectful to the rest of the commission by not notifying them of the walk through. He accused Dombrowski of trying to bully him at the commission’s last meeting. (Noonan came under fire from Dombrowski, Harding, and Bowen for allegedly not following wetland regulations and commission protocols while filling in some commercial land he owns on Hjelm Street). Noonan also asked the Board of Selectmen to remove all four members, suggesting they were bullies.
Selectmen focused in on the fact the four members hadn’t specifically received permission to walk the site that day and that they planned the walk-through without trying to include every member of the board. Bowen said at the commission’s last meeting she requested board members interested in walking the property to let her know, but only Dombrowski and Mullen reached out to her. Harding said she was notified of the visit the morning of and then came down.
Each of the four members believed that Montgomery had extended an open invitation, and they weren’t aware of the commission’s policy of coordinating site visits through the commission chairman. Selectmen said they should have known better. Town Manager Scott Lambiase said the four used “poor judgement” while representing town.
Alex Bezanson, who made the motion to remove the three members and suspend Mullen, said he felt Mullen should be given a break as she’s in her first year on the commission.
Bezanson, Kevin DiMarzio, and Michael Kolodziej voted in favor of the sanctions. Tim Chapin and Alex Hagerty were the no votes; both expressed interest before the vote was taken in voting on each member seperately.
“I’m speechless,” Harding told Abington News afterwards.
Montgomery, who owns a large piece of land off Dale Street, is actually scheduled to appear before the Conservation Commission Tuesday night to continue a discussion on his request to build a driveway over the Shumatuscacant River. He is looking to create a small farm that grows Christmas trees among other things. The Commission members went down to the site after learning that Montgomery had clear-cut a large section of the land that possibly infringed on wetland buffers (Montgomery says the work took place outside the buffer zone).
Noonan said the Commission still has four members eligible to vote (himself, vice-chairman Russell Forsythe, and members Paul Bunker and Richard Smith) so tomorrow night’s meeting will take place as scheduled.
Ellen Delany contributed to this article. The author of this article is a member of the Planning Board, which has been asked to approve a request by Montgomery to adjust the lot lines on his property.