WVN #357: IMPORTANT SELECTMEN APPOINTMENTS
- Dear Wayland Voter,
The Board of Selectmen has the power to appoint dozens of members to town boards and committees. That power is especially evident now as the selectmen fill vacancies on some of the town's most influential boards.
Unexpected resignations gave the selectmen the chance to fill seats on elected boards as well as those subject to appointment.
The present selectmen, who agree unanimously on most things and aren't known for appointing people who might disagree with them, could affect Wayland decision-making for years to come.
The selectmen have begun interviewing candidates for town bodies including the School Committee, Finance Committee, Community Preservation Committee, Conservation Commission, Historic District Commission, Wastewater Management District Commission and Planning Board. Members of the last four have clashed with the selectmen over the proposed Town Center project, which has been mired in controversy and litigation and remains unbuilt more than four years after voters approved necessary zoning.
Some members of the Community Preservation Committee objected to the selectmen's initiative to use $300,000 to help pay for artificial turf at the high school, a legally questionable use of funds principally designated for open space, historic preservation and affordable housing. The proposal won a majority vote, though.
The Board of Selectmen makes all appointments to the Finance Committee, which until this week had two vacancies. When the selectmen resume interviewing candidates on June 28 and ultimately announce their choices, voters may judge whether appointees are chosen on the basis of expertise or presumed political loyalty.
When the selectmen interviewed members and of the Historic District Commission seeking reappointment, there was aggressive probing reminiscent of U.S. senators asking "litmus test" questions of a Supreme Court candidate.
WVN ALERT: Monday June 28, 7:30 p.m., Town Building. The Board of Public Works will discuss bulky waste and potential user fees. At present the bulky waste bin can be used without being charged additional fees for such things as pillows and mattresses. Any changes could take effect as early as July 1.
BUTLER NAMED TO SCHOOL COMMITTEE
Beth Butler, who ran unsuccessfully for the School Committee in May, has been appointed to fill an unexpected Committee vacancy.
Jeff Dieffenhach had served 10 years on the five-member Committee when he resigned on June 4, one year into a new three-year term. He cited travel demands in a new job.
Though two others, Heidi Pemberton and Nancy Shridhar, applied for the vacancy, it was no surprise that the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee favored Butler when the candidates appeared at a joint meeting with the selectmen on June 21. Several members of both bodies had endorsed her in the May 11 election. The winner, Shawn Kinney, campaigned on the promise of a closer look at administrative expenses.
Butler is an attorney and former judge. She will serve until the end of spring Town Meeting in 2011 and could run for the remaining year of Dieffenbach's term.
UNEXPECTED PLANNING BOARD VACANCY
Jeff Dieffenbach wasn't the only elected official to resign unexpectedly this month.
Dan Mesnick, who was elected in 2006 on a campaign promise of getting the Town Center project approved, submitted his resignation on June 18. His term expires next year. Like Dieffenbach, he cited travel demands in a new job.
The Planning Board and selectmen will appoint a replacement to serve until 2011. The Planning Board associate member seat is also vacant.
Mesnick's letter of resignation effusively praised officials who had vigorously supported the Town Center, including former selectmen Michael Tichnor and Bill Whitney, SOSWayland leaders Lisa Valone and Cynthia Lavenson, and such highly visible Town Center activists as Allison Moore, Chris Reynolds and Betsy Connolly.
HISTORIC DISTRICT COMMISSIONERS FACE HOSTILE QUESTIONS
Selectman Joe Nolan didn't mince words when he began questioning three members of the Historic District Commission seeking reappointment on June 21. He said he had kicked himself after reappointing some office holders in the past and was inclined to appoint new people to the HDC. Other selectmen were equally aggressive.
At issue is the HDC's permit to allow Twenty Wayland to widen roads in the Wayland Center Historic District only if it shown that increased traffic makes the disfigurement of the district necessary. The selectmen are particularly upset that when the HDC found itself without counsel to fight a lawsuit by the developer it hired its own pro bono lawyer.
The case has yet to be decided.
Margery Baston said that the Commission had no choice when the deadline for responding to the suit was near and they learned on the Friday of Labor Day weekend in 2009 that Town Counsel Mark Lanza couldn't represent them. Town Administrator Fred Turkington jumped into the discussion to assert that Lanza didn't have a conflict of interest as the commissioners believed but had advised settling the case, which he said the HDC refused to do.
Selectmen Chairman Steve Correia said he was most disturbed at the concept of seeking outside counsel. In this conception of town government, the lawyer who is hired by the selectmen or the town administrator represents all town interests.
This is disputed by those who see town government as analogous to state or federal government containing checks and balances and bodies representing potentially competing interests. The federal model was shown in Wayland Town Center litigation last year when the Interior Department appealed a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency. In Wayland the HDC is bound to enforce pertinent local and state law.
In questioning Baston, Diana Warren and Alice Boelter Monday night, Selectman Tom Fay, a lawyer, bored in on their interpretation of town bylaws and state law regarding the HDC's authority.
Warren said she couldn't comment on pending litigation.
Baston said that the litigation might have been prevented if the developers hadn't waited until February 2009 to apply for the HDC permit. She recalled an earlier road project in the district that went smoothly because everybody concerned, even the construction crew, was involved from the beginning. The HDC had "looked to be part of the team" as plans for the Town Center proceeded, she said.
Fay asked Boelter whether she viewed her allegiance as to the town or the commission. Boelter replied that she was appointed by the town to carry out regulations as part of the commission.
Selectman John Bladon wanted to know what the commissioners would do to get the Town Center project moving. Warren repeated that an answer could compromise the requirement of silence on pending litigation, adding that she has always supported additional commercial development.
There are four vacancies on the HDC, including the alternate commissioner slot held by Boelter. One incumbent, Chris Haggar, will be interviewed at the June 28 selectmen's meeting. Like Baston, Warren and Boelter, Haggar is a longtime resident with an interest in history. He has 15 years on the Commission, Warren 10 years, Baston nine, and Boelter one. Baston and Haggar recused themselves from the Town Center application, and Boelter was first appointed a year ago near the end of the Town Center hearing, so none of them voted on the Certificate of Hardship that the developer is contesting.
Two non-incumbents were interviewed on June 21 and gave the preferred answer to the litmus test question: Did you support the Town Center project?
One of them is Kevin Crowley, an architect who has worked in historic districts in other towns.
The other is Kathie Steinberg, who offered no pertinent background aside from working on school matters and Wayland-to-Waveland. She is the wife of Bill Steinberg, who has served on the Planning Board and the present Town Meeting study committee and was appointed Monday night to the Finance Committee. He has supported Board of Selectmen positions.
The Wayland Town Crier's story about the meeting was headed "Board of Selectmen grill Historic District Commission members." The article prompted an online comment from a reader:
"...for those of us watching the proceedings on TV, the clear message is: 'Why would anyone want to sign up for public service in Wayland?'... I can only conclude that the mandate of the Historic District Commission probably comes in conflict with the real estate developer's objective. Who needs such abuse as a civic volunteer?"
You can see the June 21 interview at:
Scroll to 2:25 into the meeting.
-- Michael Short
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Wayland Voters Network
Michael Short, Editor