Wednesday’s marathon Plymouth Planning Board meeting was marked by an apology, a call for punishment, and a fair amount of confusion.
Following a four-hour session, the board allowed member Birgitta Kuehn – an outspoken critic of development – to remain as its representative on the Community Preservation Committee.
But Kuehn can’t actually serve on that committee because an earlier suspension, put in place following a complaint over an email a fellow Planning Board member called racist, was not lifted.
Kuehn has been an ardent supporter of funding open space, historic preservation, and housing. She also prides herself on questioning developers who come before the Planning Board.
Kuehn told the Independent that her suspension was imposed, in part, because of her skepticism regarding development plans. “Yes” votes to back projects are “not necessarily in the interest of the citizens of Plymouth, compared to the interests of the developers,” she said. “I push back a lot. I’m a very sharp-elbowed woman.”
The Community Preservation Committee recommends how millions of dollars go toward open space, housing, recreation, and historic preservation every year. The Planning Board had suspended Kuehn as its designated member on the Community Preservation Committee during an Oct. 1 executive session. Her seat on that committee has been vacant since then.
The suspension came about because of an altercation between Kuehn and Planning Board member Carl Donaldson at a Sept. 27 meeting. During that Planning Board session, Kuehn was talking when chair Tim Grandy interrupted, saying she was off topic.
Planning Board Member Carl Donaldson, the next speaker, said he would stay “on topic.” Donaldson said his remark was not aimed at Kuehn, but she took offense.
“I didn’t feel that I did anything rude or disrespectful towards her,” he told the Independent.
The next day, Kuehn sent Donaldson an email about their exchange. In it she wrote, “Didn’t your Momma teach you better?” Donaldson, who is Black, filed a complaint with the board, saying the email from Kuehn, who is white, was racist.
“The email was inappropriate to send to anyone,” he told the Independent.
In the email, Kuehn said that some viewers of the meeting on the local cable access channel also felt Donaldson had been disrespectful.
“Carl, the interesting part of being on PACTV is that you never know who’s watching,” she wrote. “There’s a group of old ladies like me (smart, educated, still working in meaningful jobs) that are my cheering section and note every time one of the men on the Planning Board makes a point of insulting me, blatantly…And please, feel free to watch the reruns and also send this e-mail around, if you are proud of what you said.”
At Wednesday’s meeting, Kuehn offered an apology, which Donaldson accepted. He called it “really heartfelt.”
Then the board turned to the matter of whether Kuehn’s suspension from the Community Preservation Committee should be made permanent.
Kuehn argued that she can only be removed for cause, and that it can only happen after an open hearing. Kuehn said that according to her attorney, Steven Triffletti – who is also town moderator – notice must be filed before a hearing can be scheduled.
Kuehn said Triffletti and town counsel Kate McKay have not established whether appropriate notice of a hearing had been given. Neither attorney was in attendance Wednesday. The board decided to postpone a decision on permanently removing Kuehn from the Community Preservation Committee until both attorneys can be present. Its next meeting is scheduled for Dec. 27.
It appeared that the meeting would end on that note, but then Planning Board member David Peck suggested that the board appoint a temporary representative to the Community Preservation Committee in the interim. He moved that Kuehn be appointed as that temporary representative and, in an unusual twist, Kuehn seconded the motion.
But Donaldson, who earlier had accepted her apology for the offensive email, objected. “Absolutely not!” he said, arguing that Kuehn’s apology was not enough to justify her reinstatement, even on a temporary basis.
“The apology came after she was removed from the (Community Preservation Committee). It’s like when I tell my six-year-old: ‘Don’t do this!’ and then he says: ‘I’m sorry.’ A punishment should still be in place for the effects of what happened.”
When it became clear that Kuehn and Peck were outnumbered by Donaldson, chair Tim Grandy, and Steven Bolotin, Kuehn withdrew her seconding of the motion, forestalling a vote.
Fred Thys can be reach at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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