Ag board condemns dismissal of colleagues

Agricultural Commission Chair Burt Hansen, left, led a 7-0 vote to condemn the Select Board’s recent dismissals of two commission members. (PETER CURRIER/THE WESTFIELD NEWS)

SOUTHWICK — The Agricultural Commission voted unanimously on Wednesday to condemn the Select Board’s abrupt dismissals of two commission members last month.

Commission Chair Burt Hansen called for a motion “to condemn the unfair termination of commissioners Maryssa Cook-Obregón and Dennis Clark by the Select Board and to call for their immediate reinstatement.”

The motion passed 7-0. Bob Mucha, whom the Select Board chose to fill one of the vacancies left by Cook-Obregón and Clark, was not in attendance at the meeting.

Mucha is the director of golf and PGA golf professional at the Edgewood Golf Course. He could not be reached in time for a comment.

The vote came in the first Agricultural Commission meeting since the Sept. 27 meeting at which the Select Board made appointments and re-appointments to several town boards. Maryssa Cook-Obregón and Dennis Clark were left off the list, despite the longstanding tradition of incumbents being re-appointed. Conservation Commission Chair Chris Pratt was also removed from his commission.

Hansen said that Select Board member Russell Fox told him that he dismissed Cook-Obregón and Clark in order to take the commission “in a new direction,” but did not elaborate on what that direction would be.

“There hasn’t been a meaningful explanation,” said Hansen.

Hansen said Cook-Obregón had been on the commission since 2019 and that she was supposed to serve a three year term. He questioned the legality of dismissing Cook-Obregón a year before her term was up.

Maryssa Cook-Obregón, second from left, was in the audience at Wednesday’s Agricultural Commission meeting. Sage Fury, far left, submitted a letter of interest in joining the commission before Cook-Obregón and Clark were dismissed, and Cook-Obregón questioned why he was not added to the commission when there is still an open seat. (PETER CURRIER/THE WESTFIELD NEWS)

Cook-Obregón and Clark were both in attendance as members of the audience. Cook-Obregón expressed concern that the Select Board can seemingly remove commission members without input from the commission itself, or even informing any of its members beforehand.

“How is business being conducted today without answers to that basic question that pertains to the function of the [Agricultural Commission],” said Cook-Obregón, “It just seems that if members can be removed without consultation, or even notice of any kind, the state of the Agricultural Commission is rather precarious, then. It doesn’t seem like it can really function or proceed functioning without some sort of explanation or rationale.”

Fox himself said that Cook-Obregón was removed because of her involvement in organizing an unofficial Agricultural Commission meeting to protest the proposed Carvana project this past spring. The originally scheduled meeting had been abruptly canceled without the knowledge of commission members, and Cook-Obregón went ahead with holding the unofficial meeting anyway.

Cook-Obregón, Clark and Pratt each theorized that the Select Board dismissed them because of their activism against Carvana, as well as their past efforts towards land conservation in Southwick. Fox has denied these allegations.

Hansen said that he would try to invite Fox to the Agricultural Commission meeting in November in order to get some sort of explanation as to what the “new direction” he wants for the commission actually is.

Cook-Obregón also questioned why Sage Fury was not appointed to the commission by the Select Board, especially since an open seat still remains. Fury had sent a letter of interest to join the commission before the dismissals, and Hansen said he wrote a letter to the Select Board supporting Fury’s appointment.

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