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Businessman Accuses Town of Anti-Gay Bias

A Seekonk selectman tells the accuser, "There’s no discrimination going on except what's going on in your mind."

A Seekonk businessman accused the town government on Wednesday of denying he and his partner a business license because they are gay. The town's building commissioner/zoning enforcement officer says the denial has nothing to do with discrimination. What the two men want to do, she said, is not allowed by town law.

Robert Gaudette and William Adams purchased the property at 15 Fall River Ave. in 2005. They began living there and soon started using the site to sell antiques, as had been done with the property in the past. But they did not sell the items in-person. When the men decided a few years later they wanted to open the place as a regular shop, they were told to obtain a business license because the antique shop had not been operating for at least two years.

Mary McNeil, Seekonk's, building commissioner/zoning enforcement officer, denied the license request because the property is zoned residential. The couple appealed her decision to the Zoning Board of Appeals. Although the board voted 3-2 last week on Monday in their favor, the appeal was denied because four votes are needed for a ZBA decision to pass.

The next day, Adams came to Town Hall acting in what McNeil described as an "agitated manner." Selectman Gary Sagar, who was there for an unrelated reason, had Adams escorted from the building. Adams defended his actions at the Board of Selectmen meeting on Wednesday.

"I did say she's nothing more than a homophobic little witch, and she said 'yep,'" Adams said.

McNeil told Attleboro-Seekonk Patch on Friday that this is not what he said.

"He used the 'b,' not the 'w,' and I didn't say 'yep'" said McNeil, adding that her denial had nothing to do with Adams and Gaudette being gay.

In a lengthy address to the selectmen, Adams said he and his partner's inability to get a license was a case of "discrimination." He said he had contacted GLAAD and various media outlets regarding the allegation.

Board Vice Chair Bob McLintock told Adams that the discrimination was in his mind, but did not exist.

"It is up to you as the businessperson to meet the requirements of the community that you're in, whether it be Seekonk or any other one," McLintock said.

Selectman Sagar told Adams he had treated the employees in the building department poorly on Tuesday and he should apologize. Sagar added that several other town employees said they had been treated in similar fashion by Adams in the past.

"Your conduct is not very well-received in here," Sagar said. "And perhaps if you want to promote your cause, you might be better off served to send a representative, someone who might be able to keep their calm."

The ZBA's decision can be challenged in state court. A request for the town to rezone the property as commercial could also be made (although that might be a tough hurdle to climb). Gaudette said on Wednesday that he and Adams plan to bring the issue before a judge, but he told the board the effort might not help save the business.

"To be honest with you, that's probably going to take about six months and we may not be able to maintain the property," Gaudette said. "It’s so expensive to live there without the income from the store that we had planned to put there all along."

