WVN #279: Another TC clash; Water costs going up
- Dear Wayland Voter,
The selectmen tangle with yet another town commission.
Also in this newsletter: Expect to pay more for water soon.
ANOTHER CLASH OVER TOWN CENTER
The Historic District Commission is the latest town body to clash with the Board of Selectmen over the Town Center project.
Since Twenty Wayland proposed the 370,000-square-foot commercial/residential development in 2005, the selectmen have consistently supported the developers in disputes involving the Planning Board, road commissioners, wastewater
commissioners and others.
This record, and the selectmen's contentious dealings with the Community Preservation Committee and WayCAM, add to a pattern of top-down governance.
The latest disagreement arose when the Board of Selectmen, acting as a traffic commission, declared that the Historic District Commission would be limited to an advisory role because road changes to accommodate Town Center traffic must be
made as planned to avoid dangerous conditions. Twenty Wayland cited the decision in asking the Commission to certify the plan and accept diminished authority.
During a meeting between selectmen and Commission members on Jan. 5, Commission Chair Gretchen Schuler suggested that independent counsel advise on the Commission's authority under the Massachusetts Historic District Act and Wayland
bylaws. The selectmen asserted that town counsel represents the entire town. (Town Counsel Mark Lanza is hired by and reports to the selectmen.)
On Jan. 9 the Commission wrote to the selectmen, asking formally for independent counsel and saying, "The WHDC's responsibility is to review and approve, approve with conditions, or deny proposals that will alter structures in the district...The
WHDC does not believe that town counsel is able to advise the Commission due to counsel's role in drafting the selectmen's approved letter...and counsel's continued reference to the advisory role of the WHDC in this process."
The selectmen disposed of the request briefly at the end of their Jan. 12 meeting. Town Administrator Fred Turkington told the Board that independent boards have sought such counsel four times, but those requests violate Board of Selectmen
policy. He didn't specify when the policy was adopted.
"It's a simple matter of opinion shopping," Turkington said. What happens if you get a second opinion contrary to town counsel, he asked rhetorically, get a third opinion to break the tie? The selectmen, without a formal vote, instructed Turkington
to tell the Commission its request was denied.
Selectman Chairman Michael Tichnor minimized the importance of the issue, saying he was perplexed because the Commission seemed to want only to have authority over esthetic matters in the district near the 20/127/27 intersection.
The Board testily asserted the primacy of town counsel in 2006 when the Community Preservation Committee exercised its right to independent legal advice on whether preservation funds could be used for artificial turf at the high school. A lawyer
for the state had told the Committee that the proposed use seemed to be outside the scope of the Community Preservation Act.
Town counsel supported the use of the funds and the turf was installed. A Wayland taxpayers' suit to prevent the use of the funds was dismissed on procedural grounds because the money had been spent before the case was heard. A 2008 decision
by the state's highest court in a related case appears to lend support to the state lawyer's interpretation.
In the past few months the selectmen have been embroiled in protracted negotiations and disputes with WayCAM, which is not even a town entity but an independent, locally run non-profit corporation that provides local cable programming
including broadcasts of governmental meetings. The Board claims authority because WayCAM funds come from the licensed cable suppliers, Comcast and Verizon.
In many towns selectmen remain apart from the local programming organization to avoid First Amendment issues and accusations of interfering with program choice. Wayland selectmen only recently took an interest when Verizon became the second
service provider, increasing potential WayCAM revenue.
Negotiations over a new contract were marked by distrust on both sides, and eventually WayCAM hired a lawyer. When an agreement was finally reached, both sides made the usual gracious, positive statements. But some selectmen have been
criticizing WayCAM ever since, questioning its finances and expressing disapproval for not spending $2,000 on equipment for a one-time live broadcast from a special Town Meeting at the Middle School.
Selectmen have asked whether WayCAM has breached the new agreement. The selectmen don't have direct power over the use of WayCAM funds, but they can decertify WayCAM as the provider if a breach of contract is demonstrated.
It's not clear whether this is is a tactic to coerce WayCAM into operating according to the selectmen's wishes or a desire to put the volunteer organization out of business, which would at least temporarily halt local programming.
What all of these incidents have in common is a pattern of aggressiveness and hostility toward dissenting views. That raises questions about the direction of town government.
Wayland has a long tradition of independent boards exercising authority in specific areas. The sense that many citizens with diverse views and backgrounds can work in various ways to better the town has helped attract volunteers to put in long,
often thankless hours.
What will become of that if dissenting views continue to be squelched and belittled? The primary motivation for serving would be to carry out the agenda of the selectmen. Vacancies can be difficult to fill even now. Voters who believe that the
respectful interchange of ideas improves town government should be concerned.
The Board, which at the moment is united on major issues, controls dozens of appointive offices. Candidates who fail a litmus test on certain issues (the use of preservation funds for things not mentioned in the law is a relatively recent example) are
unlikely to be appointed.
When a Department of Public Works is created in July, consolidating several functions, the selectmen will exercise even more power through the town administrator.
-- Michael Short
WATER WILL COST MORE
Water commissioners are contemplating a flat surcharge of $238 per year per customer to cover obligations estimated at $900,000.
A new treatment plant is needed to improve water quality in north Wayland.
Residents at a rate hearing last week criticized the flat surcharge, saying it should be proportionate to usage.
Rates haven't been set, but it's clear that water will cost more.
In 2005, over the objections of water commissioners, Town Meeting approved a Finance Committee recommendation to take $500,000 from water Department reserves to lessen the amount of a property tax override.
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor