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Longtime Boxford zoning board chairman William Cargill resigns

After 25 years as a volunteer town official, Boxford Zoning Board of Appeals chairman William R. Cargill Jr. has resigned unexpectedly.

“I’ve been thinking about resigning for the past four or five years,” said Cargill, a member of the board since 1991 (after three years on the Planning Board) and its chairman since 2000. “I put a lot of energy into it. I went out for a run [on the morning of his decision] and made the decision that the end of [fiscal] 2013 would be the perfect time to step down and let some new blood circulate.”

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Cargill resigned on June 27. In recent years, he has been a controversial figure because of his October 2011 vote that stopped a long-discussed public library project, for which the town would have received partial state reimbursement, after it had been approved at both Town Meeting and the ballot box, on the grounds that the building was too large for the lot. The decision prompted two board members to resign, and the town to sue its own zoning board. The case was later dropped.

A proposal for the design and preproduction for a new, smaller version of the library project was narrowly approved at Town Meeting this May. Building a new library will require another Town Meeting vote, a Proposition 2½ debt exclusion override, and the approval of some town boards, including the ZBA. The plan includes no state reimbursement.

Also in May, Town Clerk Robin Phelan made a public records request seeking e-mails from 2011 between Cargill and Paula Meagher, who at that time was the planning office secretary. One from June 8, 2011 — more than four months before the ZBA ruled on it and two weeks before the board began its hearing — reads: “Between us I will do everything in my power to see that this library does not see the light of day.” Another, from May 2011, reads, in part, “I am totally opposed to the new library,” and mentions concerns about parking.

“I wanted to understand his thought process,” said Phelan, who shared her findings with the state Ethics Commission.

“To me, it indicates he had his mind made up about the decision he was going to make before the ZBA hearing was held and the evidence was presented,” Phelan said.

‘With my departure I hope and pray that our divided town will come together and begin to heal and move forward.’

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Cargill had no comment on the e-mails, but said they had nothing to do with his resignation.

He acknowledged the division in town in his letter of resignation, writing: “With my departure I hope and pray that our divided town will come together and begin to heal and move forward and accomplish great things.”

“There have been a lot of blogs written that were not friendly in nature,” he said. “I have a thick skin; they didn’t bother me. I felt that what I did was right and would make the same decision today. My resignation had nothing to do with that.

“We do have a divided town, but it’s a wonderful town,” he said. “I’d like to see the town heal. We should all agree to disagree, and move forward in a positive way.”

Zoning board vice chairwoman Paula Fitzsimmons said she was “very disappointed’’ that Cargill had resigned.

“I believe Bill has served the town very well,’’ she said. “I have enjoyed working with Bill on the board and hoped that would continue into the future.”

In October 2011, Cargill was the lone dissenter in a 2-1 vote on the $4.4 million plan to build a 18,500-square-foot library building on a 3.37-acre lot. The issue needed unanimous approval, so his vote effectively vetoed the construction.

“I believe Bill made a decision that was very difficult for him, but when he weighed the evidence that was presented, he made a decision he believed was in the best interests of the town,” Fitzsimmons said.

The Historic Districts Commission later voted against the library project as well.

Before the zoning board vote, Cargill had been informed by the chairman of the Board of Selectmen at the time, Peter Perkins, that while his home was more than 300 feet from the library property, it might be considered part of the adjacent neighborhood.

Perkins encouraged him to contact the state Ethics Commission for advice, and in October Cargill filed a disclosure of the appearance of conflict of interest with the commission, but wrote, “I cannot see the library from my home and I have nothing to gain should the library pass or fail.”

A spokeswoman for the Ethics Commission said that the commission does not confirm or deny complaints or investigations until and if they reach the public adjudicatory process.

Similarly, Boxford Town Administrator Alan Benson said: “We don’t confirm or deny any complaints about employees or volunteers.”

While he would not comment on the e-mails, Cargill defended the decision on the library, which he counts among nearly 1,000 he made while a zoning board member.

“I stand by every decision I’ve made,” Cargill said. “They were not capricious, not arbitrary, and made in the best interest of those involved.”

David Rattigan’s e-mail is DRattigan.Globe@gmail.com.
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