TRURO — The select board has sent a letter of censure to planning board member Peter Herridge for violating town policies on honesty, integrity, and civility, suggesting that his actions could place the town in legal jeopardy.
In communications with the Independent, Herridge had accused town staff of lying to protect their jobs and denigrated affordable housing developer Ted Malone in vulgar terms. Malone’s company, Community Housing Resource, is developing the 39-unit Cloverleaf project on Highland Road in North Truro.
The select board also wrote to planning board chair Anne Greenbaum, asking that the planning board remove Herridge from the community preservation committee and the water resources oversight committee.
Herridge, who served as the planning board’s representative on both committees, said on Monday that he had already resigned both posts “for health reasons,” and plans to remove himself from further comments about the Cloverleaf. He said he also won’t run again when his term ends in 2021.
“I get angry and lose my temper,” Herridge said. “Things that have to do with preserving Truro are very important to me. Things that have to do with overdevelopment have a real emotional effect on me. I’m going to have to step back from it. It’s not good for me, for my blood pressure.”
Greenbaum did not return calls for comment.
Herridge has been a vociferous critic of the Cloverleaf project. The letter of censure came after Town Manager Rae Ann Palmer, now retired, complained about Herridge’s comments in the July 16 Independent, in which he called Malone “a little scumbag,” and comments about her and her staff made in an email to editor Edward Miller on July 6.
In that email, Herridge wrote that Truro town employees were lying about the Cloverleaf project to protect their jobs because they did not “want to get in trouble with the town administrator who is infamous for firing anybody who offends her in the least.”
He also threatened Miller with legal action if the newspaper did not retract part of a story about the Cloverleaf.
“In addition to being a medical doctor I am also a lawyer,” Herridge wrote to Miller, “and I absolutely love litigation and publishing lies about a person is an actionable tort.”
The definition of a lawyer, the select board told Herridge in its letter, is one who is licensed to practice law.
“As of writing,” the letter of censure states, “you are not licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and therefore should refrain from referring to yourself as a lawyer and threatening to sue people as such.”
The select board discussed how to handle Palmer’s complaint on Nov. 10 and again on Nov. 17 in closed-door sessions. The Independent obtained the minutes of those meetings, the letter of censure, and the letter to the planning board through a public records request.
In the letter to the planning board chair, the select board warned that the town could be held liable if there were no attempts made to distance itself from Herridge’s behavior. During the Nov. 10 meeting, town counsel David Jenkins said the town could be sued if it finds there was a violation of its policies and fails to take any action.
The town charter states that appointed members of committees can be removed by the appointing authority for good cause, which includes conduct unbecoming to the office or reflecting adversely on the town.
The letter to the planning board also warns that Herridge should be reined in during any discussions of the Cloverleaf or the town could be subject to legal liability.
Herridge has been called out for making false statements about the threat to drinking water in Pond Village should the Cloverleaf be constructed. Last year, Herridge told the Independent that the Cloverleaf area had the worst nitrogen contamination in Truro.
“In 2010, six percent of the homes had levels over 5 mg.,” he said. “The town did not check them more recently, but I have, and the levels are increasing. Some homes in Pond Village are over 10 mg. and have gotten warning notices from the board of health.”
But Truro Health Agent Emily Beebe refuted that, saying, “I’m not aware of any tests over 10 mg. in that neighborhood. There are some readings that are over 3, and a couple over 5. The average in Pond Village of all the samples we could find is less than 2.”
The chair of the board of health said there had been no warning notices sent to Pond Village residents.
Resistance to the Cloverleaf remains robust. A letter signed by 114 people in October stated that the proposed septic system may not work, despite two independent evaluations by an engineer and by the Cape Cod Commission stating otherwise.
“In terms of expressing my opinion on it, I think the people of Pond Village are aware of the danger they might face,” Herridge said.
Truro Planning Board members are elected, so the select board cannot remove Herridge from the board. The only way to do that is through a recall election.