Address changes have Onset activist calling for Water Commissioner's resignation

By Matthew Bernat | Mar 25, 2018
Onset Water Commissioner Chair Ben Hughes has been challenged by Onset activist Lisa Morales who says he isn't following the Onset Fire District's residency requirement.

Multiple address changes listed by an Onset Water Commissioner have come under scrutiny from an Onset activist, who says it shows the district’s residency requirement isn’t being followed.

Lisa Morales is calling for the resignation Onset Board of Water Commissioners Chair Ben Hughes after she reviewed voting records on file with the Town Clerk’s office.

A Wareham Week review of the records show that Hughes has reported moving in and out of the district three times in the past two years. However, each time Hughes was elected, his address was listed as being in Onset. Under district bylaws, elected officials must live within the Onset Fire District.

According to the voting records, Hughes moved to Eleventh Street in 2012 from Fall River. He was first elected to the commission in May of 2016, for a one-year term.

In October 2016, he listed a change of address to Pinehurst Drive in Wareham, which is outside of the Onset district. In May 2017, before his election to the board for a three-year term, he changed his address from Pinehurst Drive to 2 Shawnee Drive, the home of Water Commissioner Frank Kowzic. Then, in February of this year, Hughes’ address was changed back to Pinehurst Drive, according to voting records.

Commissioners must reside in the district if they wish to seek election and must affirm they are residents before they are allowed to run, according to district bylaws. However, according to a legal opinion from the district's attorney, bylaws allow an elected official  to finish a term should he or she move out of the district, meaning Hughes will be allowed to finish his term, which ends in May 2020.

Morales, the author of the blog Onset All Together, said the records show that Hughes should not be allowed to serve on the commission.

“The integrity of our voting process matters to all of us,” said Morales. “We in Onset now have, by his own admission, a Water Commissioner who is ineligible to neither vote not hold office, and a Prudential Committee complicit in this.”

She repeatedly has called for Hughes’ resignation, including on March 22 during a meeting of the Onset Fire District’s Prudential Committee. In recent months, Morales, who moved to Onset a year and a half ago, has called for more transparency from the district on several issues, including how much the district pays in health insurance benefits.

Morales said the history of address changes, particularly the one to Kowzic’s address, shows Hughes is not complying with the district’s residency requirement.

“That's the problem, he is treating this as his private company. Mr. Kowzic has not said whether Mr. Hughes lived with him from May 4, 2017 through Feb. 28, 2018.” said Morales.

Kowzic confirmed to Wareham Week that Hughes did live with him during that time.

“Certainly, he did,” said Kowzic when asked. He added that Hughes was welcome in his home and had his own room. He declined to say why Hughes stayed with him.

Hughes declined to comment on the history of address changes. When the issue was raised at the Water Commissioner’s March 8 meeting, Hughes did say: “My personal life is my personal life, and that's that.”

Comments (17)
Posted by: Andrea Smith | Mar 25, 2018 20:39

I'm confused do the following two sentences quoted from above article contradict each other.

 

1) According to Onset Fire District bylaws, an elected official is allowed to finish a term should he or she move out of the district, meaning Hughes will be allowed to finish his term, which ends in May 2020.

 

2) According to district bylaws, commissioners must reside in the district to serve.



Posted by: OnsetTogether | Mar 26, 2018 03:03

Andrea I see nothing in the By-Laws that allows an out-of-district official to finish his or her term. In fact they say redidency must be maintained (Article 3.1). The fact that the Pru Comm once allowed this does not make it legal.

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1T9SLVzJfiatxfggpr2ydkncr3_T9f2nI

Mr. Kowzic has been less than truthful in the past; and a voter challenge is not possible since Hughes corrected his address. In a voter challenge other evidence would be required than two commissioners covering for each other. Testimony, tax records, etc.

Going forward, someone needs to explain how someone who leaves the district and can no longer vote can hold office, whether they moved to Wareham district or Washington state. There is no "super-residency" conferred.

 

 

 

 



Posted by: thkng60@yahoo.com | Mar 26, 2018 06:17

I smell a rat. Now, this is collusion.



Posted by: Just Me1 | Mar 26, 2018 08:23

Thanks for the link to the Bylaws, ONSETTOGETHER. The section of Articlle 3.1 that you cite references "The above appointed officers shall be residents of the District or shall establish and maintain residency within the District within one year of appointment." Appointed officers, not elected officers.

 

It is unclear to me who is a voting member since there is no specific definition of terms and voters are referenced in 3 different ways:

ARTICLE IV, MEETINGS

Section 4: Twenty five (25) qualified voters

Section 6: Absentee ballots – The Clerk-Treasurer of the District shall prepare, and make available to any registered voter of the District,

ARTICLE XIII. REVISION, AMENDMENT AND REPEAL

Section 1: These By-Laws may be revised, amended and repealed at any annual or special meeting called for the purpose by two-thirds vote of those present and voting at such meeting.

