Neil Rossman

Charges dropped against harbormaster

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — Criminal charges have been dropped against former harbormaster Lawrence Bithell.

Bithell was placed on administrative leave in September by the town, and had been facing criminal charges for use of an expired license plate. He was replaced and taken off administrative leave when Swampscott Police Sgt. William Waters was appointed as the new interim harbormaster in February.

His case was dismissed at Lynn District Court on Tuesday, when he was scheduled to appear for his trial.

Neil Rossman, Bithell’s defense attorney, said the case was assigned for jury trial and he appeared ready to try the case, but the Commonwealth, through the Essex County District Attorney’s office, said they didn’t intend to proceed and moved to have the charges dropped.

Rossman said it was nice to have the matter resolved, and he was sure that Bithell was happy to have the criminal charges removed and not hanging over his head.

Carrie Kimball Monahan, spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, said DA’s office filed a “nolle prosequi,” which essentially ceases the prosecution. She said the assistant district attorney didn’t say on the record a particular reason for the filing, but typically the reason “is in the interest of justice.”

Bithell was arraigned in October on charges of attaching or concealing a registration plate, use of an uninsured trailer and use of an unregistered trailer. He was also issued a citation for misuse of an official number plate.

Bithell’s charges stemmed from an Aug. 15 complaint received by police about misuse of a registration plate, assigned to a town-owned 2007 Load Rite utility trailer, according to a police report from Lynn District Court.

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As one matter is resolved, Bithell still has a pending lawsuit against the town, attempting to save his job as harbormaster.

In March, a “complaint for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief” was filed on behalf of Bithell by Rossman at Salem Superior Court. The defendants are listed as the Board of Selectmen, town of Swampscott, and Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald.

“The plaintiff, Lawrence Bithell, has served as the town’s harbormaster for over 38 years,” reads the complaint. “In a series of illegal actions by the town, acting by and through its (then) Town Administrator Thomas Younger, its (then) Interim Town Administrator Gino Cresta, Jr., and the current board of selectmen, has attempted to remove the plaintiff from the office of harbormaster, first by placing him on administrative leave and then by allegedly not reappointing him.”

The complaint was filed to prevent the town from removing Bithell from his position, before a formal judgment by the court on “his rights to continued employment in office, and subsequently, for a declaratory judgment on his right to continued tenure in office,” reads the document.

Rossman said a hearing on the motion for injunction took place at Salem Superior Court on Wednesday, where a judge took it under advisement. He said the town attorney was there and made the town’s case, and he was there on behalf of Bithell. Rossman said he basically argued along the lines of the complaint, and declined further comment until the judge makes a decision to either grant the injunction or deny it.

Fitzgerald said in early April that the selectmen and Rossman were looking at a possible settlement. On Thursday, he said it was a matter of policy not to comment on pending suits. He also declined comment on the criminal charges being dropped.

The complaint argues that Bithell’s appointment from its initial enactment in 1978 “shall remain in force unless the harbormaster is removed for neglect of duty, negligence or conduct unbecoming of a harbormaster” and alleges that he had never been charged with any of the three reasons for removal. Rossman, in the complaint, also argues that the office of harbormaster is not subject to reappointment.

The harbormaster position pays a stipend of $7,983 and officials say it is a yearly appointment. Waters is in place through June 30, and Cresta, when recommending his appointment, said it was his hope that he would then be appointed as the permanent harbormaster.


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

Harbormaster files lawsuit to save job

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — Lawrence Bithell, attempting to save his former job as harbormaster, has filed a lawsuit against the town of Swampscott.

The “complaint for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief” was recently filed on behalf on Bithell by his attorney, Neil Rossman, at Salem Superior Court. The defendants are listed as the Board of Selectmen, town of Swampscott, and Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald.

“The plaintiff, Lawrence Bithell, has served as the town’s harbormaster for over 38 years,” reads the complaint. “In a series of illegal actions, the town, acting by and through its (then) Town Administrator Thomas Younger, its (then) Interim Town Administrator Gino Cresta, Jr., and the current board of selectmen, has attempted to remove the plaintiff from the office of harbormaster, first by placing him on administrative leave and then by allegedly not reappointing him.”

The complaint was filed to prevent the town from removing Bithell from his position, before a formal judgment by the court on “his rights to continued employment in office, and subsequently, for a declaratory judgment on his right to continued tenure in office,” reads the document.

