The plan was to send Chairman Mark Sullivan and Selectman John Gray to speak with Kraft Group and Splitsville officials about the bowling/dining concept with some give in take on both sides. To the shock of many, that did not happen.
Last week, Sullivan told the Foxboro Reporter that he would not be participating in the talks, leaving Gray as the lone selectman in the planned discussion.
On Dec. 9 Gray, along with Acting Town Manager Bob Cutler, Town Council Dick Gellerman met with Kraft Group vice president of Business Development and External Affair Dan Murphy, Kraft Group legal council Jim Corby, Patriot Place General Manager Brian Early, and briefly with Jonathan Kraft to discuss Splitsville and how the town and the Kraft Group can better communicate. The meeting did not include any representatives for Splitsville.
The move left many in town wondering why the chairman of the selectmen was not part of the two-hour meeting.
According to Gray, a ruling from the Attorney General’s office last year said that a meeting that includes two selectmen could constitute a subcommittee. With the meeting not posted and with some selectmen, the town manager, and legal council believing that an open meeting law violation was possible, a decision was made to play it safe and send only Gray with Cutler and Gellerman.
“It’s frustrating as hell but it’s the realities of the open meeting law,” Gray said.
Sullivan said he dropped out to avoid potentially stalling the process but wants clarification on the ruling.
“I didn’t want to slow this process down but I want you to look into that so we can have absolute clarification,” Sullivan told Gellerman.
Despite the board voting 5-0 to send Sullivan and Gray to talk, Cutler said that someone came to him and raised concern about sending two selectmen to the selectmen. After asking Gellerman about the risk of sending two members of the board, Gellerman said he believed they could send two but a decision was made to send one.
“I raised it with Dick (Gellerman) and decided than rather than impede the process to keep it moving along,” Cutler said.
Sullivan also referred to the Attorney General’s ruling when defending the decision to drop out of the meeting.
“There was a decision rendered from Oct. 26 of last year, Lorraine (Brue) and I wanted to meet with the Kraft Group about expansion. They had rendered a decision,” Sullivan said of the AG’s ruling.
Selectman Lorraine Brue admitted to raising concern to Cutler, despite voting to let Sullivan and Gray talk to the Kraft Group, much to the frustration of Selectman Jim DeVellis.
“Every single person raised their hand including you. The next day you go to the town manager and two weeks later we’re having this argument,” DeVellis said to Brue. “If you've got business do it at the table, If you're not comfortable with it then it’s a 4-1 vote or abstain.”
Two weeks earlier, DeVellis made the motion to have Sullivan and Gray talk to Kraft Group officials, thinking it would be best to send two selectmen that voted for and against the liquor license transfer to Splitsville.
Leading up to the original vote on the liquor license transfer for Splitsville, members of the selectmen did meet in pairs with no objections from anyone.
“When I make a motion and five people say we’re going to do that and two weeks later it’s not done, let’s talk about that,” DeVellis said. “There is nothing that says that when you have a committee of five that two people can’t meet as long as they don’t deliberate back and forth.”
Brue defender her actions as an attempt to avoid an open meeting law violation but an aggravated DeVellis wondered why this could not have been discussed at the Dec. 3 meeting of the selectmen a week earlier.
According to Cutler, the agenda for the meeting was posted earlier than usual due to Thanksgiving and with no one returning to work until the following Monday, the item was unable to get on the agenda within the required 48 hours period before the meeting.
“We are exactly where we would be if we had two people or one person because we wouldn't have reported back until today. It wasn’t on last week’s agenda because the week before was a holiday week. The agenda was set and published on Tuesday or Wednesdays the week before. We are exactly where we would have been whether we met last Thursday (as originally planned) or yesterday," Cutler said.
After Gray called the initial talks productive, more discussions are expected. For now, Gray, Cutler, and Gellerman will continue to meet with Kraft Group officials before the selectmen’s Jan. 7 meeting where a discussion on Splitsville is planned and a vote is possible.