Consultant files complaint against ZBA member

  • Bennington Zoning Board of Adjustments member Sam Cohen takes heat for comments he made during a public meeting regarding a sign variance for a proposed Dollar General store that is to be built along Route 202. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript)

  • Two members of Bennington's Zoning Board of Adjustments discuss a complaint filed against fellow member Sam Cohen during a special meeting on Monday, July 24, 2017. (Abby Kessler / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Abby Kessler—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, July 26, 2017 8:20PM

A woman who owns a consulting firm that is representing a client affiliated with Dollar General filed a complaint against a Bennington Zoning Board of Adjustment member after a public meeting last week.

Carolyn Parker, who owns Carolyn A. Parker Consulting, went in front of the board last week to request a sign variance for the store that’s slated to be built along Route 202 near Rymes Propane & Oil. The board postponed the hearing until September because it wasn’t clear at the time if the applicant owned the piece of property when it submitted the application.

Parker left last week’s meeting frustrated because she had driven an hour and a half from Massachusetts, only to be told that the hearing would be postponed.

ZBA member Sam Cohen made digs at Parker’s home state, and took out two bullets from his clip and slid them across the table at one point during the meeting.

Parker wrote in the complaint, which she sent to the Bennington Police Department, that as Cohen pushed the bullets toward her he said, “this is what I tell people from Massachusetts — take two of these and call me in the morning.”

Parker said she tried to ignore the comment when it happened, but as she was weaving her way through the back roads of New Hampshire on her way home from the meeting that night the comment “started to kick in.”

“It was not until I reached Route 190 in Massachusetts that I was able to let my guard down,” Parker wrote in the complaint. “I found that I was shaking and in tears.”

Parker said in the 20 years she has been in the business and going in front of town boards she has never experienced an interaction like it before.

At a special ZBA meeting on Monday night to address the complaint, Cohen said his comments and actions were jokes.

“I have a sense of humor that a lot of people don’t appreciate,” Cohen said.

He followed the comment up by unapologetically saying, “if [Parker] wants to bring a lawsuit against me, fine let her do so.”

During the meeting, ZBA chair Chris Clough said he and Cohen are friends outside of their duties on the board. Even still, Clough said, he couldn’t support the comments or actions Cohen made that night.

“I look at that and say that’s not how I represent myself to other people,” Clough said.

He said Cohen’s comments don’t reflect those of the board, or the town as a whole.

Shortly after, Cohen got up and left the meeting.

“I’m not going to sit here, I’m not going to be called out of my house, just to be dumped on,” Cohen said. “I’m leaving.”

Select board member Mark Mackesy attended the special meeting, and asked Cohen as he was walking out, “does this mean you’re resigning your position?”

“Hell no,” Cohen said in response.

As Cohen was heading out the door, he told Clough that if he wanted to talk to him about the issue, they would have to do it privately.

“If you want to talk to me, talk to me at home,” Cohen said.

Conservation commissioner Jon Manley said he was at the meeting last week, although he left before he saw Cohen slide the two bullets across the table.

Even though he wasn’t there, Manley said he wasn’t all that surprised to hear what had happened.

“He’ll (Cohen) just say what he thinks,” Manley said. “I know he thinks he’s being funny.”

Bennington Police Chief Brett Sullivan said there won’t be any charges going forward.

“It was not a threat,” Sullivan said. “I didn’t feel like it was and a prosecutor didn’t either.”

He said even if Parker had transcribed Cohen’s quote down verbatim it was not a direct threat to her person, which would have to be the case if they were to charge him with something like criminal threatening.

Parker said she has been told there’s not much legal traction that can be pursued from the comment. She said she is waiting to see how things shake out on the town’s part before deciding what her next steps will be.

If nothing else, Parker said, she hopes Cohen will be tossed from the board.

“I don’t think he should be representing the town,” she said.

Parker said she would “absolutely not” return to a board meeting on behalf of her client.

Clough said he has plans to talk to seek legal counsel about the situation in an attempt to seek advice on how to remedy the situation.

“Assuming that there aren’t any lawsuits, we still have to do the right thing because we are people and we just don’t do that to each other, we just don’t,” Clough said about the situation.

ZBA Vice Chair Melissa Clark said she had the urge to reach out to Parker after the meeting to apologize for Cohen’s behavior, but didn’t know if that was crossing some legal line.

The board will hold another meeting next Monday where they will discuss how to proceed.

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