The Plymouth Planning Board Monday night stripped one of its members of her appointment to another key town board, the Community Preservation Committee. 

Birgitta Kuehn had been suspended from being a representative to that committee after she sent an email to fellow Planning Board member Carl Donaldson on Sept. 27 that he called racist. Kuehn is white and Donaldson is Black.

“I did not recognize my language as racist,” Kuehn said at the Feb. 12 meeting. “It is Plymouth citizens who will suffer from my removal. I am recognized as a strong proponent of high standards in evaluating proposals sent to the CPC and to this board.” 

The Community Preservation Committee evaluates proposals for open space, recreation, historic preservation, and housing. It then makes recommendations to Town Meeting as to which proposals to support with millions of dollars from the town’s Community Preservation Fund, money that is collected from taxpayers. 

Monday’s Planning Board session was held to decide whether Kuehn’s suspension from the Community Preservation Committee should be made permanent. She was not allowed to have her attorney, Town Moderator Steve Triffletti, represent her, nor was the public allowed to speak. 

Kuehn instead read affidavits on her behalf from 11 people, including one from Bill Keohan, chair of the Community Preservation Committee. 

Donaldson said what mattered in Kuehn’s email to him was not her intent, but how he received her remarks.

“It is sometimes disheartening when someone wants to tell you how you should be offended,” he said.  

The email that resulted in Kuehn’s suspension followed a dispute between Kuehn and Donaldson at a Sept. 27 meeting. Board chair Tim Grandy interrupted Kuehn, saying she was off topic. The next speaker, Donaldson, said he would stay “on topic.” Kuehn took offense. The following day, Kuehn sent Donaldson an email in which she wrote, “Didn’t your Momma teach you better?”

Planning Board member David Peck said Monday that the accusations against Kuehn did not rise to the level of “cause,” which he said could include failure to perform duties, violating the law, missing too many meetings, or using a position for personal gain, but not for being annoying, irritating, or difficult. 

In a written statement Tuesday, board vice chair Steven Bolotin said “contrary to Mr. Peck’s suggestion, for the last 114 years Massachusetts has held that removal for cause requires nothing more than simple dissatisfaction with performance or disagreement in philosophy with the appointee.” 

Peck moved to restore Kuehn to her post on the Community Preservation Committee, but he was the only member to vote to do so. Kuehn lost the seat by a 2-1 vote. She and Donaldson abstained, while Grandy and Bolotin voted to remove her.   

Bolotin then moved to send Grandy to the Community Preservation Committee in Kuehn’s stead. Donaldson abstained, leaving the vote tied 2-2 to appoint Grandy, with Grandy and Bolotin voting for, and Kuehn and Peck voting against. 

Donaldson asked for another vote and this time Donaldson cast his in favor of Grandy’s appointment, making it a 3-2 decision. Grandy accepted it on condition that he only serve until May, when members are up for re-election in the annual town election.

Kuehn has prided herself on asking pointed questions of developers who have requested funding from the Community Preservation Committee. Grandy told the Independent that he doesn’t plan to vote differently than Kuehn on such matters.

In an email statement after her ouster, Kuehn said the complaint against her does not meet the standard for cause for removal of a board appointee. “It concerns me that the men on the Planning Board, David Peck the exception, are voting on subdivisions and land development and are not able to define a simple law such as cause,” she said.

Triffletti declined to say whether Kuehn would take legal action against the board. 

“It’s clear that the Planning Board acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner, which is not appropriate under the law,” Triffletti said. “There should be a rational basis for their action and that was absent this evening.” 

Fred Thys can be reached at 

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