Wednesday, July 05, 2006

TEXT: Sarah Gardner reply to Berkshire Eagle reporter re non-reappointment

Here is the text of an exchange between ousted Williamstown Planning Board
member Sarah Gardner and a reporter from The Berkshire Eagle. The exchange
was supplied to by Gardner.

Dear Dr. Gardner,

I'm writing to find out a bit more about the Selectmen's decision on Monday. Is there a precedent from not re-appointing members of the Planning Board who want to return? Also, is there a precedent for the involvement of a figure such as Charles Fox in the decision?

Do you think the Selectmen based their decision on the vote you cast on the Foxwood Lane project? In addition, do you have any final thoughts about serving on the board.

Thank you for your help.

Patrick Rheaume


----- Original Message -----
From: "Sarah S. Gardner"
Sent: Friday, June 30, 2006 12:55 PM
Subject: Planning Board responses

Hi Patrick,

Here are my comments. I'm out of town and using a public computer in a library! So if you want to follow-up, please call my cell phone: 413-281-0478.

1. I've lived in Williamstown since the summer of 1999. Since that time, the only board member not reappointed was Anita Barker, and I believe that was because some selectmen and town officials disagreed with her approach to planning, which they felt was too pro-environmental and they wished to compose a board that would be less scrupulous about fostering development.

There was another instance last year when the select board appointed a less qualified candidate over an environmentalist with stellar credentials, Phil McKnight. They offered no substantive explanation for their decision.

2. Again, since I've lived in W'town, this is the first land use decision that has been appealed to land court. There may have been previous appeals in the history of the town, but I have no knowledge of them. It certainly seems irregular for a developer whose case is in land court to be lobbying for and against planning board appointments. However, he has such a clear conflict of interest in this matter that one hopes his views were taken with a healthy dose of skepticism.

3. It certainly seems that the selectmen must have voted against my reappointment because they were displeased with my disinclination to grant waivers from Williamstown's zoning bylaw, a decision based on a careful review of the proposal, which I concluded posed a hazard to public safety (based on the expert opinion of the board's consultant). I was also opposed to the proposed water main along the Route 7 corridor, which many of these selectmen vigorously supported. I can only guess that their decision was motivated by their preference for someone who would be more of a rubber stamp for development proposals.

But this is only speculation. Because these three failed to explain their reasons for voting me off the board, one cannot know for certain. And this strikes me as the crux of the situation. The real tragedy here is not a personal one: there's plenty of land use planning and policy work to be done in the Berkshires, and not being on the planning board will not prevent me from continuing to work in this area.

Rather, the real tragedy is the absence of transparency in local decisionmaking. At the meeting these three selectmen declined a request from the audience that they account for their decision. The reason for this is not hard to guess: their pattern of action over the past few years suggests that they do not appear to represent the preferences of the voters on land use issues. This was demonstrated in the battle over the water main (which the selectmen supported but which was voted down at two town meetings), and in the recent town meeting, in which voters approved a number of land use measures that the selectmen opposed. It would appear that their recent planning board appointments may be a way of undermining public opposition to their particular agenda, which again does not appear to represent the will of the majority.

The lack of transparency in the select board's vote and their reluctance to engage in open debate seems antithetical to the spirit of democracy. The voters of Williamstown deserve to know what their elected officials stand for, in order that they may decide if they agree. We would all be better served by public deliberation on the needs and interests of the town.

Sarah Gardner, Ph.D.
Center for Environmental Studies
Williams College, Williamstown, MA 01267
phone: 413-597-4209 fax: 413-597-3489


Blogger Unknown said...

I think that people elected for board appointments should be professionals in at least one area. Sometimes, companies will routinely resort on executive recruitment firms to call the market for candidates.

8:23 AM  

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