SALISBURY — With a vote of 3 to 2 at a special meeting yesterday, selectmen took the first step in removing Gil Mederios from his seat on the town’s Liquor Licensing Commission.
Yesterday’s unprecedented vote came three weeks after the July 1 selectmen’s meeting when Mederios publicly berated Selectmen Donald Beaulieu, Freeman Condon and Henry Richenburg after they voted against working to bring a slot casino to town. At the time, Mederios rose and shouted at the three selectmen, repeatedly calling them “disgusting” because they refused to meet a 17-day deadline to negotiate a contract with Maryland casino developer Cordish Companies.
Joined by Haverhill resident Bruce Arakelian, who owned the land upon which the casino would have been built, the two men loudly criticized selectmen while standing in the center of the Colchester meeting room, pointing their fingers at them and promising repercussions. Arakelian told the three selectmen their tenure on the board was over, specifically advising Beaulieu not to bother to run again and chastising him for having a smile on his face.
Mederios’ three-minute rant ended with a similar vow.
“I’m going to put a petition together to recall you guys,” Mederios shouted as he left the auditorium.
It was Beaulieu’s request at a July 11 selectmen’s meeting that led to yesterday’s special meeting to remove a then unnamed appointed official from office. And yesterday it was Beaulieu who, in accordance with Salisbury’s Home Rule Charter, brought the motion to send a “notice of intent to remove” Mederios from his position on Salisbury’s Liquor Licensing Commission, to which the board had appointed him.
The reason, Beaulieu said, was because of “conduct unbecoming his office” at the July 1 meeting, again a stipulated reason listed in section 7-8 of the town charter.
Selectmen Fred Knowles and Ed Hunt tried to sway the vote, speaking up for Mederios. Both selectmen said after watching Mederios run the Liquor Licensing Commission meetings over the years, they believe he did an excellent job as the commission’s chairman.
Knowles said after the July 1 meeting, Mederios wasn’t disrespectful but “passionate” in the way he expressed his “concerns” about the selectmen’s casino vote. Admitting Mederios’ behavior could be called “inappropriate,” Knowles didn’t see that it rose to the level of removal, adding selectmen might be seen as “small and petty” if they did so.
Hunt said it was Beaulieu’s behavior that led to Arakelian and Mederios getting so angry because Beaulieu laughed at their comments.
“(He) does an excellent job at what he does (on the commission),” Hunt said. “I see no reason whatsoever to remove him from his position.”
Beaulieu denied laughing at Mederios, saying he did smile.
“I said to myself, ‘This is a three-ring circus’ and it caused me to smile,” Beaulieu told Hunt. “If you think my smiling caused this issue, we’re far apart as to how government works.”
For the selectmen not to act after Mederios’ “demeaning actions” would send the wrong message, Beaulieu said. There are acceptable ways for residents and officials to disagree with selectmen’s actions, Beaulieu said, but Mederios’ performance was far from that.
Former Liquor Licensing Commissioner Chuck Colburn tried to speak in defense of Mederios during the meeting, but was cut off by Richenburg, the chairman of the Board of Selectmen. Colburn complained vigorously, as did others there to support Mederios, but Richenburg would have none of it. Salisbury police Chief Tom Fowler was at the meeting to keep order.
The agenda did not list that comments from visitors would be accepted and there would be none, Richenburg said. Mederios has five days after receiving the notice of intent for his removal to request a public hearing, Richenburg said. If he does so, then public comments will be allowed at the hearing.
As others protested the inability to speak, Mederios called the selectmen “bullies.”
“You take away our voices, that’s all you bullies want to do,” Mederios said after the meeting was adjourned. “You’re a bully, Beaulieu.”
After the selectmen left the room, Mederios told his supporters, “As soon as they send me the letter, I’m going to request a public hearing.”
If a public hearing is requested, selectmen have 10 days after the hearing to make its final decision on removal or suspension. If a hearing is not requested, the appointing body has six to 15 days to act. If deadlines aren’t met, the individual involved is automatically reinstated.