Salem Zoning Board of Adjustment Chairman Gary Azarian took offense Tuesday night to what he believed was an attempt by fellow board member Patrick McDougall to question his integrity on a petition.
During the exchange, Azarian referenced the pending criminal charges against McDougall.
It all centered around a request for a third re-hearing from Edward Lynch, an abutter to the property at 9 Atkinson Road. The property, owned by Tommy Porter, has enjoyed a preexisting, non-conforming use. A re-hearing was held in August in which the board's decision was upheld.
The request for a third re-hearing did not contain any new information about the lot and its use, but instead called into question Azarian's relationship with Porter, which Azarian said doesn't exist.
"I vote in regards to the lot, not in regards to who the lot owner is," Azarian said. He acknowledged he knew Porter, but not in any fashion that would preclude him from being able to vote on the matter.
"I understand what the chairman is saying, but it does seem like the chairman had somewhat of a relationship with Mr. Porter," McDougall said. "I'm wondering if we should reverse that decision and have it heard again."
Azarian fired back at McDougall, suggesting McDougall had questioned his integrity. Azarian said in almost 15 years on the board he'd never had an integrity issue.
"To hear something like that coming from you really ticks me off," Azarian said to McDougall. "This is a person that's sitting on the Budget Committee with a conflict with the Fire Department, the Police Department and the town. And for you to sit there and say to me that I've compromised my integrity on a petition, it ticks me off."
McDougall was charged over the summer with six different crimes related to three different incidents starting with a charge of obstructing government administration in June when he refused to allow paramedics to take his wife to the hospital after she'd called 911.
Nearly two months later, after McDougall has been warned not to contact witnesses in the case, he was charged with three counts of felony witness tampering from two alleged incidents, including one with Salem Fire Chief Kevin Breen that resulted in criminal threatening and disorderly conduct charges.
McDougall has stated his innocence and remains on both the ZBA and Budget Committee to which he was elected.
McDougall asked how the cases against him were relevant in this matter.
"It's relevant because I didn't compromise my integrity on this," Azarian said. "I don't have any relationship with Tommy Porter."
McDougall insisted he was never questioning Azarian's integrity and was citing Lynch's concerns on the matter. McDougall called Azarian's reference to his charges "inexcusable."
McDougall and fellow board member Bob Uttley expressed a concern about the cost of going to court of the matter, to which Azarian said that might be the best thing to put the matter to rest.
"Let the judge decide, because we've beat this to death," Azarian said.
Vice Chairman Steven Diantgikis reminded the board they are charged with deciding on petitions based on "the five criteria" for granting variances.
"Our decisions are based on the five criteria, not whether or not we'd go to court," Diantgikis said.
McDougall reiterated he felt there should be one more hearing to clear up the issue.
"What's wrong with having one more hearing?" he asked.
Azarian insisted there was no relationship with Porter, and the last time the board heard the issue Azarian's connection to Porter wasn't brought up until two hours into the discussion.
"I don't even know Tommy Porter's wife's name," Azarian said. "I have never had coffee with Tommy Porter. I haven't seen Tommy Porter in 10 years."
Eventually the board voted 3-1 to not re-hear the petition with McDougall in the minority.