Bennington select board issues letter expressing dismay over bullet incident

  • Bennington select board members write a letter expressing dismay over Zoning Board of Adjustment member Sam Cohen’s comments and actions during a public hearing in July. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript)

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, August 14, 2017 6:51PM

The Bennington select board issued a letter expressing dismay over the comments and actions that a Zoning Board of Adjustment member made during a public hearing in July.

“Public meetings and hearings are for conducting town business as prescribed by our legislature; their platform should not be confused with personal opinions, satire, or comedy,” reads the letter, which is signed by chair James Cleary, Mark Mackesy, and Jeffrey Rose.

The selectmen’s letter was issued after Carolyn A. Parker, a consultant representing a client affiliated with Dollar General, lodged a complaint against ZBA member Sam Cohen regarding a comment and action he made during a hearing.

In the complaint, Parker said during the public hearing Cohen placed two bullets on the table and said, “this is what I tell people from Massachusetts — take two of these and call me in the morning.”

Cohen said later that the comment and action were meant to be taken as a joke. He said he didn’t preface the action by saying, “this is what I tell people from Massachusetts.” He said the comment, “take two of these and call me in the morning” was derived from the television show “MASH.” He said he’s used the gag on multiple occasions and with different objects like Life Savers and pistol ammunition.

Three board members voted to censure Cohen, calling his comments and actions “inappropriate” and recognizing that they could have been perceived as threatening.

ZBA Chair Christopher Clough has asked Cohen to recuse himself from all things Dollar General related in the future. But Cohen said during an August meeting that he has no intention of recusing himself from the proceedings. He has said that he doesn’t have anything against Dollar General or Carolyn Parker. 

“While the actions of elected ZBA member Sam Cohen don’t fall within the parameters for removal of an elected official or criminal prosecution, the select men take exception to Mr. Cohen’s embarrassing public behavior.”

Deputy Town Administrator Kristie LaPlante said there are three ways an elected official can be removed, according to a state RSA. Those include inefficiency, neglect of duty (which, in this case, includes interpreting zoning ordinances), and malfeasance.

“Although what [Cohen] did is not acceptable, it doesn’t fall to those three reasons that would be criteria for removal,” LaPlante said.

The letter goes on to applaud the ZBA’s decision to censure Cohen. It says it trusts the behavior will not reoccur in the future.

Abby Kessler can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or akessler@ledgertranscript.com.