A Black Eye On Dracut

By: Philippe Thibault – 01-23

There are milestones and benchmarks that people inevitably use to measure the growth, stagnation and decline of a community. While most would stive to foster growth by raising standards, three members of the Dracut Board of Selectman have taken the approach to removal standards for themselves and thus be held unaccountable for stagnation and decline. I had to check my calendar after the December 13th Board of Selectmen meeting, I thought it was 1984! Truth is a lie, integrity is malfeasance, and accountability is subrogation.

I suspect if the Board of Selectmen had a Code of Conduct, the meeting would have been more professional. Both Heather Santiago-Hutchings and Tony Archinski have included a Code of Conduct in their goals for the Board of Selectmen, Tony just recently proposed language for the document. The other three: DiRocco, Kopcinski, and Genest would have no part of a code. The trio’s legal mind even concluded that “it would be just another piece of paper.” Imagine if their efforts were used to promote Dracut rather than themselves.

One of the most important goals highlighted by the Dracut Master Plan, is the review and rewrite of the Zoning Bylaws. The last full review was conducted in 1985. The Master Plan Committee concluded the old bylaws no longer reflect the growth potential and desires of the community. In a practical sense the bylaws are antiquated and are hindering Dracut’s progress. So, a Zoning Bylaw Review Committee was formed as an ad-hoc committee comprised of only members of existing boards. I was critical that no members of the public, “members at large” were included in the role of the committee.

Selectmen Chair Genest was in opposition to the idea of at large members, claiming they would only slow down the process.

I guess we can’t have the masses interfering with her government.
Selectperson Heather Santiago-Hutchings had finally secured appointments for at large members to the displeasure of Triade. I had applied for one of the appointments to the Zoning Bylaw Review Committee.

I had an interview with the ZBRC to discuss my experience of planning and zoning: 14 years on the Planning Board, 3 years on the Master Plan Committee, 21 years with Northern Middlesex Council of Governments, 16 years on the Permanent Building Committee, 6 years on Capitol Planning, and 3 years on Community Preservation Committee. I appreciated the time the ZBRC granted to me and was humble to hear them say that my experience dwarfed the experience of the entire committee. The ZRBC voted unanimously to recommend my appointment to the Board of Selectmen.

Bringing us back to the December 13th meeting, sans Code of Conduct. Kopcinski, a self-proclaimed political newcomer, suddenly remembered a 15-minute radio broadcast from 6 years prior, 2016, where I spoke of my resignation from the Planning Board. She eluded the resignation was because of a conflict of interest and further insinuated that the resignation was required by the State Ethics Commission.

I had spoken with the Ethics Commission regarding a potential project that would need to be presented to the Dracut Planning Board. The determination from the Ethics Commission was that I would need to recuse myself from the proceedings. Several months prior to the project being presented, I chose to leave the Planning Board as a surety of removing controversy in a determination by the Planning Board. A conflict therefore never existed with my profession as an architect and service to the Town. But where there is no honor on the Board of Selectmen, good intensions are reasons enough to disparage volunteers.

The three: DiRocco, Kopcinski, and Genest proceeded to create hypothetical situations and phantom conflicts to justify their denial, all based on a twisted false accusation. Further ironic since Chair Genest has been embroiled in unethical conduct and the Ethics Commission for seating herself as Chair for the Beaver Brook Farm Committee, a property she is an abutter to and appointing her husband to the Dracut Access Television board of directors, and organization the Town of Dracut has a contract as a cable access provider. In her defense, “these items were not on the agenda, and we can’t talk about them due to open meeting laws.”

The coup-de-gras of course is Genest questioning my lack of decorum and professional behavior. She points to my social media post. I have posted announcements about events in Dracut, along with sharing information from other sources:

The Lowell Sun, WCAP, and Inside Lowell.

These are often done without much editorial comment. Otherwise, Star Wars memes, Edward Hopper paintings, and inspirations quotes litter my pages.

Not everybody’s preference I’m sure, but not without its charm.
Perhaps her preference of editorials is more akin to her husband’s political slasher pieces in the Valley Patriot’s Eye on Dracut. Now that’s a low bar to crawl under. ◊