TEXT: Ex-planning board member asserts "clear pattern of bias" by moderator Adam Filson at Williamstown Town Meeting
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I have lived in Williamstown for 28 years and have attended at least that many town meetings. I've seen meetings more contentious than the one night, but I've never witnessed one where the way the meeting was moderated so directly contributed to the outcome.
As you know, or should know, a moderator should only vote to break a tie (or to tie - if by doing so the motion is defeated). I was far in the back of the room for most of the meeting, so did not observe this myself, but I'm told that you participated in the standing vote on the Waubeeka article, voting yes.
But that is not what prompts me to write you. Rather, it is the way you managed the debate on this article.
A zoning change requires a supermajority (for good reason). A minority controls the outcome, and that minority needs to have an opportunity to present its arguments, in an atmosphere that may feel overwhelmingly hostile to them. Your job is to ensure that both sides can present their arguments, and to fail or succeed on the merits of those arguments.
But that's not what happened night. As Ann McCallum tried to present her prepared remarks, laying out the reasoning behind the square-footage amendment, you repeatedly interrupted her, admonishing her about the time she was taking and the tone of her comments. This completely rattled her, leaving her to frantically figure out what to say and what to leave out. She was booed by some yahoos in the audience, but instead of sternly correcting the offenders and granting Ms McCallum extra time, you urged her to wrap it up.
The result was a fiery train wreck for that proposal. Yes, she definitely should have edited down her presentation, and the tone was blunt, shall we say. But you made a decision as chair that what she had to say and what that might mean for the outcome of this vote was less important than how she said it.
You did not apply these same standards to Stan Parese, who seemed to have the microphone whenever he wanted it, for as long as he wanted it, to say whatever he wanted to say, in whatever tone he wanted to use. You permitted a re-vote on the sunset clause and clean CR language just voted moments before. (Town Counsel did not opine on whether you should permit the re-vote, just whether as moderator it was within your rights to do so.)
Everything I'm describing adds up to a clear pattern of bias in your conduct of the meeting. It almost certainly changed the outcome. This is unprecedented in my memory, and inexcusable.