By Dan Moffett
The hard feelings and divisions that grew out of the March election are festering within the Ocean Ridge Town Commission.
During a contentious and sometimes angry three-hour meeting on May 3, the commission fought over filling a seat on the town’s Board of Adjustment — in other times, an obscure panel most residents don’t know exists.
The issue arose from a last-minute withdrawal by Polly Joa for a regular position on the board. Her withdrawal came shortly after Cassidy delivered a letter of application for a board seat to town hall. The deadline was 3 p.m. on April 21.
Ultimately Cassidy and Robert Sloat were appointed unanimously to the five-member panel, which is charged with resolving code disputes between the town and residents.
But in discussions beforehand some commissioners saw political meddling. Cassidy missed unseating Kristine de Haseth by 16 votes in the election and is an ally of two commissioners, Steve Coz and Geoff Pugh.
“The time line is critical,” said Commissioner Martin Wiescholek, a supporter of de Haseth, the mayor. “That all happened on the very, very last day, within hours of the deadline.”
Wiescholek said it had the look of “backroom dealing.” Vice-Mayor Susan Hulburt proposed taking the seldom-used step of suspending the town’s rules and filling the board seat by promoting an alternate.
Coz and Pugh, both former mayors, vehemently protested against suspending rules and said Cassidy should get the seat.
“I’ve been on the commission for years and I’ve never seen a moment like this,” Coz said, arguing it was ill-advised to circumvent the rules.
Pugh called the idea of overriding procedures and rejecting Cassidy “wrong and wrong-spirited.”
“It’s a very bad precedent you’re setting,” Pugh warned. “That’s something that’s been around for years and you (would be) changing it for something that’s not forthright.”
He said suspending the rules would leave the “perception of underhanded dealing” and create “division and drama” that the commissioners have said they are trying to eliminate.
Hurlburt said she thought the board’s alternates should be considered for the regular seat because of the eleventh-hour developments. De Haseth lamented that the rancor of the election had spilled over in to the town’s business.
“I’m a little taken aback by this last-minute resignation,” she said. “It’s very difficult because it’s coming on the tail end of a difficult campaign for all candidates, not just one or two.”
De Haseth said that, despite reservations about the last-minute changes, she would support seating Cassidy, in the hope of quelling the discord.
“This has to stop,” she said. “We have to end the divisiveness and put this in the rear-view mirror.”
De Haseth was the deciding vote in the commission’s 3-2 decision to reject re-advertising the BOA seats. After that, Hurlburt moved to appoint Cassidy and Sloat to the regular seats on the board. Joa moved to an alternate seat.
In other business, by unanimous consensus, the commission decided to direct the Planning and Zoning Commission to look into code changes the town made last year concerning building along the Coastal Construction Control Line.
Coz said recent ordinances the commission passed have created hardships for some homeowners, especially those building decks or walkways.
“These homeowners are being unnecessarily penalized,” Coz said. “One homeowner was told by the previous town attorney to wait for the unity of title ordinance before commencing work and then was told since the resident had waited, the CCCL ordinance would now cause the deck to require going through the variance process.”
The commission hopes to receive guidance from the P&Z board on amending the ordinances by the next regular town meeting on June 7.