A Plymouth County judge will decide whether longtime town volunteer Ronald Gleason still lives in Kingston and can remain a selectman and Planning Board member, as the controversy over Gleason’s residency continues to roil this town of 13,000.
Gleason, who spends most of his time in Florida, says he’s fighting to stay in office because he has “unfinished business,” citing the selectmen’s upcoming search for a town administrator. But critics say the 68-year-old shouldn’t be part of the decision-making in Kingston when he is no longer a town resident.
Questions regarding Gleason’s residency began in late summer, when he sold the Kingston home he had owned since 1973 and began spending most of his time at his house in Florida, where he has said he’ll retire.
In September and October, Gleason missed three consecutive selectmen’s meetings, forcing the board to delay decisions on the town administrator search. His absence prompted complaints about his residency to the Kingston Board of Registrars, which oversees the town’s list of registered voters.
Selectwoman Susan Munford, one of the complainants, said it was “common knowledge” Gleason no longer lived in town, and he therefore shouldn’t be allowed to hold municipal positions. “I follow the rules,” Munford said later. “If it’s wrong, it’s wrong.”
Resident Peter Boncek also filed a complaint. He said concern over the situation was growing in town. “He comes up here and makes decisions for the town and then goes back to Florida,” Boncek said. “It’s not in the town’s best interest.”
The registrars, after considering testimony during a hearing late last month, struck Gleason’s name from the local voting list, which also barred him from holding municipal office.
Gleason appealed the Board of Registrars’ ruling in Plymouth Superior Court a week later, saying he still lived primarily in Kingston, staying with a relative. Judge Paul Troy granted him a temporary injunction, putting the registrars’ decision on hold and allowing him to cast a local ballot in the Nov. 6 election.
Troy continued the injunction at a hearing Nov. 9, calling Gleason’s removal from town boards “serious stuff” in a tight-knit community.
“This is a lovely town, a small town, and these things can be sad and difficult for everybody,” Troy said. “There are people on both sides who feel strongly. It’s like having a fight in the family.”
The judge scheduled a meeting with attorneys for Dec. 5 to decide how to proceed with the appeal. Gleason can meanwhile remain a selectman and member of the Planning Board.
Gleason has said publicly he plans to move permanently to Florida in January — a fact the judge mentioned during the recent court hearing. That would make a court ruling unnecessary.
Until then, Boncek said townspeople can’t understand why Gleason is fighting to stay on local boards. “The biggest question going around town right now is, ‘Why?’ ” he said.
Gleason attended his first selectmen’s meeting since the court filing last Tuesday.
After the meeting, resident Kathy Benassi expressed surprise over the court appeal and Gleason’s continued presence on the Board of Selectmen.
“We thought he was going to resign tonight,” Benassi said. “I can’t believe this is going to continue. This court case is going to cost the town tons of money.”
Prior to the selectmen’s meeting, Gleason cited his long commitment to the town.
“I’ve been here for 40 years,” he said. “I’m a local businessman and I’ve raised a family here. I’ve served on many, many committees and I’m still chairman of the permanent building committee. All of it was for positive reasons.”
Gleason said he wants to remain a selectman so he can help the board. “I’m staying because we have a real issue with the town administrator,” Gleason said. “This is a big decision for the town, so it’s important I stay.”
But Munford said the upcoming search is the reason Gleason should go as soon as possible. If he waits until January, the town can’t meet state time requirements for scheduling a special election to fill the selectman’s vacancy. That would leave the board with four members until the annual election in April.
Only three selectmen could weigh in on the new town administrator, Munford said. As a local police officer, she can’t participate in the selection process due to conflict of interest. Her contracts are negotiated with the town administrator.
Selectman Richard Arruda said he’ll wait for the court to decide Gleason’s fate.
“I don’t think it’s affecting things as much as people say it is,” Arruda said of his colleague’s continued presence. “Ron has every right in the world to do what he’s doing, and he obviously has deep personal reasons. The people who filed complaints also had the right to do it. It’s a difficult situation.”