Mounzer Aylouche

‘Political payback’ in Swampscott?

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — Mary Ellen Fletcher was the only sitting member not reappointed to the Harbor and Waterfront Advisory Committee by the Board of Selectmen recently. The board said it was nothing personal, but she claims it is backlash from her questioning how town funds were spent for two waterfront projects.

“I saw it coming the day after the editorial in the Lynn Item came out,” Fletcher said, referring to an October editorial after she and two other harbor and waterfront advisory committee members brought up the waterfront projects’ spending. “I knew that this was going to happen. I didn’t know it for a fact. It was my gut feeling. The rumor out there was that it made the selectmen look bad.”

Fletcher, along with two other harbor and waterfront advisory committee members, Milton Fistel and Glenn Kessler, appeared before the selectmen last October to present two instances of how the town overspent on waterfront projects, harbor dredging and a proposed breakwater that haven’t moved past the study stage.

“I can’t help but think there was retribution,” said Kessler. “I just got the feeling this was political payback.”

Moulton faults Trump for delaying VA pick

Kessler spoke in favor of Fletcher at last week’s board meeting, asking the selectmen to reconsider their decision not to reappoint her, calling her a conscientious person, hard worker and a real asset. Fletcher said she received a phone call about the decision from Naomi Dreeben, board chairwoman, the night before the meeting.

At last week’s board meeting, Peter Spellios, a selectman, proposed two courses of action related to the harbor and waterfront advisory committee. He suggested increasing membership from seven to nine members, which was approved unanimously.

Spellios also proposed reappointing six of the incumbents, not reappointing Fletcher and adding three new members. That recommendation was also approved, but split the board 3 to 2, with Laura Spathanas, vice-chair, and Patrick Jones voting against it.

Dreeben, Spellios and Donald Hause voted in favor, citing a potential conflict of interest as Fletcher started serving on the finance committee last spring. They said there could be a potential conflict if financial matters relating to the harbor and waterfront advisory committee came before the finance committee.

“I would support not reappointing her,” said Hause. “I want to stress that’s not personal or an indictment on her capabilities whatsoever.”

The three new members are Mark Wolinsky, Ulf Westhoven and Ryan Patz. The members reappointed were Jackson Schultz, Mounzer Aylouche, Fistel, Kessler, Jacqueline Kinney and Neil Rossman.

Harbormaster Lawrence Bithell, who is on paid administrative leave and is facing criminal charges for use of of an expired license plate, was also reappointed as ex-officio. Interim Town Administrator Gino Cresta and the selectmen are actively looking for an interim harbormaster to replace Bithell.

Spathanas and Jones argued that Fletcher could recuse herself from any finance committee vote pertaining to financial matters with the harbor advisory committee. Jones said he might be more convinced if there was a history of the conflict happening.

“I’m not convinced there yet with this particular person because of the due diligence they do provide,” Jones said. “It’s someone who does put in a lot of time with things.”

Spathanas questioned why the selectmen would take away something Fletcher is passionate about, by taking her off the advisory committee. Despite those arguments, Dreeben said she was still concerned about a conflict of interest, but recognizes Fletcher’s value as a volunteer. The decision had nothing to do with the substance of the person, Spellios added.

“Mary Ellen Fletcher is knowledgeable and well-informed on issues,” Dreeben said when asked if the lack of reappointment was a political move related to the town spending questions. “We greatly value her work on the finance committee.”

Fletcher said the conflict argument didn’t make sense to her. She said if there was a finance committee vote pertaining the harbor advisory committee, it would be a no-brainer that she would recuse herself. The harbor committee also has no fiduciary responsibility, and simply acts as an advisory to the board of selectmen, she added.

“This is just politics,” Fletcher said. “This is not life or death or that serious. It’s just disappointing, that’s all. I have every intention of continuing to be a good volunteer in my community … I don’t think their judgment was in the best interest of the community. It’s just so crazy. If they thought there was any issue of conflict, why did it take them seven months to bring it up?”

Fletcher and Kessler said the incident may deter others from volunteering.

“To reappoint six of us and to not reappoint her, I thought that was both rude and disrespectful,” said Kessler. “You’re really doing a disservice not only to Ms. Fletcher but to the town … I have to say that just leaves a sour taste in my mouth.”


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Sink or swim for Swampscott harbormaster

Swampscott Town Hall. Item file photo.

By Gayla Cawley

SWAMPSCOTT — Harbormaster Lawrence Bithell will be arraigned on criminal charges for his use of an expired license plate.

Bithell is scheduled to appear in Lynn District Court on Oct. 28. A clerk magistrate’s hearing was held on Sept. 19, where it was determined that criminal charges should be filed against Bithell.

