SALEM — A City Council subcommittee agreed last night to send Mayor Kim Driscoll’s picks for the planning and zoning boards forward to the full council for final approval.
Councilors asked questions of the four candidates — Ben Anderson and Kirt Rieder for the Planning Board and Tom Watkins and David Eppley for the Zoning Board of Appeals — and aired a few grievances of their own at last night’s session.
Councilors had called a special meeting to vet the mayor’s candidates — a reaction to past development decisions made by city boards that some councilors have been unhappy with. Usually, the mayor’s appointees are confirmed by the council with little, if any, discussion.
“I don’t doubt that any of these people have good intentions,” Ward 2 Councilor Michael Sosnowski said. “... The problem is, if after we confirm them, they repeatedly violate the board’s mission, there’s no mechanism (to recall them).”
As each candidate came forward to introduce themselves and answer questions, Ward 6 Councilor Paul Prevey explained that he felt residents’ concerns and objections to recent development projects haven’t been taken into consideration by some members of city boards.
Several of the candidates said they would approach issues on a case-by-case basis and take resident sentiment into consideration. Eppley said his philosophy is that each project needs to be feasible, lawful and accepted by the community.
Weighing the concerns of all involved is a “tough responsibility,” Anderson said.
Anderson and Rieder have experience going before municipal boards for development projects in their professional lives. Anderson has two decades of experience in commercial and retail architecture; Rieder is a principal at a landscape architecture design firm.
Watkins recently left his job as purchasing agent for the city of Salem to become director of purchasing for the town of Andover. He started as an aide in the mayor’s office in 2006, was named purchasing agent in 2010 and left the post in August.
Eppley is a divorce attorney and recently moved to Salem. Driscoll tapped Eppley for the ZBA after he contacted Driscoll’s office looking to get involved in the community.
Last night, Eppley acknowledged that he plans to run for City Council in the next election cycle. He said he would step down from the ZBA if he were elected to the council.
Driscoll attended last night’s discussion and spoke against Prevey’s assertion that residents’ complaints have been only “background noise” to some board members.
She called the Planning Board a hardworking, earnest board that is “doing things right.”
“I don’t think (this) is about people or process, it’s just that we don’t agree,” Driscoll said.
If residents are truly being overlooked, Driscoll said she’d like to help.
“My door is always open,” she said.
Last night’s government services subcommittee meeting was co-posted as a meeting of the full City Council, so members who aren’t on the subcommittee could join in the discussion.
The council’s subcommittee on administration and finance also met last night and discussed the proposed lease renewal of 120 Washington St., the City Hall Annex. The subcommittee made no decision on the lease last night and agreed to continue discussions next week.
Councilors Kevin Carr and Todd Siegel were absent from last night’s discussions; Councilors Tom Furey and Joseph O’Keefe attended only the later session on the City Hall Annex lease.
The next meeting of the full City Council is Thursday, Jan. 24.
Bethany Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.