Temple ZBA resigns en masse after clash with Select Board

  • Town of Temple Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 7/15/2021 4:31:17 PM

Three members of Temple’s Zoning Board of Adjustment and two alternates resigned Wednesday night, a day after the Select Board made new appointments against standing ZBA members’ wishes.

ZBA Chair John Kieley, Greg Robidoux, Mary Beth Ayvazian, and alternate members Deb Deieso and Gail Cromwell all resigned on Wednesday after the Temple Select Board refused to reappoint Deieso as a full member, instead appointing her as an alternate and voting 2-1 to appoint Emily Sliviak as a full member on Tuesday night. They also unanimously appointed Allan Pickman as an alternate at that meeting, and reappointed Kieley as a full member.

Select Board liaison Bill Ezell and alternate Deb Harling were the only standing ZBA members to remain. Harling was appointed as an alternate in March after Honey Hastings resigned. 

To some of those who resigned, the Select Board’s choice to shake up the board with a new full member was politically motivated, and exacerbated by the ZBA’s handling of the Ben’s Sugar Shack expansion last year.

“Over the past two years, two members of the Select Board repeatedly attempted to undermine the Zoning Board’s work to benefit a select group,” Kieley said, referring to Selectmen Caisse and Willard and procedural shortcuts they allegedly promoted.

Sliviak, who had not served on the ZBA before, is operations manager for Ben’s Pure Maple Products and engaged to Ben Fisk of Ben’s Sugar Shack.

Ayvazian cited the same situation in her resignation letter: “These members reiterated inappropriate allegations that the ZBA “dragged out the process” unnecessarily when the ZBA was thorough in its meticulous process regarding what has been the largest project ever to be considered in our rural town. This very public attitude created a deeper division in the town than needed to be,” she wrote.

“I could no longer in good conscience remain on the board,” Ayvazian said Wednesday night. “I’m sad to see it come to this, obviously, but I also understand that I absolutely could not remain on the board with the Select Board absolutely ignoring any recommendations we were making.”

Greg Robidoux said he didn’t intend to resign, but did so after all the other standing members indicated they would leave. “I feel this is a good point for the ZBA to be totally reset and a new team of individuals can take the lead and learn the best way to work together for the town of Temple. I have a busy schedule this year with several other commitments and don’t have the time or the desire to start all over again,” he wrote in his resignation letter.

“The Select Board is not going to be held hostage for the acts of a few,” Caisse said on Thursday when asked about the resignations. When asked about how the Select Board would go about filling the new vacancies, he said it was too soon to know. 

Ezell, who cast the dissenting vote in Sliviak’s appointment, said he didn’t want to talk about the resignations on Thursday morning but characterized them as a “difference of opinion” between the two boards, and said he would have agreed to appoint Sliviak as an alternate.

A skeletal quorum of Harling, Pickman, and Sliviak ran a ZBA meeting just 24 hours after two of the three members’ appointment. Ezell was unable to attend due to a knee surgery, he said, adding that he must recuse himself on the ongoing Stepping Stones special exception case, which the ZBA was discussing that night. After hearing from speakers representing the Stepping Stones case and asking some questions, the three ZBA members opted to continue the hearing to Aug. 6 at 6 p.m. in order to have more time to brush up further on the case materials and details.

“I think it’s disappointing to see most members of the board resign,” Sliviak said on Thursday, characterizing the resignations as an “unprofessional temper tantrum” that put members’ personal interests above the town’s. “Members should want to be there,” she said. Though the resignations were a setback and it will take time to fill the board’s positions again, Sliviak said she’s ready to work, and is committed to following the protocol and laws the ZBA is bound to interpret.

Procedural and legal missteps are one hazard of a completely green board, Kieley and Ayvazian both agreed.

“You have to be very careful, because if you’re not careful and you make mistakes, it can get quite costly for a town to defend a decision,” Ayvazian said. The relatively narrow scope of the ongoing lawsuit between the Town and several neighbors to the proposed site of the Sugar Shack expansion is a credit to the ZBA’s thoroughness, he said.

Ayvazian said the former ZBA was a highly experienced and well-functioning collective. “If we can have that team, I would be back in a flash,” she said.


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