Fitzgerald said the selectmen and Rossman were looking at a possible settlement.

“At this point, we are in the middle of litigation, so I can’t really get into any specifics,” Fitzgerald said.

Naomi Dreeben, chairwoman of the board of selectmen, said she wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit, calling it a “rather delicate situation.”

The complaint argues that Bithell’s appointment from its initial enactment in 1978 “shall remain in force unless the harbormaster is removed for neglect of duty, negligence or conduct unbecoming of a harbormaster” and alleges that he had never been charged with any of the three reasons for removal. Rossman, in the complaint, also argues that the office of harbormaster is not subject to reappointment.

Rossman said by phone on Tuesday that he had no further comment and the complaint speaks for itself.

Bithell was placed on paid administrative leave in September by the town, and is facing criminal charges for his use of an expired license plate. His case in ongoing at Lynn District Court and his trial is scheduled for May 2, according to the Essex County District Attorney’s office.

Younger, at the time, told The Item that he was not recommending Bithell’s reappointment because he thought the town should go in a different direction. The complaint references a similar statement in a letter from Younger to Bithell.

Cresta, department of public works director and former interim town administrator, recommended the appointment of Swampscott Police Sgt. William Waters as the new interim harbormaster in February, which was approved by the selectmen. Once Waters was appointed, he replaced Bithell, who was taken off administrative leave.

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The harbormaster position pays a stipend of $7,983, and officials say it is a yearly appointment. Waters is in place through June 30 and Cresta said at the time of his recommendation that it was his hope that he would be then appointed as the permanent harbormaster.

Cresta said he couldn’t comment on the complaint.

Bithell was arraigned in October on charges of attaching or concealing a registration plate, use of an uninsured trailer and use of an unregistered trailer. He was also issued a citation for misuse of an official number plate.

Bithell’s charges stem from an Aug. 15 complaint received by police about misuse of a registration plate, assigned to a town-owned 2007 Load Rite utility trailer, according to a police report from Lynn District Court, and previously reported in The Item.


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

 

Swampscott VFW no longer barred from serving liquor

By GAYLA CAWLEY

SWAMPSCOTT — The days of Swampscott Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 1240 functioning as a dry establishment are numbered. Alcohol will soon be served again following a brief liquor license suspension.

Town officials suspended the VFW’s liquor license for 30 days in January following four violations in less than a year’s time. The infractions were presented during a disciplinary hearing in January, with Swampscott Police Chief Ronald Madigan and Detective Ted Delano present.

Three of the four infractions involved over serving patrons, and the fourth involved serving alcohol to nonmembers of the club, when no members were present. The club’s license allows members to bring in guests, but people who aren’t members are not allowed to be there alone.

Two of the incidents, involving serving patrons who were intoxicated, resulted in car accidents, and subsequent arrests for OUI liquor. Both drivers told police they had been drinking at the VFW.

The third person who was over served was arrested for disorderly conduct, after urinating in public, in front of the VFW. The man told police that he had three beers at the VFW post, but police said his blood alcohol level of .182 was not consistent with that number of drinks.

Following the suspension, the VFW was required to go before the Board of Selectmen to submit in writing the steps they had taken to ensure the post was safer and to address the board’s concerns.

During the hearing, the selectmen told the VFW that after the 30-day suspension, the post would be able to serve alcohol again, but only until 8 p.m. for another 30 days. Their bar usually remains open until 12 a.m.

Last Wednesday, John Sacherski, VFW Post 1240 commander, and the post’s attorney, Neil Rossman, appeared before the selectmen to present the eight steps that had been taken to improve alcohol service at the establishment.

The selectmen, satisfied with the steps outlined, decided to waive the additional 30 days that hours of alcohol service would be rolled back, and instead reinstate service until the VFW’s regular hours of 12 a.m.

One of the conditions set by the board was that all of the bartenders would be required to attend Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) training. Naomi Dreeben, board chairwoman, said the police department told her all of the servers had attended that training.

“We really felt that they had addressed the issue and that they were certainly addressing the issues of concern and we felt that they had done it adequately,” Dreeben said. “We don’t want our veterans to not be able to gather and enjoy themselves. We just need to be assured that there are procedures and protocols in place to to address the things that have been problems in the past.

“We did not feel that any further closure or early closing was necessary,” Dreeben said. “We really do appreciate that they took our concerns seriously and I believe that they’re committed to the safety of the neighborhood and town as well.”

