NORTHBOROUGH – New faces are joining the town’s newly-formed Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee.
Additionally, the Board of Selectmen appointed alternate Suzanne Cieslica to be a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA).
However, these votes on Aug. 15 were not unanimously approved by the Board of Selectmen with some selectmen voicing concerns.
Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee
Earlier this year, the town established a permanent Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee to be made up of nine members, including six at-large members.
On May 23, the selectmen discussed applicants to be appointed to the committee, and Selectman Kristen Wixted noted that there weren’t enough applicants to fill the six at-large spaces.
“We have some really great people, and I really appreciate [that] they all put their hats in ring,” Wixted said. “But we have nobody who’s a Black person. We have nobody who’s from the Indian community in Northborough.”
She noted that those are both “fairly good-size communities” in town.
“It’s not going to do the job we need it to do if we don’t have the right people,” Wixted said.
She proposed the candidates to be “on hold,” and she offered to recruit applicants.
At the time, Selectmen Jason Perreault and Scott Rogers voiced hesitancy, noting that the openings were posted, and the applicants applied in good faith and had expertise.
When the appointments returned before the selectmen on Aug. 15, Rogers voiced concerns about comments that they didn’t have “the right” candidates for the process and that board members would recruit candidates, deliberate, make recommendations and ultimately appoint a candidate.
He was concerned that it set a “bad look” for the Interview Subcommittee, selectmen and the overall process.
Rogers asked that the selectmen be careful in the language they used and discussing the reasons why the first pool was thought to be insufficient.
“It’s very easy to get into language that becomes problematic and misunderstood and, in some cases, establish criteria that is illegal,” Rogers said.
Wixted responded that the charge for the committee calls for members who are diverse and belong to underrepresented groups to the greatest extent possible under represented groups to the greatest extent possible. However, all of the initial round of applicants weren’t all members of underrepresented groups, she said.
While she said she recruited applicants, Wixted said it was “really impossible” to twist a person’s arm to apply to volunteer for a committee.
Ultimately, the selectmen appointed Seira Shalton, Melissa Diglio, Mariam Ibrahimi, Cynthia Moore, Yong Tan and Ashish Verma.
Rogers voted against Verma’s appointment.
In April, the selectmen were split on who to appoint to the ZBA with Rogers and Perreault voting for incumbent Richard Rand and Selectman Julianne Hirsh and Wixted voting for Kevin Wyrsch.
Because the selectmen did not appoint a member, that seat was considered vacant, leading to another round of interviews.
The Interview Subcommittee interviewed Cieslica, Rand, Wyrsch, Jeffrey Gribouski and Tim Kaelin.
Following Cieslica’s nomination, Perreault said from May 2021 to June 2022, the ZBA had 12 meetings. He said she was on time, in view, fully attentive and not distracted during five of the meetings.
“I would argue that five what I would consider to be reliable and fully attentive meetings out of 12 is not a particularly strong recommendation to advance an alternate member to a voting member’s seat,” he said.
He said it was a responsibility of the Board of Selectmen to make sure that members appointed to the ZBA are able to make the commitment without tardiness or distractions.
Perreault said Rand demonstrated a “very consistent and dependable” record of on-time and on-video appearance.
Hirsh called it a “slippery slope” to say someone is distracted during a meeting. Wixted said that an alternate on a committee may not be called upon to vote.
“Having been that mom, I never volunteered for anything when I was that mom unless it had to do with the school, unless it had to do with my children because I didn’t think I could manage it,” she said.
Chair Mitch Cohen suggested that as the selectmen review the interview process, they add expectations on how the member conducts themselves during a remote meeting.
“I will take your point that there are situations that could be a little different, but, to me, that doesn’t disqualify an applicant,” he said.
Cieslica was appointed with a 3-2 vote of Cohen, Hirsh and Wixted.
Watch the full meeting at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Va2whYV6rLU&t=5414s.
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