Published: 11/2/2020 8:50:31 PM
LEVERETT — A longtime member of the Select Board is stepping down, citing polarization in town that is reminiscent of the dysfunction of politics at the national level.
Peter d’Errico, emeritus professor of legal studies at the University of Massachusetts, announced at a recent special Town Meeting that he would resign his seat after more than 13 years on the board.
In prepared remarks he read to residents attending the Oct. 24 session, d’Errico said, “polarization, demonization, bombast and recrimination have invaded the Select Board. The long-standing Select Board tradition of striving for consensus before every decision has been disrupted by tactics aimed to sharpen disputes rather than to aid in reaching consensus.”
D’Errico went on to say that these tactics threaten the historic structural relationship between Select Board and Town Meeting, with the elected board taking guidance from the citizen legislature and handling executive functions and managing town departments.
“This division of responsibilities between the organs of town government is crucial to the maintenance of community peace,” d’Errico said. “Recent Select Board meetings have left me feeling physically brutalized and emotionally distraught. The stress has become more than I am willing to bear.”
D’Errico declined to elaborate further when contacted by the Gazette.
D’Errico has served on the Select Board since winning a contested election on the floor of annual Town Meeting in April 2007. Leverett is unique among the state’s communities in having nominations and elections of town officials as a warrant article at Town Meeting.
During his time on the board, d’Errico helped spearhead a $3.6 million project to bring high-speed internet to Leverett. The broadband initiative was one of the first completed in a rural community as part of the state’s Last Mile fiber network.
In addition, the Select Board has made several hires, including Fire Chief John Ingram and Police Chief Scott Minckler, dealt with annual budget challenges cause by having little commercial tax base, and entered into an agreement with the town of Amherst to address wellwater contamination issues caused by the capped landfill.
Tension arose in town in late spring and summer following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, with “Black Lives Matter” markings being painted at various intersections, and then these markings being painted over. The Select Board, with input from some community members, wrote a statement opposing racism, and moved forward with creating a Social Justice Committee.
D’Errico’s term ends in 2022, with the next election at annual Town Meeting next spring. His fellow board members anticipate operating as a two-member panel until then.
Board member Tom Hankinson said a special Town Meeting could be called for an election, if necessary.
Chairwoman Julia Shively said that could change if the situation becomes untenable, though that is not anticipated, especially during COVID-19 and the challenges of bringing the community together.
Scott Merzbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.