The selectmen did require one condition before alcohol could be served again at the VFW. A memorandum of understanding between town officials and the post, which formalizes the eight steps taken to improve alcohol service, in addition to two more requests added by the selectmen, was required to be signed by all employees and officers of the VFW.

The memorandum would also have to be signed by each new employee going forward, Dreeben said.

“You represent the town’s veterans and I think we all want to see the post really get back to that good standing,” said Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald.

Steps to improve alcohol service, presented by the VFW, outlined how the servers recently attended and completed an alcohol course given by the Swampscott police, how all servers had been TIPS (training for intervention procedures) certified, and no one would be allowed to serve who was not.

The bartender who served a woman involved in a car accident, who was subsequently arrested for OUI, was in the process of TIPS alcohol certification, but the others involved in the infractions had completed their training.

Sacherski said one bartender, his daughter, was fired three days after over serving a patron.

“Policies are policies and rules are rules,” Sacherski said. “Regulations are regulations and I’m a stickler (for them). I’m sorry we have to even be here at this moment tonight to handle this situation, but hopefully we can handle it in the most respectful way we can.”

VFW representatives said that a key card system had recently been installed so that only members with a card have access to the building. In addition, a computer keeps a log of entry time and identity of whoever enters. The selectmen requested that key card access also be provided to the police and fire departments, which Rossman said was already the case.

Three other organizations use the VFW, and are also considered members. With the new rules, associate membership, limited to members of American Legion, Marine Corps League and Disabled American Veterans, are only allowed to bring in a guest two times a year. Full members can bring in guests any time, Sacherski said. Posted notices say that guests must leave when the members who brought them do, representatives said.

To increase security, Sacherski said cameras have been installed around the building, which show what’s happening inside and outside, including the parking lot. Dreeben said she was concerned that there wasn’t a plan to watch the security cameras at all times. Sacherski said one could be put behind the bar, so any possible incidents outside could be monitored in real time.

“If this comes back to us that there’s more continuation, then I think it puts us in a really tough position,” said selectman Peter Spellios. “I hope we don’t have to revisit this. I think there’s a real genuine concern about safety.”  


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

 

‘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.”

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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.

Job fair in Swampscott: town administrator, harbormaster

By Gayla Cawley

SWAMPSCOTT — Department of Public Works Director Gino Cresta will be filling in during the search for a permanent town administrator.  

Cresta was named the interim town administrator at the Board of Selectmen meeting on Tuesday. He has worked for the town for more than 13 years.

“I’m both humbled and honored that I was chosen,” Cresta said. “I took it as one of the highest compliments that I was even under consideration.”

Town Administrator Thomas Younger accepted the same position in Stoneham last month. His last day in Swampscott falls in mid-October, with Cresta stepping up after his departure.

Naomi Dreeben, board chairwoman, said Town Accountant David Castellarin, who also serves as assistant town administrator, will exercise leadership on the budget during the interim tenure.

Selectman Peter Spellios said Cresta has dabbled in many of the ongoing initiatives and projects in town, which includes the appropriate disposal of vacant town buildings, as part of his position as DPW director. He said Cresta has defined his role as something well beyond what a DPW director is in many communities.

“In Gino, specifically, we have someone who has demonstrated a work ethic and a commitment to this town that is tremendous,” he said.

Cresta said he looks forward to continuing the process going forward with the ongoing town projects and working with the selectmen. He will continue his work on projects such as the implementation of artificial turf at Blocksidge Field and the Humphrey Street redesign.

The board also unanimously approved the drafted job description and posting for the town administrator position. The job will be posted within the week and applications will be due three weeks from then. Appointments to the screening committee, which will be selecting the finalists for the position, will be finalized by the end of the month. By Nov. 2, the screening committee is expected to inform the selectmen of their top candidates. Two weeks later, the board will vote on a town administrator, with a start date expected in mid-January.

Discussion and a possible vote on an interim harbormaster was also listed on the agenda for the board meeting, but was not mentioned. Dreeben said in a phone interview earlier on Tuesday that a candidate has not been decided on.

Harbormaster Lawrence Bithell has been placed on leave and Younger has told selectmen that he will not recommend Bithell’s reappointment.

Bithell’s attorney, Neil Rossman, said previously that his client 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 said the complaint is regarding a boat trailer.  

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


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.