Savoy Town Hall (copy)

A testy meeting Tuesday inside Savoy Town Hall led to the filing of an Open Meeting Law complaint by a man who seeks to start a cannabis-cultivation business.

SAVOY — From the start, communication between a would-be cannabis entrepreneur and Savoy’s top elected officials was frosty.

Sean Sheridan appeared before the Select Board on Aug. 24 hoping to walk away with a signed host community agreement for a cultivation project. The meeting's minutes show officials first wanted “to see what the residents want within the town around cannabis, grow and sell, prior to signing a HCA.”

“Once it was clear we wanted zoning bylaws and town input … Sean collected his documents and left abruptly,” the minutes say.

This week, relations got even colder, when Sheridan was escorted from Town Hall on Tuesday night by a cop.

How did we get here?

Sheridan, a veteran of early cannabis business ventures in Colorado who now lives in Hampden County, believes the town wants to close its doors to one of the fastest-growing industries in the state, in part by moving to adopt a policy that requires any business seeking a host community agreement to pay a $5,000 fee.

“I was hoping that people would be interested in having a conversation,” he said Tuesday night in the parking lot outside Town Hall. “They’re putting in artificial roadblocks that are unnecessary and harmful to business.”

Town officials see an out-of-towner in a hurry, a man whose manners rubbed people the wrong way, and whose requests for public records have consumed the time of volunteer officials and the town’s lawyer.

It might all be chalked up as another testy night in local town government. Except that Sheridan’s public records requests and other complaints continue to arrive, including new ones late Tuesday, after he was escorted out of Town Hall.

Meantime, the state’s supervisor of public records has instructed the town that it must do more to defend its decision to deny Sheridan some of the records he requested after being turned down in late August for a signed host community agreement.

Though the town has released the names of its more than 300 registered voters to Sheridan, along with their addresses and political affiliations, officials declined, on the advice of attorney Donna L. MacNicol, to give Sheridan the birthdates of voters.

Town officials say they are willing to fight Sheridan on that matter, out of a desire to protect the privacy of town residents, particularly older ones.

Former Town Clerk Brenda Smith, who attended both Select Board meetings that included visits from Sheridan, defended that call.

“Given the vulnerability of the seniors in town,” Smith said.

Melanie Glynn, a Select Board member, said the town prefers to defend its decision to withhold ages in a public records case, rather than risk exposing residents of any age to possible identity theft, should the released information somehow be misused — and then perhaps have the town be deemed culpable for that. 

Keith Kupiec, a Select Board member, said he was put off by Sheridan’s conduct from the start, recalling the board’s meeting with him Aug. 24.

“The minute he saw we weren’t going to sign something, he stormed out,” Kupiec said. “He’s preying on small towns that don’t have the ability to defend themselves.”

Unlike many cities and towns, Savoy did not enact a cannabis bylaw in the wake of the legalization of adult-use cannabis in 2016, then the start of sales in 2018. Technically, that means there are no local rules guiding what kinds of cannabis businesses can or cannot locate in town.

Since meeting with Sheridan in August, the board, led by Glynn, has been considering adoption of a policy used in nearby Goshen that was shaped by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.

Before Sheridan arrived Tuesday in Town Hall, during the public comment period at the end of the board’s agenda, Glynn updated Kupiec, the only other member present, on her legal discussions with MacNicol regarding that policy, as well as on the status of Sheridan’s public records requests.

She said in an interview later that the board has responded to many of Sheridan’s requests, providing him with a variety of office records. But, not the ages of voters.

“Our attorney advised us not to provide birthdays,” Glynn said.

The town is drafting its response to Rebecca S. Murray, the supervisor of public records, who in a letter Monday told the Savoy town clerk, Valerie Reiner, that the community must state the specific legal exemption it is using to deny Sheridan the records.

Late Tuesday night, Sheridan filed a complaint with the state Attorney General’s Office claiming that Savoy violated the Open Meeting Law by abruptly ending the public comment period Tuesday, after he brought up the issue of a host community agreement.

About a half-dozen residents listened as Sheridan sparred with officials. One resident who had come to question how officials have handled a condemned property quickly rallied to their side, after listening for a few minutes to Sheridan. Glynn and Kupiec declared the meeting over and moved to adjourn.

"I second that," said the resident, despite not serving on the panel.

A few hours later, Sheridan made his case in the filing to the AG's office.

“I believe the Board did deliberately limit my public participation … mainly because they did not agree with me and [they] see me as a threat, then they tried to silence me,” Sheridan wrote in his complaint. “Instead of [letting] me speak they allowed the public to accost me and then, I believe, illegally forced me out of a public space with no cause or justification.”

Outside the building Tuesday, Sheridan said he believes officials aren’t following the rules.

“I’m an outsider, and it’s difficult to have conversations as an outsider,” he said. “I should have the right to move forward in this town.”

Sheridan said he wanted voters’ ages so he could target a postcard campaign to the town’s younger residents, asking them to support his effort to develop a cultivation site in Savoy.

“So I can communicate directly with the voters. Young people are more willing to embrace the truth about cannabis because they haven’t been brainwashed,” he said. “I’m trying to hold government to account and am hoping the people will help me.”

When informed that Sheridan says he plans to use voter ages to shape a postcard campaign, town officials expressed skepticism. Given the small size of the voting public in Savoy, why not mail cards to everyone, Kupiec observed.

"It just doesn’t make sense,” he said. “It’s beyond.”

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com and 413-588-8341.

Investigations editor

Larry Parnass joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, CommonWealth Magazine and with the Reuters news service.