So there are qualified voters (no specifications as to who is qualified), a registered voter of the District, and those present and voting.

Are there definitions in other documents? Is there a process to register voters of the District? If not, maybe anyone who goes to the meeting can vote?

Back to the original question, theer does not seem to be any requirement relating to elected officials of the District.



Posted by: Rosebud | Mar 26, 2018 08:48

I think that this matter should be brought to the attention of the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office.



Posted by: Newlyaresident | Mar 26, 2018 11:44

There shouldn’t be any gray area here. The guy either lives in the district or he doesn’t. If he doesn’t, our esteemed Prudential Committee needs to take immediate action.



Posted by: OnsetTogether | Mar 26, 2018 12:16

JustMe1 thank you for asking. I am not an attorney and am relying on the Secretary of State's office who says the law applies.  See this discussion where you see the nomination papers require residency https://wareham-ma.villagesoup.com/p/onset-water-commissioner-has-by-law-resigned-but-wont-step-down/1734010

The By-Laws are very sloppy and there are many appendices over the years.

The voting list is obtained from the Wareham Town Clerk, meeting attendees must sign in and be checked against the voter list. Non-voters can observe from a separate area. Mr. Hughes, by his own admission, currently does not live in the OFD.

Whether he lived at Mr. Kowzic's home from May 2017 until February 28, 2018, and was entitled to collect his pay from OFD remains to be seen. I hope that helps.

 

 



Posted by: OnsetTogether | Mar 26, 2018 12:18

NEWLY, welcome to Onset. Video of the Pru Committee discussing Hughes' residency is here 

The Prudentional Committe "addresses" Mr. Hughes' residency https://youtu.be/7HvFLDtq_UU?t=6m53s



Posted by: cranky pants | Mar 26, 2018 13:10

From my angle it's hard to tell if she wants his job, or she's just being adamant that we don't need someone who doesn't pay into the district in the position to spend the district's money.



Posted by: OnsetTogether | Mar 26, 2018 13:49

Cranky the laws are the laws, and fraud is fraud. There are two other elected offices open (jobs?) and the potential income from each is as much as $26,000 a year with health insurance. That's a lot to go to someone who is ineligible to vote here, imho.

 



Posted by: Newlyaresident | Mar 26, 2018 18:04

I watched the video and it’s an absolute disgrace. See no evil, hear no evil! Pigs at the trough! And this is the group that negotiates contracts and health care programs? With the ability to participate in whatever programs they negotiate. Makes sense to me?

instead of going thru the budget process, they should just come up with some ridiculous assessment per household. That would take care of the out-of-towers salaries and benefits, and the new $8 million garage for the new firetruck. They go through all the girations like it’s a real process, and we get to the same result.

just make it up and save everyone a lot of time and angst.



Posted by: Mike | Mar 27, 2018 06:54

All you have to do is at the Onset Fire District meeting is vote no on the pay for the Prudential Committee and the Water Commissioners and that will automatically stop their medical insurance and eligibility for retirement benefits.



Posted by: cranky pants | Mar 27, 2018 07:33

Yea, you better bring 100 or so friends to that meeting Mike, or you're gonna get railroaded. Nice thought though.



Posted by: Just Me1 | Mar 27, 2018 10:53

Thanks for your reply, ONSETTOGETHER, but to reiterate my comment above, the section you reference in the bylaws speaks only to appointed officers, not elected officials. Regardless of what the form says, it is not a requirement per the Bylaws. Is there another document that would modify the bylaws (articles of incorporation?) that speaks to residency of elected officials of the Fire District?



Posted by: OnsetTogether | Mar 27, 2018 19:37

JustMe, please contact me through the FB messenger or email, or come to Friday's meeting. It is uncomfortable having a detailed discussion with an anonymous entity. -Lisa



Posted by: Just Me1 | Mar 28, 2018 06:09

I am sorry, but I cannot attend on Friday and do not do messengers. The point of having screen names is anonymity and allow free expression without fear of retribution. I am not against meeting you, but can not do that now.

However, my concern is that the docs you cite are not saying what you present them as saying, so I asked if there were other relevant controlling documents. It seems the answer is "No", so perhaps the issue is that Mr. Hughes signed a statement with a clause which has no basis in the bylaws that was false. Is there a crime there? Probably not. Is there a violation of the bylaws? Probably not since it is a note informing the clerk that Mr. Hughes will run, and residency for elected officers is not required.

Morally is it misdirection and intent to mislead? Yes, if he believed he had to live within the district.

Do you have other controlling docs that have additional requirements, or are the bylaws all?

 



Posted by: beingnice | Mar 28, 2018 12:49

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