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Amid recall effort, Southampton Select Board member abruptly quits

  • Southampton Town Hall



@kate_ashworth
Tuesday, July 04, 2017

SOUTHAMPTON — Facing an effort by some residents to boot her off the Select Board for absenteeism, Shannon Cutler lashed out at her Select Board colleagues in a tersely worded resignation letter submitted to the town late last week.

“I tried to fight for the little people who always got run over or the ones who were afraid to speak up,” Cutler wrote in the letter filed with the town on Friday. “I tried to air as much ‘dirty,’ unfair and secret behind the scenes activity as I could. In the end I feel the tables have turned and I fight the good fight alone.”

She said her disgust with the town’s politics led her to not only resign, but to move out of town. After living in Southampton on and off since 1989, Cutler packed up her bags on the last day of June and moved to Holyoke with her family.

Cutler won a spot on the Select Board in 2015 with 302 votes, along with Charlie Kaniecki, now the board’s chairman, who had 305 votes. Both Cutler and Kaniecki, newcomers at the time, outpolled incumbent David McDougall.

Since January, Cutler has served as the interim Council on Aging director, and she said she will continue working in that capacity until the position is filled.

Cutler alleges that three of the board’s five members — Kaniecki, John Martin and James Labrie — often take advantage of a loophole in the state’s Open Meeting law by meeting in pairs to discuss town-related business so as to not trigger a quorum. One of the two then brief the third member separately, Cutler alleges.

“Different things are conspired before I even get there,” she said. “I don’t want to be associated with that kind of operation.”

Martin said that is not the case. “We’ve never met in private to discuss or make any decisions,” Martin said.

Move to recall

While Cutler said she fought for what she thought was right during her two years as a Select Board member, some say she was hardly involved. Records of meeting minutes show she has missed about half of the Select Board meetings since being elected in May 2015.

Concerned about the missed meetings, a group of residents recently started the first steps toward a recall election. Two of her Select Board colleagues — Labrie and Kaniecki — signed the petition started by Tammy Walunas, a resident and Hampshire Regional School Committee member.

Walunas said she attends almost all of the Select Board meetings and has noticed Cutler’s absence, which prompted her to take action. She began collecting signatures on June 27 for Cutler’s removal, and that more residents were expected to help gather signatures after July 4.

One hundred signatures are needed to initiate a recall petition. Late last week, Walunas had about 20. Within 20 days after issuing the official petition, 25 percent of registered voters — around 900 people — need to sign to prompt a recall election.

Cutler told the Gazette she didn’t know about the movement to unseat her from the board.

Cutler said a car accident and emergency cesarean-section forced her to miss several months’ worth of meetings shortly after she was elected, but more recently she acknowledged she stopped showing up to many of the meetings because she was fed up with the way the town was being run.

“She’s has not been there since I’ve been elected,” said Maureen Groden, another board member who was elected in May. Meeting minutes confirm this.

Kaniecki said he signed the petition because of Cutler’s absence. He said Cutler didn’t show up to the past two annual Town Meetings.

“There needs to be a functioning board,” Kaniecki said. “A five-person functioning board.”

He said board members have been picking up the slack.

Groden took Cutler’s place as liaison for the Norris School Committee. Cutler said she could never attend the school committee meetings because of schedule conflicts with child care.

Groden said she feels strongly about making a commitment when elected to a position.

“Show up for meetings or resign,” she said.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.