Sheffield Planning Board member Maria Nation faces recall effort
SHEFFIELD -- A Planning Board member has come under fire for a private e-mail she wrote criticizing some residents over the controversial Dollar General project.
Residents have launched a recall effort against Planning Board member Maria Nation because of the e-mail, which targeted voters who opposed a measure to finance an appeal in State Land Court over the ongoing project. They have until Wednesday to collect the necessary signatures.
The petition cites the letter as evidence that Nation has not acted impartially as a Planning Board member.
But Nation, who apologized for the tone of the letter and said she understands why residents are upset, rejected the suggestion that she has not been impartial.
"If you look at my votes about 99 percent of the time the issues before the Planning Board have been unanimous," said Nation, who added, "If you look at my voting record, there is no way that I am biased."
Charlotte, N.C.-based Primax Properties has submitted an appeal in state Land Court over Sheffield's decision to block plans to build a Dollar General store on 660-680 N. Main St. Primax has asserted it is in compliance with town zoning bylaws. However, the Zoning Board of Appeals has blocked construction, citing zoning bylaw violations. The Planning Board has not been involved in the decision.
At a special town meeting Nov. 18, residents voted against spending $30,000 for the Land Court case and passed a non-binding resolution advising the town against using town funds in the case.
In the wake of that vote, Nation sent a private e-mail that voters "didn't respond to logic, reason, facts or information." A copy of that email was sent to a local publication, which published portions of it.
Sheffield resident Marie Massini pulled the petition after hearing from many residents upset about Nation's e-mail. Massini could not identify when Nation has shown bias, but she said "this e-mail makes me wonder whether she has been acting impartially and it opens up questions."
Massini conceded the petition is unlikely to receive the support of about 25 percent of voters, or about 567 votes, required for a recall vote. Signatures are being collected at a number of local businesses.
"I think it's important that everyone listen to the town's people and treat them with respect," Massini said. "I felt this was very disrespectful."
While asserting she has the right to an opinion as a private citizen, Nation said she now realizes the tone was harsh after re-reading the email late last week.
She said she wrote the email to solicit feedback from friends about their thoughts.
"It was a question, it was an invitation to talk about what happened the day before," Nation said. "It was my off-the-cuff sense about what happened and what I can see now is [I was in a state of] frustration," she said.
Nation said there shouldn't be anything wrong with having a discussion about why residents voted against funding litigation. But the "pointed words" were never meant to be "derogatory or negative," she said.
She also regretted how the e-mail was written.
"The whole thing has gotten misunderstood and filled with a passion or hostility that never came from me," Nation said.
While Nation hasn't been approached personally about the e-mail, she has read e-mails and other correspondence from residents criticizing her, which has been hard.
"I was really upset, sad, and frustrated because no one was talking to me, but just writing about me," Nation said.
Nation is the latest town official to call for the town to reconcile the divide over the proposed construction of a Dollar General. Select Board members and the candidates running in the upcoming special town election, Martin Mitsoff and David Smith Jr., said healing the divide would be a priority.
"I feel terrible that there has been a misunderstanding, and I feel terrible ... that's the black and white thing people will remember when they think about me."
To reach John Sakata:
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On Twitter: @jsakata
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