Gjesteby petition article wins 112 to 51 on a majority vote

It was a cliffhanger.

Up until 5 minutes before Cohasset Special Town Meeting began Gjesteby petitioners were told by Town Moderator Dan Evans that he was requiring a 9/10th vote on the article, a pretty impossible vote to win on a political issue.

And then right before town meeting began, Town Counsel Paul DeRensis and Town Moderator Dan Evans huddled to consider case-law that suggested a majority vote would be in order.

The Department of Revenue (DOR) has yet to review the legal invoice Gjesteby paid in 2013, but “It was a win, and she should have a check in hand later this month, “ a town official asking not to be named told this blogger.

The case laws that made Evans change his opinion is the way the Department of Revenue handled two separate ethics complaints.

One was a 1989 opinion letter to the Town of Nantucket that addressed the question as to whether the Town can reimburse a town official for an ethics complaint. The second case occurred in 2010, in another town.

In both cases DOR allowed towns to reimburse town officials on ethics complaints on a majority vote at town meeting. Town meeting appropriated the money via discretionary, not mandatory, funds. Towns cannot budget for mandatory expenses.

After pondering the case-law, Evans said he would go with the majority vote arising out of a supreme judicial court decision (common law, not statutory law). Also, Gjesteby’s bill was considered to be a new bill, not an unpaid bill.

The Advisory Committee voted 4-4 (no action) with Leland Jenkins not voting on the Gjesteby article. On the Board of Selectmen only Karen Quigley voted in favor of reimbursing Selectman Martha Gjesteby who had to pay for her own attorney when her board filed criminal charges against her for sharing attorney-client privileged information with a confidant. The Ethics Commission never charged Gjesteby with anything, it simply found no reason to continue the investigation.

Gjesteby article spokesman Tom Gruber said at the outset that this was an unusual case; little did he know just how unusual until he learned later about the two historical ethics cases in Massachusetts, Gjesteby’s being the third in the history of DOR.

Like Gruber, Russ Bonetti said this could happen to any appointed or elected committee member if their board turned against them. He said if town meeting voted not to reimburse Gjesteby, this could stifle volunteerism in the future.

Jim O’Neill told the meeting to support the article. “Vote against the tyranny of the majority.”

“I view this as an important milestone,” Ray Kasperowicz said. He added that not only had selectmen filed criminal charge against her, they had badgered Gjesteby and told her to resign from the board. He said town officials should resolve to treat their colleagues cordially.

Paul Carlson, chairman of the board of selectmen that had filed criminal charges against Gjesteby defended his board of 2013 saying while the Ethics Commission took no action, “they did not exonerate her,” suggesting that it may have let Gjesteby go because it was her first offense.

Fran Collins said he has known Gjesteby all of her adult life, adding that she had served on the school committee, the planning board, the board of selectmen and volunteered her time in many other community organizations. He urged a favorable vote, saying Gjesteby lived life in Cohasset the way it should be lived.

Chartis Tebbetts and Karen Quigley also spoke in favor of the petition.

Advisory member Leland Jenkins urged the meeting to vote against the petition, saying just because Ethics dropped the investigation did not mean Gjesteby was innocent.

© Copyright 2014 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed