, Salem, MA

July 30, 2013

'Archaic' law affects licensing boards


---- — BEVERLY — The city has become the second local community to run afoul of a little-known state law governing the political makeup of licensing boards.

Mayor Bill Scanlon said yesterday he will “reconfigure” the Beverly Licensing Board in order to comply with a law requiring at least one Democrat and one Republican on the board.

Scanlon said he was unaware of the law until it was brought to the city’s attention recently. Last month, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll had to find a Republican to fill a vacancy on the Salem board after City Councilor Todd Siegel pointed out the law.

Scanlon called the state law “archaic” and said it doesn’t make much sense, “but it is a law that is in place.”

The state law requires that members of local licensing boards “shall be appointed from each of the two leading political parties and the third member may also be appointed from one of said parties.”

That means the three-member boards must have at least one Republican and one Democrat. Beverly’s board has one Democrat, Gloucester mayoral aide James Duggan, and two unenrolled voters, attorney Richard Kelley and retired police Lt. John Roccio.

Scanlon said he is “going to have to make a modification” to the board, probably by its next meeting on Sept. 12.

In Salem, Driscoll was set to appoint Gina Flynn, an unenrolled voter, to replace longtime member John Casey when Siegel pointed out the law. Driscoll then appointed Republican Paul Flores.

“I decided just to take a look at the statute, and that’s what it said,” Siegel said. “It’s clear as day.”

Siegel said the law was probably intended to take politics out of the decisions of licensing boards, which approve liquor licenses and discipline businesses that violate rules governing the sale and serving of alcohol.

Siegel, who is a lawyer, said the law might be obscure, but it’s important to comply to avoid legal challenges to decisions made by boards that are not in compliance.

“I don’t want it to come back and bite us in the butt,” he said.

Scanlon said the technically illegal makeup of the board should not impact past decisions if those decisions were unanimous, but he is unsure if other decisions would be subject to legal challenge.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or