BY ANGELJEAN CHIARAMIDA
---- — SALISBURY — After impassioned pleas last night of behalf of embattled Liquor Licensing Commissioner Gilbert Medeiros, selectmen have seven days to decide if they will remove him from office for what some consider poor conduct at a July selectmen’s meeting.
Last night’s public hearing was requested by Medeiros, in accordance with Salisbury’s Home Rule Charter. It came after the Board of Selectmen met on July 22 and voted 3 to 2 of their intent to remove him from the commission, citing his behavior at their their July 1 meeting as “conduct unbecoming his office.” At that session, Medeiros stood and vigorously berated Selectmen Donald Beaulieu, Freeman Condon and Henry Richenburg for their votes against a slot casino, which killed the venture in town.
Richenburg told the roughly 30 people in attendance last night that they had the right to speak their opinion for or against Medeiros’ removal. But, Richenburg warned, he wouldn’t tolerate slanderous comments against the board or others at the meeting. Police Chief Tom Fowler was also present at the hearing, in case he was needed to intervene.
During his introduction, Richenburg played a video from the July meeting, which showed selectmen casting their votes against the casino. Immediately following, Medeiros could be heard repeatedly calling the selectmen’s decision “disgusting,” then adding “you’re disgusting.” He rose, walked toward selectmen and in a three minute rant aimed at Beaulieu, Condon and Richenburg, pointed his finger aggressively at them while he spoke.
“We should somehow get together and get you guys out of here,” he told the three selectmen, ending with, “I’m going to put a petition to recall you guys.”
He was joined in criticizing the members by Haverhill resident Bruce Arakelian, who owned the land upon which the casino would have been built. Arakelian verbally challenged Beaulieu for smiling, telling the three selectmen who voted against the casino to “get the hell out” of town.
When the video was over, Medeiros’ attorney Anthony Papoulias Jr. told selectmen he would speak for his client, who was present at the hearing, but would not address the board. His mission was simple, he said, he was there to try to change the minds of Beaulieu, Condon and Richenburg, the three who had shown their intent to remove Medeiros.
According to Papoulias, Medeiros’ behavior didn’t rise to the level of conduct unbecoming his office because he was speaking as a private citizen, not as the chairman of the town’s liquor licensing commission. And also because he didn’t really threaten the selectmen either by word or gesture.
“He didn’t say, ‘I’m going to get you later in the parking lot,’ ” Papoulias said.
In addition, Papoulias said, removing him from office for voicing his opinion — albeit in a loud and passionate manner — could be considered at an infringement on Medeiros’ Constitutional right to free speech.
Papoulias suggested the selectmen made their point about the need for people to remain respectful when disagreeing, and advocated for the board to hold a workshop on the subject in the future.
Calling Medeiros a man of “high moral character and professionalism,” Papoulias ended with a plea that selectmen change their minds and allow his client to keep his position as a town official.
Papoulias called his witnesses, both of whom serve on the Liquor Licensing Commission with Medeiros. The first, Kelly Richenburg, is an attorney and also the daughter-in-law of Selectman Henry Richenburg. She was not there to embarrass her father-in-law, she said, but rather to defend Medeiros.
Saying she didn’t believe Medeiros’ actions on July 1 crossed the line to warrant his removal, Kelly Richenburg said that, she, a trained litigator, has lost her temper and composure at times during stressful situations. Kelly Richenburg said after watching the July 1 tape several times, she believed that Bruce Arakelian’s behavior that was more offensive than Medeiros, a sentiment expressed by several others during the night.
Kelly Richenburg defended Medeiros’ rights to free speech, adding if selectmen remove him it could send a chilling message to others in the community, both officials and residents. The message could be that if they disagreed with selectmen, there could be repercussions, she said.
Liquor Licensing Commissioner John Guerin said Medeiros could be passionate about his beliefs, and that it was “ was a culmination of events that caused Mr. Medeiros to get upset to the point he did” on July 1.
“It was unfortunate,” Guerin added. “It’s too bad it got to that point.”
Resident Paula Moore told Richenburg if he had explained Roberts Rules of Order at the July meeting, as he did last night, those in the audience would have behaved better and the whole episode may have been averted.
Liquor Licensing Commissioners Chris Walsh and Sean McCarthy also rose to Medeiros’ defense, saying that they’d always found him to be professional with dealing with the board and those who came before it.
But it was Bruce Arakelian’s wife Jill, who almost pleaded with selectmen not to remove Medeiros. Compared to her husband’s words and actions, she said, Medeiros was more moderate.
“That was my husband who lost his temper worse than Gil,” Jill Arakelian said. “Bruce took it harder because he had more at stake. Did he have the right to do that? No. I would appreciate it if you would reconsider (and not remove Medeiros). I know Bruce would too.”
Selectmen were silent during the entire hearing, neither asking questions nor making comments. They will meet at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 27 to cast their votes, under the rules of the town charter.