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Bristol may oust planner over apparent conflict

BRISTOL — When Katie Raycroft-Meyer — the newest addition to the Bristol Planning Commission — received a call from Bristol Town Administrator Bill Bryant Tuesday morning, she was surprised, to say the least.
Bryant informed her that she might lose her newly appointed seat because of her potential participation in a legal proceeding in which the town is involved — an accusation she adamantly denied.
According to selectboard Chair John “Peeker” Heffernan, the board has long followed an unwritten policy that it does not appoint residents to its boards if they are involved in a legal dispute with the town. The selectboard was informed last week that Raycroft-Meyer was involved in a long-standing legal case with the town (not against it) over the contentious issue of whether property belonging to Jim Lathrop should be permitted for gravel extraction.
Coming out of executive session Monday evening, the selectboard unanimously approved a motion to remove Raycroft-Meyer if documentation was found that indicated she was involved in these legal proceedings.
“The motion following executive session was that pending receipt of official documentation from the court that Katie Raycroft-Meyer is or has been represented by Andrew Jackson in the Lathrop zoning appeals, then she is removed as a member of the planning commission effective immediately,” said Bryant.
When asked if she has been involved in any litigation surrounding resource extraction or involving the town, Raycroft-Meyer was adamant that she has not.
“No, never,” she said.
Jackson did not return the Independent’s call or e-mail by press time.
AVOIDING CONFLICTS
Over the years, the selectboard has consistently barred residents involved in legal proceedings from holding seats on town boards, said Heffernan.
“It has been our policy not to appoint them to a board until the suit is resolved,” he said.
In fact, the board has prevented three residents involved in this exact case over gravel extraction from holding seats on the planning commission. They are: John Moyers, who has long opposed gravel extraction near downtown Bristol; Jodi Lathrop, who is Jim Lathrop’s daughter-in-law; and Jackson, who is an attorney in the case against the extraction operation.
Usually the board asks candidates about their legal status, but they didn’t during Raycroft-Meyer’s interview. Even if the board had, she said, she would have denied participation in the Lathrop trial.
Although Raycroft-Meyer denies ever taking part in this litigation knowingly — she said she never paid Jackson or received any indication from him that he was representing her — she did sign an envelope in 2004 before the litigation began that indicated she was an “interested party” to the issue.
“I signed my name on the back of an envelope during the first zoning meeting regarding the gravel pit because I was interested in following the process,” she said on Tuesday. “This was prior to the permit going to litigation. I have had no direct involvement with this issue in terms of litigation or otherwise since that time nor have I seen any documentation that suggests I am a party to litigation.”
Attorneys involved in the case, however, informed the selectboard that her name was associated with the litigation, said Heffernan. And, at Monday’s meeting, Jim Lathrop alluded to this.
“When I go to the Environmental Court and I hear the names of people you’ve appointed to boards … I find this degrading,” he told the selectboard. “These people have an agenda. What kind of questions are you asking? How do these people get on these boards?”
With Raycroft-Meyer’s years of planning experience (she was a member of the Essex Planning Commission and is a landscape architect), she was an easy choice for the selectboard.
“I was looking forward to volunteering my time as a member of the planning commission,” she said. “I would be very disappointed if this misunderstanding prevents me from serving the community.”
Nothing about this issue is crystal clear at present, and the selectboard hasn’t made a final decision. Bryant is still awaiting word from the Environmental Court about whether more documents exist.
Heffernan said the board would not make a final ruling on the matter until all of the facts are presented.
“If there’s information that is not 100-percent clear, we’ll definitely review it,” Heffernan said. “We’re trying to do the right thing for the community.”
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected]

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