During the hearing, Clerk-Magistrate Jane Brady Stirgwolt found probable cause to proceed with three of the four charges — attaching a registration plate to assigned vehicle (trailer), use of an uninsured trailer and use of an unregistered trailer, according to Swampscott Police Chief Ronald Madigan.

Bithell’s attorney, Neil Rossman, has said previously that the complaint is regarding a boat trailer, but on Monday declined to comment on the pending arraignment.

On Aug. 15, Madigan received a complaint regarding the misuse of a Town of Swampscott registration trailer plate, according to a police report obtained at Lynn District Court. Police said photographs from different dates showed a blue registration trailer plate was attached to two different trailers. The registration trailer plate is assigned to a 2007 Load Rite gray utility trailer owned by the town, according to court documents.

A photograph taken on June 6 shows the blue registration plate attached to a trailer, connected with a vehicle owned by Bithell. Police said the photograph showed that the registration trailer plate was attached to a trailer other than its assigned utility trailer. The picture was taken at the boat ramp at the Fish House and showed the registration plate attached to a Highlander brand trailer, according to court documents.

The Highlander trailer was located at Fisherman’s Beach between the Fish House and Martin’s Way, without a registration plate, on the beach next to the wall that abuts Bithell’s Puritan Road residence, according to court documents.

The photographs taken on Aug. 7 at Martin’s Way, a beach where the public has a right of access on Puritan Road, shows the registration trailer plate attached to another trailer, a ShoreLand’r trailer. Police said the trailer was also holding a small white power boat with a center console, court documents show.

Police further learned that Load Rite utility trailer was at Ryan Marine in Marblehead. An officer was told by the owner at Ryan Marine that two trailers owned by the town were brought there and one of the trailers, the Load Rite utility trailer, was mistakenly taken there. Police didn’t see registration plates attached to either trailer, according to court documents.  

An officer later spoke with Bithell at the Fish House as he disembarked from his boat — a white power boat with a center console. Bithell was asked where the blue registration trailer plate was and he told police that it was in the back of his truck. Bithell was asked where the trailer was located that should have the registration plate attached to it and he told the officer that it was stored at the yard of the town water tower, according to court documents.

Police said Bithell didn’t know that the trailer had been moved and taken to Ryan Marine. Bithell also told police that he used the registration trailer plate on his Highlander trailer to move his private boat, which he sometimes uses during the course of his Harbormaster duties.

An officer asked Bithell who owns the ShoreLand’r trailer, which photos showed the registration plate attached to, and was told that it belonged to Assistant Harbormaster Mounzer Aylouche. He told police that he used Aylouche’s trailer to move his boat on Aug. 7 and stated that the assistant harbormaster was unaware that he had borrowed his trailer, according to court documents.

Police said Bithell turned over the blue registration trailer plate and it was returned to Town Hall.

Swampscott officials have placed Bithell on administrative leave and are actively looking for an interim harbormaster. Interim Town Administrator Gino Cresta said no one has been chosen for the position and hopes to discuss the matter with the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Swampscott harbormaster will face criminal charges

By Gayla Cawley

SWAMPSCOTT — Harbormaster Lawrence Bithell is facing criminal charges.

A Lynn District Court clerk magistrate’s hearing was held on Monday to determine if criminal charges should be filed against Bithell for use of an expired license plate. His attorney, Neil Rossman, said previously that the matter is a complaint regarding a boat trailer, but Rossman could not be reached for further comment after the hearing.

Swampscott Police Chief Ronald Madigan said that during the hearing, Clerk-Magistrate Jane Brady Stirgwolt found probable cause to proceed with three of the charges, attaching a registration plate assigned to another vehicle (trailer), use of an uninsured trailer and use of an unregistered trailer.

Madigan said the fourth charge, misuse of an official registration plate, is under advisement by the clerk-magistrate.

A district court date for Bithell is pending, but has not been scheduled yet, Madigan said.

Swampscott officials placed Bithell on leave and are actively looking for an interim harbormaster. Town Administrator Thomas Younger has already told the Board of Selectmen that he will not recommend Bithell’s reappointment.

Assistant Harbormaster Mounzer Aylouche turned down the interim position, citing time constraints.

Younger would not comment on other candidates for the position on Monday. The next step would be for him to recommend an interim harbormaster to the board for their approval. He said the goal is to have someone in place to deal with the closing of the harbor, as boats are usually taken out in October.

“We’re reviewing our options at this point,” Younger said.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Swampscott selectmen weigh in on Greenwood Avenue plan

Item File Photo

By Gayla Cawley

SWAMPSCOTT — The Board of Selectmen Wednesday unanimously approved releasing the Request for Proposals (RFP) to formally solicit developers for the purchase and redevelopment of the shuttered Greenwood Avenue Middle School.

