Passionate debates expected at Lenox Town Meeting on Thursday
LENOX -- Voters at town meeting can expect a high-intensity replay of the Kennedy Park Belvedere uproar.
Also assured is a passionate debate over a proposed conservation restriction to protect a 948-acre Lenox Mountain tract, encompassing the watershed, through third-party monitoring by the Berkshire Natural Resources Council. Opponents claim it would reduce local control over town-owned land.
The 24-article warrant includes proposed town spending for fiscal 2014 totaling $23.7 million, an increase held at just under 2 percent higher than the current fiscal year. The School Department's operating budget of $12,366,000 makes up 52 percent of the total.
The overall budget has been endorsed by the Select Board and the Finance Committee.
But a sneak preview of Town Meeting held by Selectmen on Wednesday night reopened the bitterness surrounding a lawsuit against the town filed by 20 citizens demanding removal of the Kennedy Park memorial erected in memory of Dr. Jordan Fieldman, the BMC physician and park devotee who died of cancer in 2006 when he was 38.
The granite installation, which was approved by town government and completed in June 2011, was funded by the physician's father, New York architect Michael Fieldman, who paid $140,000 for it and donated $10,000 for maintenance of the scenic park overlook.
Opponents have complained that the personal memorial is an eyesore that has no business on town property.
An article seeking the transfer of $18,000 from available funds to cover the town's legal expenses, so far, drew the ire of several residents at the crowded Select Board meeting. Chairman Kenneth Fowler noted that if the case goes to trial, the town will face significantly higher costs. A Suffolk County Superior Court judge has yet to rule on the town's appeal to dismiss the lawsuit, which was filed last August.
Responding to a query from resident Sonya Bykofsky, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, about what would happen if voters rejected the article, Finance Committee Chairwoman Lucy Kennedy explained that the initial $18,000 bill already paid to Kopelman and Paige, the town's law firm, would be drawn from the town's reserve account, akin to a savings account.
Bykofsky also asked why the town, rather than Fieldman -- whom she described as the applicant for the memorial, is defending the lawsuit. Fowler responded that the installation is on town property.
Resident Nancy Armstrong inquired whether municipal insurance could have covered the legal fees. Town Manager Gregory Federspiel explained that coverage was denied because the lawsuit seeks no monetary damages from the town.
"If we're sued, we have to pay for that lawsuit, period, end of story," declared Selectman John McNinch. "We don't have a choice on that."
"One of the ways to avoid litigation was to work with the citizens group," said Suzanne Pelton, one of the 20 citizens who signed on to the lawsuit. "Why doesn't the structure just come down and then there's no lawsuit?"
"Why doesn't the lawsuit get withdrawn then," Fowler shot back. "Why don't you drop the lawsuit, OK? And that's all I'm going to talk about. We're not going to argue litigation at this meeting."
Resident Richard Piretti, speaking from the back of the audience, helped cut the tension in the room.
"Everybody out here is on your side," he said, triggering a burst of relieved laughter from most of the 40 people in the room.
"We're laughing, but this is serious stuff," Fowler concluded.
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