Duxbury: Town Meeting ends DeLuca dispute

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In its opening day, Saturday, Duxbury Annual Town meeting approved a $65 million operating budget plus $2 million in capital purchases, ended a long dispute with its former police chief, spent reserves on repairs to the Performing Arts center and Duxbury Beach, removed stipends for Selectmen and ended the long day refusing to move the date of Town Meeting from the beginning of March to the beginning of May.

The first item of controversy Saturday was whether to settle a three-year law suit with former police chief Mark DeLuca. In October of 2009, a former board of selectmen and a former town manager fired DeLuca weeks before he planned to resign. They agreed on a $240,000 settlement, but when attorneys put that settlement in writing, DeLuca chose not to sign it. Selectmen removed the deal and DeLuca sued.

The town has liability insurance and the insurance company has an attorney, Leonard Kesten. He has negotiated a new deal with DeLuca’s attorneys, an agreement DeLuca has signed, to settle for $295,000. Insurance will cover $35,000 of that amount. Town Meeting authorized the settlement.

Town Meeting convened in Duxbury’s Performing Arts Center. Voters learned the 10 year old building needs a new roof and repairs to the back exterior wall. After expressing their displeasure, voters approved the repairs.

The February blizzard caused major damage to Duxbury Beach, made worse by the recent storm. The Duxbury Beach Reservation, an all-volunteer non-profit corporation, owns four miles of the beach. It leases it to the town. The town has, in recent years, paid the Reservation $400,000 a year. It collects $1.5 million in parking and access fees. The Reservation asked to increase the lease to $600,000 to defray costs of the repairs. Town Meeting agreed.

Town Meeting has, for several years, allocated $5,000 for stipends for selectmen. Current board members have not taken the stipend and the money has reverted to the general fund. Vice-chairman of Selectmen Shawn Dahlen has, for several years, argued that all volunteers – from members of the advisory committee to members of the zoning board – receive equal treatment. Most of them receive no stipend. Some voters argued that the stipend might encourage residents who might need it to serve on the board to run for the office (Dahlen has no challenger this year). By a five-vote margin, Town Meeting removed the stipends from the budget.

The School Committee proposed moving the date of Town Meeting from the first Saturday in March to the first Saturday in May. The committee argued the town would have more reliable information regarding state aid and school enrollment in May. Some voters said they remembered when Town Meeting moved to May more than two decades ago and participation dropped dramatically. Others said voters would more likely garden or prepare their boats for the season than spend a day at Town Meeting. Few said the move would work. In the only negative vote of the day, Town Meeting kept its date with next March.

The Meeting will reconvene Monday night at 7:30. It will begin with consideration of a citizen petition to stop fluoridation of the town’s public water supply.

About Charles Mathewson