Tisiphone June 11, 2012 at 11:32 AM
When all else fails, go to town hall and pitch a hissy fit. Then claim "discrimination".
Bob Gaudette June 11, 2012 at 12:26 PM
Ms. McNeil handles herself in an inflammatory, insulting, and demeaning way. I recall a meeting I had with her and the TA and had just explained that I have been paying commercial property taxes to maintain the store, to the tune of an overpayment of $16,000 over the past 6 years. Ms. McNeil responded "Well, shame on you for giving us too much money!". The words alone coming from a public officials mouth were bad enough, but her tone, inflections, and body language made it 10 times worse. And from what people have been coming to our home and telling us, this is common place in that office. I don't think anyone should be treated the way Ms McNeil treats people and she should expect negative attitudes in return.
Sailor June 11, 2012 at 12:34 PM
Can someone explain what this means: "They began living there and soon started using the site to sell antiques, as had been done with the property in the past. But they did not sell the items in-person." I'm confused, how can you sell something if not in-person? If this location has been used as a business before these two gentlemen bought it why is it now not allowed? I"m not taking sides one way or the other I just need some clarification
Tisiphone June 11, 2012 at 12:41 PM
Sailor - Perhaps they were selling them on eBay. Nonetheless,they bought a business in a residential neighborhood, they must have known it was "grandfathered". Everyone knows that expires from disuse. A question might be "was the property a store, as in the past", or was it a warehouse for goods sold on eBay, or through other impersonal sales methods? If they didn't look into things before they bought,they can't blame the town now.
Jonathan Friedman (Editor) June 11, 2012 at 02:01 PM
Hi Sailor. They have a website.
Bob Gaudette June 11, 2012 at 02:03 PM
A business is a business. The license doesn't stipulate how you run your business. Store front. Internet, catalog/mail order. The bylaw simply states if a nonconforming use is ceased for 2 years or more it will not be returned to a nonconforming use. For us the 2 years started July 2005 when we received a business license from the BOS. The business, in whatever form has continued since. Since 2006 we have paid commercial property taxes, filed sales/use reports with the Mass Dept of Revenue. In 2007 we opened the web store. We have sales receipts for things we have sold from the property for every year. The two members of the ZBA voted against us because they did not want to say Ms. McNeil was wrong. And the truth is she was not wrong. She made her decision with the information available to her. She did her job. The members of the ZBA that voted not to overturn Ms. McNeils decision did not do there job. They ignored the facts. In her letter Ms. McNeil stated no business license issued since 2003, we produced proof of the one we got in 2005. She quoted zoning bylaw 5.5 that talked about the 2 years, we proved continuous business activity. Fine me for running a business without a business license, I didn't know they expired. The three members that voted to overturn Mary listened to the facts. I just hope I can get through the superior court, who will listen to the facts before the bank forecloses!
Bob Gaudette June 11, 2012 at 02:54 PM
With all that said, do I think Mary is off the hook? Not by a long shot. Town officials should look at every issue and ask "what is in Seekonks best interest?". A revenue generating property that no one opposes! Ok, it's good for seekonk, so how do we make it happen legally. If Mary doesn't like you she will find any reason to say no, and that is not in the towns best interest. All the proof was there to say yes, but she chose not to look. Shame on her.
paul June 11, 2012 at 02:55 PM
A residence is a residence. What if every house in town started running a business? What kind of place would Seekonk be if every home had trucks pulling up doing business everyday & night? Think about the people next door for a second, do they all want an antique business in their face?
deb of see-attleboro June 11, 2012 at 03:06 PM
Bob: Who issued the license in 2005? Could that have been the mistake? Having said that, I do not believe they expire. A business is a business. Yet every business has to operate within the law. Did the previous owner operate a "shop"? If so, was it licensed?
Bob Gaudette June 11, 2012 at 03:16 PM
Paul, I had a petitioned signed by my neighbors saying they wanted the store, that was submitted. And not everyone can do what I can. The house is 275 years old. It was built before the USA was formed. It has been, and continued to be a business for the last 100 years, well before zoning. Deb, the BOS issued the business license in 2005 and if they didn't expire I would not have been told I needed a new one, so I guess they do.
deb of see-attleboro June 11, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Are you being told you can't operate a business at all?. Or are you being told you cannot operate a "shop" like, for example, Leonard's Antiques?
Bob Gaudette June 11, 2012 at 04:28 PM
We are being denied a license for an antique/ second hand business. Store/business the word doesn't matter. Bottom line is I have proof the business never stopped. I might have the names wrong but Mr Grourke, Mr Read, and Mr Blum listened to the facts, Mr Rondeau and Mr Creamer had a separate agenda and chose not to listen. I am confident superior court will overturn the ZBA decision. Sorry to increase Seekonks legal bill some more.
Fact Checker June 11, 2012 at 05:27 PM
Jonathan: Let's all assume that Bob is Robert Gaudette from the article. One reason that is repeatedly given for not using screen names is that defamatory statements could be made with nobody held accountable. Two postings here today concern me: At 8:26AM "Bob" posted "Ms. McNeil handles herself in an inflammatory, insulting, and demeaning way. " and "The words alone coming from a public officials mouth were bad enough, but her tone, inflections, and body language made it 10 times worse"-Is he an expert at body language? In the 12:28PM posting, "Bob" wrote "Mr Rondeau and Mr Creamer had a separate agenda and chose not to listen."- How does anyone know what a listener's agenda is? These are rather troubling statements offered without proof. "Libel is defined as defamation by written or printed words,"-source:Wiki. I understand the business owner's frustration and eventually he may win in court. In the meantime, without proof to substantiate some of the accusations made here, he may find himself in civil court with Patch beside him. His case is more prudently stated without personal attacks...which BTW, are against Patch's code of conduct.
deb of see-attleboro June 11, 2012 at 05:36 PM
Bob: You also have an agenda. You are not reading or listening. I have no doubt many attorneys have boosted your confidence in an overturn. I would like to make another point. Real estate agents have a fiduciary responsibility to the buyer as well the seller. Were you given the impression you could do whatever you want with this property? As for Seekonk's legal bills. I think we can handle this. The question is, can you?
Bob Gaudette June 11, 2012 at 06:20 PM
Jonathan, I don't think I've kept it a secret who I am. All my comments are based on my own personal observations, and I stand by them. None were made as personal attacks, but as my observations to the facts presented and interpreted by me. I will refrain from commenting on any patch article and if you want to remove my previous posts that's fine too. BTW, patch was supposed to come to my home today to receive all the facts of the case, and chose not to, and publish its article with all kinds of inaccurate statements!
Jonathan Friedman (Editor) June 11, 2012 at 06:44 PM
Bob: Why are you responding to me about a post somebody else wrote?
Bob Gaudette June 11, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Oops, my apology Jonathan! I interpreted the Jonathan: meaning it came from you. Thought the "Fact Checker" was some kind of system administrator message. My bad!
Jonathan Friedman (Editor) June 11, 2012 at 06:56 PM
Thank you for the comment and legal advice.
Emcee of Seekonk June 11, 2012 at 07:24 PM
Dear Fact Checker... Is Fact Checker your real name?
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