GEORGETOWN – It appears it was not enough to pressure the 25-year veteran chair of the town’s environmental watch dog commission to resign. Critics of the Conservation Commission (ConCom) have turned their sights on the vice chair and possibly other commission members as well.
“One down. Who’s next?” wrote Kevin Wood, a resident, in the community social media platform, Georgetown News.
ConCom chair Carl Shreder resigned last month after a private meeting with SelectBoard chair Amy Smith, where, according to Shredder and vice chair Rachel Bancroft, Smith demanded they resign from the commission or “Things will get ugly for you.”
Shreder and Bancroft, who did not resign, believe Smith and other town officials met with Wood prior to the meeting and was referring to what Wood planned if they did not resign. Bancroft was also elected to the SelectBoard.
A prolific filer of complaints against Georgetown departments and commissions for Open Meeting Law (OML) violations, Wood filed a complaint against the ConCom last month for discussing a candidate’s qualifications to be the town’s conservation agent prior to its October meeting. The brief discussion before the meeting officially started was broadcast on Georgetown Community Television.
The candidate, Michele Greiner, a wetlands expert and veteran town conservation agent, was later officially approved by the commission and hired by the town to be the staff for the commission, which overseas development near protected wetlands.
Wood wrote to The Town Common that he has filed five OML violation complaints against the ConCom. Shreder said he was told that Wood has filed more OML violation complaints than any other Massachusetts resident.
In turn, the ConCom filed a harassment complaint against Wood with the Georgetown Police.
“For some reason the commission is unable to conduct itself in compliance with Open Meeting Law and some members believe citizens exercising their rights is harassment,” Wood posted in the Georgetown News.
Wood also wrote: “The real issue is credible allegations of payroll fraud by the past commission agent and conservation commission members apparent tacit approval if not complicity in hiding it.” He claimed the alleged payroll fraud by former conservation agent Steve Przyjemski could amount to more than $150,000.
Przyjemski, a salaried employee, resigned in January after working 17 years as the conservation agent, citing a “hostile environment” in Town Hall.
The fraud allegations, originally made by Town Administrator Orlando Pacheco in an email to the Town Common, are being investigated by a Newburyport private detective firm, the Stirm Group, hired in executive session by the town’s SelectBoard.
After weeks of investigating the allegation, the Stirm Group, which has demanded copies of commission members’ personal emails, has publicly produced no proof of the fraud allegations.
“Did Shreder really believe that my OML Complaint which was copied to the Attorney General was a criminal threat? Or was his motivation to intimidate me and chill my ability to exercise by rights?” Wood wrote.
“Whatever reasoning flickered across his foggy synapses, he was wrong. Very wrong, and it cost him his position on the commission. Georgetown public officials have attempted to weaponize the police against residents before. Rachel Liv Bancroft has a history of such calculated and manipulative behavior,” he wrote.
The ConCom met last week in executive session to discuss its next steps since the state Land Court reversed its denial of a permit for the G. Mello Trash Disposal Corp. to build a 550-ton transfer station near protected wetlands.
The commission will meet probably in January to decide whether to continue the fight against the controversial transfer station. The Board of Health and the Planning Board have approved permits for the station.
During the meeting, Wood tried to sit in the closed executive session and claimed the commission was acting illegally by holding the meeting. After the town’s attorney declared the commission was acting legally, Wood left.
The Town Common reported that Bancroft received two written opinions from the state Ethics Commission, stating she could serve on both the ConCom and the SelectBoard. The Ethics Commission attorney gave the opinion verbally, not in writing. We apologize for the error.