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Brimfield fails to take action to halt lawsuit

July 28, 2009
BRIMFIELD — The Town Clerk's statement proved to be prophetic.

At a Special Town Meeting (STM) in June, called to order just before the second half of the Annual Town Meeting (ATM), Town Clerk Pamela Beall cautioned against rescheduling the STM to a later date to discuss a proposed bylaw change that would significantly impact the standing of a lawsuit in which the town is currently involved.

Beall said reconvening the meeting for the article, which was tabled during that June meeting, would be a waste of time, as the article would probably never make it off the table.

She was right.

At the continuation of the June STM on Tuesday, July 28, the voters of Brimfield immediately defeated the first motion, which was to take the proposed bylaw change off the table, possibly marking the shortest Town Meeting in Brimfield history.

The bylaw, as explained by Jonathan Silverstein, Brimfield's town counsel, would change the way the emergency fees for flea market owner/operators is calculated.

"Currently, it's figured by the number of vendors per field, per day," Silverstein explained at the June meeting when the topic was first broached at a town meeting.

On Tuesday, July 21, Selectmen Diane Panaccione and Thomas Marino met with the owner/operators of the flea market to discuss a possible resolution to the lawsuit. The action was brought against the town by the May family, by way of amending the proposed bylaw change that would be satisfactory to the other people involved with the market.

The primary concern voiced by a number of people at the meeting, according to an unofficial transcription of the minutes, was the fact that as attendance at shows goes down and the emergency services fees have not. Many of the owner/operators suggested tying the emergency services fee into the general vendor's fee due from each person.

Edward Neal, the attorney representing the May family, said following the meeting on Tuesday that some concessions had been made in the proposed bylaw, such as widening the window of time owner/operators have to report their occupancy to the town prior to each session, and using a notarized letter rather than an actual surveyor to monitor lot occupancy — all of which would have a direct effect on the way the fees owned by the owner/operators are calculated.

Neal said acceptance of the article with the amendment to the proposed bylaw, "very well could have solved all issues we had as issues."

"All that May's has ever wanted was consistency, period," Neal said. "That's all they ever wanted."

There was some confusion running around Tuesday's STM, as some people in the crowd thought a conversation between Neal and Silverstein in which they were to settle on amicable amendments to the proposal may not have happened, and were unfortunately not willing to risk the issue going to a vote simply to find out.

To further complicate the issue, voters received a handout from the Bylaw Committee when walking through the door, urging Selectmen to, "consider repealing all flea market bylaws which would more appropriately be handled as licensing rules and regulations."

"Our flea market bylaws are rigid and unresponsive to the changing business environment, health and safety matters, and are overly administrative in nature," the handout continued.

Following the STM, Silverstein explained that passage of the article, "would have resolved one lawsuit and it would have given us breathing room on other recent issues."

Those other recent issues being another lawsuit brought against the town by several owner/operators, also crying foul regarding the fees charged for the flea market.

Neal said his next course of action following the outcome of the meeting, will be to contact the scheduling clerk in Hampden County Superior Court to arrange a trial date.

"The town will spend money on a trail it didn't have to spend if this had been adopted," Silverstein said. Just how much the town will spend, he could speculate, saying, "There are so many variables."

Panaccione said she was surprised that the motion to take the issue off the table was so vehemently opposed.

"I thought it would be open for discussion because they put forth some changes," she said.

Selectman Stephen Fleshman was not.

"I had the feeling when I saw all the people," he said.

"This article was a proposal by the other party to settle the lawsuit," Fleshman continued. "There were some changes, however, no one's going to know what they are because it didn't get to that."

News staff writer Christopher Tanguay may be reached at (508) 909-4132, or by e-mail at ctanguay@stonebridgepress.com.

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