No public comment, aside from a question from one neighbor about the process of the RFP, was made prior to the vote.

Developers responding must adhere to an affordable housing component with their design for the construction of up to 28 apartments. A zoning change for a planned development district at the site, which was approved at Town Meeting in May, requires that at least 15 percent of the units constructed be affordable. A second option allows a builder to contribute to an Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which would be used to pay for affordable housing elsewhere in town.

A public session held last week gave neighbors a last chance to weigh in on the RFP before it was released. Concerns raised at the meeting mostly centered around the pending litigation, between the town and Groom Construction, the Salem-based company that originally won approval for condominiums on the site five years ago, after Town Meeting members had approved a zoning change allowing a multi-family on the parcel.

Neighbors filed suit in 2014 and Massachusetts Land Court reversed the decision, reverting zoning back to single-family housing. Selectman Peter Spellios last week said that the litigation needs to resolved before the town is able to proceed with the sale of the property.

The litigation is disclosed in the RFP and Groom could potentially bid and settle the lawsuit. If the company wins the litigation, it could adhere to the zoning change, building a 28-unit structure or a much larger Chapter 40B affordable housing project.

The state’s 40B housing project allows developers to override local zoning bylaws to increase the stock of affordable housing in municipalities where less than 10 percent of the homes are defined as affordable, like Swampscott, where less than 4 percent of its housing is considered affordable.

Spellios said the main difference in the final RFP drafted after neighbors commented last week has to do with the inclusion of certain design guidelines.

“We think those comments were very fair and reasonable comments,” he said.

Developers have until Oct. 17 to respond. Another public community session will be held after proposals are received. Spellios said developers are also put on notice that an architectural peer review will be done by the town for design proposals.

In other business Wednesday, town officials were prepared to name an interim harbormaster, but the candidate for the position decided he was no longer interested in the job.

Town Administrator Thomas Younger said he was prepared to recommend assistant harbormaster Mounzer Aylouche as interim harbormaster to the Board of Selectmen Wednesday. But Younger said he was informed by Aylouche over the weekend that he did not wish to be appointed. Aylouche cited time constraints as the reason for not taking the job, Younger said.

Harbormaster Lawrence Bithell has been placed on leave. Younger said that he informed the Board of Selectmen that he will not recommend Bithell’s reappointment as harbormaster. He would not comment on why.

Bithell’s attorney, Neil Rossman, said last week that Bithell is scheduled to appear at a Sept. 19 clerk magistrate’s hearing to determine if criminal charges should be filed for use of an expired license plate. He declined to elaborate on the charge except to say that it is a complaint regarding a boat trailer. He wouldn’t comment further on Wednesday.

Younger said Bithell’s part-time position was budgeted this year for $7,983. Before an interim is named, he said there are assistant harbormasters in place, including the main assistant in Aylouche. Town public safety officials, including police and fire personnel, would also respond to a call requiring the harbormaster, he added.

Younger said town officials were exploring their options for the interim harbormaster.

“We are working to have a recommendation to the board as soon as possible,” he said.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

Swampscott Harbormaster in hot water

By Thor Jourgensen

SWAMPSCOTT — A storm is brewing around town Harbormaster Lawrence Bithell with a District Court appearance pending and a push by Town Administrator Thomas Younger to not have Bithell reappointed to his job.

Bithell’s attorney, Neil Rossman, said Bithell is scheduled to appear at a Sept. 19 clerk magistrate’s hearing to determine if criminal charges should be filed for use of an expired license plate. Rossman, a town resident, declined to elaborate on the charge except to say, “It is a complaint regarding a boat trailer.”

Younger on Friday said he has informed the Board of Selectmen that he will not recommend Bithell’s reappointment as harbormaster. He said he will ask the board to name assistant harbormaster Mounzer Aylouche as interim harbormaster.

“I think we should go in a different direction,” Younger said.

Younger would not elaborate on why he will recommend against Bithell’s reappointment. But Rossman said Bithell has worked for the town more than 20 years and enjoys tenure status as harbormaster.

“His job is secure. He is not subject to reappointment,” he said.

Asked about the tenure claim and Bithell’s upcoming court appearance, Younger replied, “I don’t have any additional comment on this personnel matter.”

Rossman said Younger has given Bithell no reason for why he will not recommend reappointment and “hasn’t preferred any charges against him.”

He called Younger’s vote of no confidence bad timing, noting this weekend is the second busiest boating weekend of the summer.

Younger’s push to get rid of Bithell is not the first time Bithell, a Puritan Road resident, has found his town job at risk. In 1989, selectmen reappointed him after a petition signed by 35 residents leveled complaints against Bithell over his actions as harbormaster.

In reappointing Bithell, selectmen ordered him to agree to conditions concerning use of the town boat and establishment of specified office hours.