A group of residents who oppose construction of a cellphone tower in a residential area on Red Brook Road are requesting that two newly elected members of the Mashpee Planning Board recuse themselves from any dealings related to the application of the tower.
Twelve residents filed a petition with the chairman of the board Mary E. Waygen asking that Joseph D. Callahan and John F. Phelan recuse themselves from the hearings for the “appearance of conflict.”
The petitioners argue that Mr. Phelan’s employer, the Town of Mashpee, will benefit financially with the construction of the cell tower. Mr. Phelan is deputy chief with Mashpee Fire Rescue. They also argue that Mr. Callahan, as a realtor in New Seabury, would benefit from the tower constructed outside of the south-Mashpee residential area and not inside it.
Both Mr. Callahan and Mr. Phelan do not plan to recuse themselves. Mr. Phelan said that he has contacted the State Ethics Commission and was told there is no conflict.
The petition was delivered to the planning chairman on June 17.
The erection of the tower on town-owned land has become one of the more contentious issues in town as residents with homes near the proposed tower have argued against it, while residents in New Seabury and town officials have argued that the tower is needed for better cell service and have called it a public-safety crisis.
The hearings are set to begin anew in the coming months. An election with new members to the board led Blue Sky Towers, the developer in the project, to request a new hearing because only four members would have been sitting on the board.
It is not the first time that someone has been asked to step down from the hearing. Elizabeth R. Thompson, attorney for the developers, Blue Sky Towers, had requested that Ms. Waygan and board member Dennis H. Balzarini step down for talking out of turn on the project. Both, she said, had conversations about the tower outside of a public hearing and had already made a conclusion on the project before the hearings began.
Now these 12 residents—Dennis and Diane Scannel, Jennifer McDonald, Robby and Dawn Rebello, Jody Bergeron, Shannon and Anthony Trabuca, Peter and Loraine Michaelson and Teresa and Michael Ronhock—are pushing for Mr. Phelan and Mr. Callahan to step aside. Both are the newest members to join the board, having won three-year seats at the May town election.
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The petitioners cite the Massachusetts General Law that deals with nepotism and self-serving. Mr. Phelan, the petition states, “may not participate in any particular matter in which a prospective employer, or a business organization of which he is a director, officer, trustee, or employee has a financial interest. Participation includes discussing as well as voting on a matter, and delegation a matter to someone else.”
The tower could net the town some $60,000 in rental fees from service providers per year, as well as another $100,000 for infrastructure expenses.
Mr. Phelan said that after the petition was passed along to him, he immediately contacted the state ethics commission. He said that over a conversation with several attorneys, they found that he would not have to recuse himself. The deputy chief also received a confirmation with the Assistant General Counsel of the commission, clearing him of any conflicts. He said that the section quoted in the petition—MGL 268 Section 19—is specific to private businesses and not to a municipality. In other words, a municipal employee can serve on a town committee when a project before them would benefit the town financially.
“I did my due diligence,” Mr. Phelan said. “I contacted the state right away.”
While Mr. Phelan has advocated for better cell service in Mashpee, he said that he would keep an open mind during the the hearings with Blue Sky, “as I will with every applicant before us.”
Mr. Callahan said the town’s legal counsel has cleared him of any conflict and that he would participate in the Blue Sky hearings.