Controversy surrounding a Town Meeting petition article advocating withdrawal from the Cape Cod Commission continued at Monday’s joint meeting of the Mashpee Board of Selectmen and Mashpee Finance Committee. And the back-and-forth between proponents and opponents of the petition is likely to continue unabated in the seven weeks leading to the May 5 meeting.
The petition article was submitted by Selectman Thomas F. O’Hara last month.
A week later, Paul J. Niedzwiecki, executive director of the commission, addressed the board of selectmen to defend the organization and question the motives behind the petition article. Mr. O’Hara’s anti-commission campaign also spurred former Mashpee selectman Andrew R. Gottlieb to make another run for the office—more than two decades after he last served.
On Monday evening, during a review of the Town Meeting warrant in which the board of selectmen and finance committee were to determine whether or not to support individual articles, the board of selectmen voted not to take a position on the article. Mr. O’Hara abstained from the vote.
John J. Cahalane, chairman of the board of selectmen, explained the rationale behind taking no position by citing the language of the article which directs the board itself to take action.
The petition article is written as follows: “To see if the Town will vote to direct the board of selectmen to place the following question on the next election ballot: Shall the Town of Mashpee petition the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts asking that the Town of Mashpee be released from membership in and removed from the authority of the Cape Cod Commission and the Cape Cod Commission Act?”
“We can’t vote on an article that would directly involve us to act on something,” Mr. Cahalane said.
During the debate by members of the finance committee, the conversation about the withdrawal proposal became heated.
Finance committee member Charles E. Gasior, who had spent nearly three decades as a municipal manager in New Jersey, expressed a split view of the commission.
“I take a position to vote not to support this article, because I think the problems that are facing the town transcend boundaries. We can’t solve wastewater issues by ourselves, and it would be too costly for the town to leave the commission. It’s the mitigation that I have a problem with,” he said.
Mr. Gasior cited a land use law in New Jersey that dictates that a town or agency could not charge a developer for offsite items not directly related to a project, and expressed surprise that Massachusetts had not instituted a similar law. As an example of a perceived overreach by the commission, Mr. Gasior discussed the development of South Cape Village in Mashpee, which required payment of mitigation funds for increased traffic in Falmouth, Sandwich, Bourne, and Barnstable.
“That money comes back to the towns. It’s almost like a payoff for being a member of the commission,” Mr. Gasior said. “Some of this is almost like extortion, and I don’t think it’s right. I don’t think the answer is to leave the Cape Cod Commission, but we should have our legislators examine the mitigation issue because what is being done is just not right.
Mr. O’Hara agreed with Mr. Gasior’s assessment of the commission, saying that he has no problems with the technical benefits the commission offers, but does take issue with the mitigation costs.
When the final vote was taken, the finance committee by a narrow margin voted 4-3 not to support the withdrawal petition article. Voting not to support the article were committee members Mark A. Davini, Theresa M. Cook, Thomas F. Murphy, and Charles E. Gasior. Committee members voting to support the withdrawal movement were Christopher J. Avis, George C. Schmidt, and Oskar H. Klennert.