WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — After a nine-year absence, Sarah Gardner is going back on the Planning Board.
On Monday evening, a joint meeting of the Planning Board and Board of Selectmen voted 5-4 to have Gardner fill an empty seat on the panel for five months until she can stand for election in May.
Gardner was one of five residents who applied to fill the seat vacated by Carol Stein-Payne. In May, Gardner will have to go on the town election ballot if she wants to fill the remaining two years left on Stein-Payne's term.
All four of the applicants who attended Monday's meeting told the Selectmen and Planning Board that they either would or likely would seek election in their own right.
Gardner, a lecturer in environmental studies at Williams College's Center for Environmental Studies, served on the town's Planning Board from 2001 to 2006 and has served on the Conservation Commission for the last eight years, acting as vice chairman this year.
She also has been an alternate member of the town's Agricultural Commission, served on the Community Preservation Committee and helped craft the most recent town Master Plan, drafted in 2003.
"I'm sort of a planning geek," Gardner said. "I teach planning at Williams. I love it, and I enjoy the opportunity to be doing it."
The two boards voted as one body to fill the seat. Gardner earned the votes of three Selectmen and two members of the Planning Board. Selectmen Anne O'Connor, Andrew Hogeland and Ronald Turbin voted for Gardner along with Planning Board members Elizabeth McGowan and Ann McCallum.
Planning Board Chairwoman Amy Jeschawitz, Planner D. Chris Winters, Board of Selectmen Chairwoman Jane Patton and Selectman Hugh Daley voted for Chris Kapiloff.
Gardner said she looked forward to the chance to return to the Planning Board and would step down from the Con Comm if she is appointed. Conservation Commission positions are appointed by the town manager and confirmed by the Selectmen.
Planning Board — since 2008 — is an elected position with its five members serving five-year staggered terms. This May's election will have two seats on the ballot; current member Elizabeth McGowan said Monday that she does not plan to seek another five years when her term ends in the spring.
On Monday, the Selectmen and Planning Board spent more time consoling the three unsuccessful candidates in attendance than they did picking over the credentials of the applicants, which were supplied in advance.
Each of the four applicants took a turn at the microphone introducing himself or herself and taking questions from the two boards. A fifth applicant, Bruce MacDonald, was out of town and unable to attend Monday's meeting.
The full list of applicants included Gardner, Kapiloff, MacDonald, Lindsay Errichetto and Peter Mehlin. The boards were pleased to see a wide range of backgrounds and experience among the group.
Two applicants, Mehlin and Kapiloff, are Williamstown natives. One is a newcomer, Ericchettto, who said her family moved to town two years ago because of what she new of it from her experience as an employee of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. Gardner moved to town about 15 years ago and immediately got involved in public service.
One, Mehlin, is a retiree with a long history of volunteerism since returning to the town of his birth. He already holds one elected office, serving as a Trustee of the Milne Public Library.
Two, Gardner and Errichetto, brought professional experience in the planning field — the latter as a community planner for two years with the BRPC.
Three — Errichetto, Gardner and Mehlin — have worked or do work in education, municipalities or non-profits. One, Kapiloff, is a business owner.
Two, Kapiloff and MacDonald, are residents of South Williamstown, where the Planning Board is considering proposing an overlay district to allow development at Waubeeka Golf Links. MacDonald, who has participated in recent Planning Board meetings from the floor, cited on his application the Waubeeka issue as a reason for his interest in serving.
Several members of the Selectmen thanked all five applicants for their interest.
"Please run [in May]," Hogeland said. "Having competitive races is healthy for the community."
"I'd be happy to vote for any one of you," Turbin said. "Obviously, I'll have to make a choice, but each and every one of you would contribute to the Planning Board."
After the applicant interviews concluded, Patton called a five-minute recess to allow her colleagues to gather their thoughts. Then she took a straw poll to see if the nine officials could narrow the field from five to two, which it promptly did.
Both Gardner and Kapiloff bring histories of service on municipal boards. The latter is a former chairman of the Mount Greylock School Committee, serving on that body from 2004-08.
While Gardner leaned heavily on her professional planning credentials and commitment to town service, Kapiloff highlighted his success as the president of Kapiloff Glass, a growing business that boasts 32 employees earning an average of between $60,000 and $70,000 per year, he said.
"Those are the kinds of jobs the town needs," Kapiloff said, alluding to the Planning Board's role in implementing the town's soon-to-be-released Economic Development Plan.
In the initial straw poll, each of the nine board members was asked to name his or her top two choices from the field. Each but the absent MacDonald garnered some support. Kapiloff had the most votes, with seven hands raised.
Gardner, who was one of the top two among five of the board members, held onto all five votes in the final runoff. O'Connor and Hogeland, who voted for both finalists in the initial round, sided with Gardner in the final tally.
Monday's meeting called to mind the last time Gardner was an applicant for the Planning Board. In 2006, a differently comprised Board of Selectmen voted 3-2 to not reappoint her and instead put Winters in the seat she had occupied.
At the time, Gardner said her ouster was a reaction to her votes against a subdivision on Bee Hill Road, which ultimately passed the Planning Board on a 3-2 vote.
"I'm a PhD, this is my field, and I feel very underappreciated for all my work," Gardner said following the June 2006 Selectmen's meeting.
But, she added that night, "I'm still very dedicated to the town of Williamstown."
The next year, the town decided at annual town meeting to make Planning Board positions elected instead of appointed, approving the measure in a standing vote, 111-108.
The 2006 board meeting did not come up at Monday's meeting, but Patton asked Gardner why she chose to re-apply for the Planning Board.
"I'm friends with Carol, who stepped down," Gardner said. "She talked to me about resigning and said she felt bad about it. I said I'd put my name in, don't worry about it.
"I didn't know it was going to be like this. I probably wouldn't have [applied] if I knew so many people wanted it."
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