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Another ZBA member resigns after Walsh bans city officials from working with marijuana firms

Richard Vogel/Associated Press/File/Associated Press

Another member of Boston’s troubled Zoning Board of Appeal has resigned, news that came hours after Mayor Martin J. Walsh issued an executive order barring city employees from participating in marijuana companies that are seeking local approval from his administration.

The order — which also applies to immediate family members of municipal workers and officials, and promises sanctions against cannabis firms that include city employees — apparently prompted zoning board member Bruce Bickerstaff to step down. Walsh officials told the Globe Bickerstaff was in the process of finalizing his resignation letter.

Bickerstaff co-owns Silver Therapeutics, which is seeking city permits for a pot shop in Roslindale. City officials said there was no evidence he had acted inappropriately.


Walsh officials also noted they had not reappointed former state representative Marie St. Fleur to the board; she is the chief operating officer of marijuana firm Union Twist, which is applying for permission to open a retail outlet in Allston.

Bickerstaff did not immediately return a request for comment. During their tenures, he and St. Fleur had recused themselves from voting on zoning variances sought by marijuana firms.

“I am committed to ensuring this new industry is fair, transparent, and equitable,” Walsh said in a statement. “My administration works closely with businesses and applicants to make sure they get the support they need, and neighborhoods have a voice in the process.”

A number of zoning board members are deeply involved in commercial development, and routinely recuse themselves from voting on projects with which they are involved. In contrast, only a small handful of cannabis firms have ever appeared before the zoning board, making up a tiny proportion of the hundreds of votes its members take each year on proposals ranging from housing complexes to roof decks.

Nonetheless, Walsh officials said, the order was necessary to “remove potential conflicts of interest that may arise as the city continues its work to develop and implement the growing cannabis industry.”


Walsh vociferously opposed marijuana legalization in 2016, but has said his administration will not obstruct implementation of the voter-approved law.

Bickerstaff’s resignation comes at a difficult time for the zoning board, which is made up of unpaid mayoral appointees and holds great sway over the look and feel of Boston’s neighborhoods.

The board is at the center of the bribery scandal that has roiled City Hall in recent weeks, since former city staffer John Lynch admitted to taking a $50,000 bribe from a developer to influence a 2017 board vote on a condo project in South Boston.

Walsh has tapped former federal prosecutor Brian Kelly to investigate the incident and — though he has been charged with no wrongdoing — Dorchester real estate agent Craig Galvin resigned his zoning board post Sunday night. Walsh has also hired law firm Sullivan & Worcester to review the ZBA and how it functions.

Galvin’s departure, coupled with the slow pace of City Council confirmation of three new members, has left the board short-handed. At Tuesday’s meeting, only five members attended, the minimum needed to vote to approve a project, which led numerous developers to request a delay until they could go before a full seven-member board. One who came that day was Bickerstaff. His absence could further slow the board’s work; Walsh officials did not say whether a replacement had been chosen.


The zoning board clashed earlier this summer with the City Council over how to interpret a rule establishing a buffer zone between marijuana facilities. Councilors temporarily withheld confirmation of a number of Walsh nominees to the board, prompting zoning board chair Christine Araujo to accuse the council of “posturing” in an unusual public broadside.

Walsh’s order also comes a week after the arrest of Fall River Mayor Jasiel F. Correia II on charges he demanded hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from marijuana companies in exchange for local approval.

The scandal prompted widespread calls for the state to overhaul the way municipalities approve marijuana operators, and put an end to systems in which a single mayor or other official has unilateral power over the firms.

In Boston, Walsh appointee Alexis Finneran Tkachuk holds the keys to the city’s marijuana industry, issuing (or denying) coveted “host community agreements” — which are required to win a state cannabis license — from her perch at the so-called Office of Emerging Industries. While marijuana firms are required to hold a public hearing for neighbors, the review process happens behind closed doors and is based on vague criteria.

Complaints that the system is subjective, slow, and opaque prompted City Councilor Kim Janey to propose an ordinance that would wrest the power to approve marijuana firms from Walsh and instead assign it to a newly created, independent board. The measure, which is supported by a majority of the council, would also formalize the Walsh administration’s policy of prioritizing locally-owned firms run by members of communities hit hardest by the war on drugs.


Walsh’s office said the order does not impact former employees of the city, such as former city councilor Tito Jackson , who became the CEO of a cannabis company after losing his 2017 bid for mayor, or Tomas Gonzalez, who left his job in the Office of Neighborhood Services to help launch a new marijuana firm.

Felicia Gans can be reached at felicia.gans@globe.com. Dan Adams can be reached at daniel.adams@globe.com. Tim Logan of the Globe staff contributed to this report.