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Ballot error puts Planning Board on hold

April 17, 2014 |

The incomplete Planning Board, temporarily chaired by Alessandro Meccia, second from right, agreed to continue the discussion regarding a proposed gas station for the corner of Shaker Road and Chestnut Street until after a fifth member was appointed.
Reminder Publications photo by Chris Maza

By Chris Maza chrism@thereminder.com
EAST LONGMEADOW – An error on the ballot for the recent Annual Town Election prevented the Planning Board from conducting its scheduled business on April 15. The board was supposed to make a determination regarding a special permit for a proposed gas station and convenience store to be located on the corner of Shaker Road and Chestnut Street. However, the error resulted in a board containing only four members, a situation the board and Planning Director Robyn Macdonald agreed would not be fair to the applicant. “For approval of a special permit, at least four members of the board must vote to approve it,” Macdonald explained. “With only four members, it would have to be a unanimous vote, so the board decided to continue it.” It marks the third time the issue has been continued. The proposal for a 10-pump gas station with a convenience store was originally made in early March by Chalmers Enterprises, LLC, but not acted upon due to concerns raised by the Department of Public Works and the Planning Board regarding safety. Later that month, it was continued again to April 15. Macdonald said a decision would most likely be made after a joint meeting with the Board of Selectmen prior to the Planning Board’s meeting on April 22 at which an appointment would be made to fill the vacancy created by the ballot error. The joint meeting will take place at 4 p.m. The ballot for the April 8 election was meant to contain two uncontested races for the Planning Board – Tyde Richards for a one-year term and Michael Carabetta for a five-year term. Richards was appointed to the board to fill a vacancy created by Michael Przybylowicz’s resignation last summer. The appointment was valid until the next local election and he ran again for the remainder of Przybylowicz’s term. Carabetta was at the end of his previous five-year term and was seeking another. However, due to an oversight, Richards was listed as the lone candidate for the five-year vacancy and there was nothing on the ballot regarding the one-year seat and Carabetta’s name was omitted. Some present at the election said they attempted to vote for Richards and then write in Carabetta for Planning Board, but had their ballots rejected because the instructions said to vote for only one candidate. Town Clerk Thomas Florence made no excuses and apologized to the Board of Selectmen at its April 11 meeting to discuss the issue. He said that Richards, who was voted to the five-year seat on the board was sworn in, then immediately resigned to re-open the seat, as was recommended by representatives of the Secretary of State’s Office with whom he spoke. The selectmen heard from Town Counsel James Donahue who said based on his interpretation of the law, Richards’ appointment was still valid and the board would still be able to conduct its business with four members. Carabetta, however, would have to either be appointed to a one-year seat and run again in the 2015 Annual Town Election, or a special election would have to take place in order for him to achieve a full five-year term. Florence said a special election would cost the town approximately $7,000 to $7,500. When asked what he preferred, Carabetta said he was not opposed to a one-year appointment. “If the first plan is to do a one-year [appointment] and a four-year [elected term] to save taxpayers time, grief and aggravation, then I’m for it,” he said. “It was a mistake, it happened. I certainly don’t want to hold a special election for an uncontested position. It just seems to make absolutely no sense.”

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