Stockbridge selectmen apologize following controversial suggestion to fire town counsel


STOCKBRIDGE — Two Selectmen who sparked an uproar last week when they proposed firing Town Counsel J. Raymond "Ray" Miyares and replacing him with Lee attorney Jeremia Pollard apologized to a crowd of about 100 citizens at Monday night's board meeting.

It appeared to be the largest public turnout in recent memory for a regular Select Board session.

Select Board Chairman Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo described the chaotic July 11 session as "very informative to me. I learned a lot. I'm learning on the job."

Cardillo offered "a guarantee, it will never happen again. We'll do everything with an open public commitment, input, and all that," he promised the assembled residents in the Town Offices. Because of the expected large turnout, the session had been moved to the gymnasium of the former schoolhouse.

"I apologize, and we want to move forward on a positive note with everybody involved," Cardillo declared.

Last week, he had seconded new Selectman Don Chabon's motion to discuss terminating Miyares after two decades of service generally lauded by current and former town officials as well as citizens during the high-voltage meeting.

Angry residents had objected strenuously to the attempt to oust Miyares as unwarranted and a violation of due process. Selectman Stephen Shatz contended that he had been blindsided by his colleagues, and he accused Chabon of potential Open Meeting Law violations.

Appearing chastened this past Monday evening, Chabon acknowledged that "after a heated discussion, the motion was defeated. I personally accept that decision of the people who were there."

"I do not consider it in the town's best interests to look for another town counsel," said Chabon to applause from the crowd. "That said, I move that we suspend consideration of that matter, for the time being at least, and we turn our attention to the many other pressing topics we face."

The two-minute statement followed a mostly civil but impassioned 40-minute debate over a disruptive, accidental release of lake water from the Stockbridge Bowl's Interlaken Dam spillway.

As a result, water levels remain about eight inches below normal despite recent repairs to the gate. Abnormally dry conditions contribute to the problem bedeviling lake-area residents with boats stranded and docks on dry land in the outlet section of the Bowl.

Year-round lakefront resident George Shippey, a former selectman and current Conservation Commission member, complained that the commission was never approached to seek an emergency order from the Department of Environmental Protection, which controls the state-owned "Great Pond."

"To my knowledge, DEP has no idea that the drawdown has taken place, regardless of the circumstances," Shippey contended. "To me, this is mismanagement."

He asked the Select Board to appoint Highway Superintendent Leonard Tisdale as "the go-to guy" to monitor the lake.

Chabon, a resident of the Bowl's outlet section, launched an extended monologue about the recently formed Stockbridge Bowl Committee, which the other Selectmen had asked him to chair. The committee's mission was to deal with lake issues, including the uncontrolled growth of invasive weeds.

Reconstructing the cause of the inadvertent lake drawdown, Chabon explained that the spillway gate was damaged in March, remaining open after debris removal. Another faulty repair effort over Memorial Day weekend caused water levels "to drop precipitously," he said.

A third, successful effort by Tisdale and a contractor to repair the gate and close it relieved the outflow of water, but limited rainfall in recent weeks has hampered the recovery of normal lake levels.

Chabon suggested that his committee broaden its mission to assume management of the lake, "a change from the original plan," he conceded, making Tisdale "the only one with keys to the gate."

"We must have the authority and the control," Chabon said, so that "the monkey's on our back and we assume the responsibility." But he admitted that "things have happened so fast that I haven't had a chance to put this committee together."

Selectman Shatz objected by pointing out that expanding the powers of the lake management committee requires Select Board approval after consultation with the town counsel.

He emphasized that the committee cannot supersede the board's management of town departments and employees.

"You're not a free ranger in this case," Shatz told Chabon. "You are a member of the Board of Selectmen answerable to us. Please remember that there is a legal structure for the operation of this town and it cannot just simply be granted to third parties." Shatz also complimented Chabon for his energy and efforts to resolve the lake's problems.

"Certainly, I would not dare to presume that I would take authority away from anybody, or take authorities that I'm not entitled to," Chabon responded, adding that he had consulted frequently with town counsel about his recommendations. "I believe what I've suggested here is within proper bounds. I assure you that we will come back to this Select Board for all appropriate authority to deal with this complicated, very important subject."

"Stockbridge Bowl is the lifeline of this town," Chabon noted.

Opening a procession of citizens offering wide-ranging comments, including the dangers of swimming from the Route 183 state boat launch ramp, resident Michael Roisman observed that "it doesn't sound like you guys are happy with one another, and it sounds very condescending. I'm not pleased to hear the condescension between you all."

But the mood was lightened when, in response to complaints about dangerous swimming, a resident suggested: "Put up a sign that says alligators."

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.

In their own words ...

Comments by Stockbridge citizens addressing Select Board members at Monday night's meeting over disruptive low water levels on Stockbridge Bowl:

"The drawdown has left us with docks that are out of the water. Can we temporarily extend our docks? The shoreline has changed now Because of the catastrophe you guys created, the shoreline is now 25 feet out."

— David Shack

"As the Board of Selectmen, we have no authority whatsoever to grant any relief for the extension of docks. Someone has suggested that it's very much going to depend on whether we have rain, because the damage has been done. The fix has occurred but not in time to solve the immediate problem."

— Selectman Stephen Shatz

"Please don't refer to what we're having right now as a drawdown. What we had was a broken dam, and we've had this condition before, three or four years ago. We need one good rainstorm, it will come right back up."

— Stockbridge Bowl Harbormaster Gary Kleinerman


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