LENOX -- Supporters of the Kennedy Park Belvedere lawsuit on Thursday night were rejected in their efforts to kill an $18,000 budget item to cover Town Hall's legal bills to defend the suit.
By a resounding voice vote, residents at the annual town meeting turned back the effort led by members of the group of 20 residents who signed onto the suit challenging the legality of the controversial memorial at the public park.
Attorneys for the town and the plaintiffs will present arguments before a Suffolk County Superior Court judge in Boston on June 18. Eventually, a ruling will be issued on whether to dismiss the case, as the town requested, or schedule it for trial.
Scott Laugenour, who did not sign on to the lawsuit, contended that a lack of transparency had triggered the case. "Basic practices of integrity, openness and transparency were violated," he claimed.
Laugenour said that he understands the reasons the suit was filed "despite the sometimes ugly scorn the group has received from some on town boards and committees and some members of the public. I vote ‘no' to send a message that I'm not willing to condone a Select Board's refusal to compromise."
In response, Town Manager Gregory Federspiel told The Eagle on Friday that state Attorney General's Martha Coakley's office has rejected complaints by the citizens group that open-meeting law violations occurred in Town Hall prior to the go-ahead for the belvedere project.
"There were no violations, and for them to insinuate otherwise is false," he said, "as proven by the AG's investigations.."
Sonya Bykofsky, lead plaintiff in the suit, cited a 1985 special town meeting that voted to lower the elevation covered by the state's Scenic Mountain Act from 1,500 to 1,400 feet. "The overlook at Kennedy Park is at 1,490 feet," she said, adding the act requires prior notification to abutters and public hearings before any construction in the protected area.
Bykofsky said the memorial's proponents -- architect Michael Fieldman, who proposed the installation of the monument as a tribute to his late son, Dr. Jordan Fieldman, or Rob Akroyd, former Kennedy Park Committee member and landscape architect who was hired to supervise the construction -- should pay the town's legal bills.
Federspiel also described as a "false statement" allegations that the town lacks a Scenic Mountain Act permit for the installation. "The Conservation Commission issued that," he said, noting that the citizens group declined to appeal that ruling.
Bykofsky said the Select Board turned aside her group's compromise offers seeking an enforcement order by the Conservation Commission "to restore the land to its natural condition" -- a suggestion the commission declined -- or removal of the memorial by a crew at no charge.
Mediation also was declined by the town, she said, as well as a final offer to remove only the "vertical wall structure that so greatly interferes with the use of the area. If that had happened, the appeal would not have been filed."
But Federspiel responded on Friday by listing the town's numerous compromise offers, including a townwide referendum on whether the memorial should be removed, or binding arbitration. "They said no to all of that," he said. "It looks like a judge has to settle it for us."
Courts are always reluctant to dismiss, Federspiel noted, "so they may want to go to trial." If so, he said, he's confident the town will prevail.
At Thursday night's meeting, Christopher Fenton asked that residents end the comment period and proceed to a vote, remarking: "I'm sorry, we have much more important issues to worry about in our community than the Belvedere."
To a burst of applause, debate was shut down and the $18,000 budget item was approved.
To contact Clarence Fanto:
firstname.lastname@example.org or (413) 637-2551.