Under Fire For Open Meeting Law Violation, NP&EDC Meets Today To Ratify Planning Director Contract

Jason Graziadei •

Following an open meeting law violation in the hiring of planning director Leslie Snell, the Nantucket Planning & Economic Development Commission is facing criticism and calls to start from scratch and conduct a formal search for the key municipal position. 

The commission is set to meet today at 5 p.m. to discuss the Attorney General's determination and ratify Snell's contract that was negotiated in executive sessions in violation of the open meeting law. The meeting will be held just five days after the violation was announced, and it is unclear whether the commission will allow any public comment on the matters up for discussion. 

Leslie Snell, director of planning

The Nantucket Civic League, along with the leaders of the political action group ACK Now and Nantucket Tipping Point, are all calling on the NP&EDC to conduct a formal search for the position rather than simply convening to ratify their original choice of Snell. 

"Our Civic League member associations have questioned the absence of an open and fair search for hiring this key town leader," Civic League co-presidents Peter Morrison and Charles Stott wrote in a letter to the NP&EDC on Sunday. "Open search has been a hallmark of Nantucket hiring. It is respected as a 'best practice' for governmental agencies. The Civic League fully supports governmental integrity. Open and fair searches for key personnel are fundamental to good government. Rather than approve and ratify this contract, we urge the NP&EDC to conduct an appropriate search for a Planning Director, as is normally done with key Town positions. A summarily enacted 'approval and ratification' of the illegally executed contract does not seem to address the Attorney General’s underlying concern: backroom negotiations and executed agreements hidden from the public. An open, fair process better serves the people of the Town, rather than a 5-day rubber stamp on an illegal action."

Nantucket Planning & Economic Development Commission chair Mary Longacre told the Current on Sunday that the commission was still "working out the logistics" for the meeting, and could not yet answer whether public comment would be allowed.

In his written determination of the open meeting law violation, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Lindberg ordered the NP&EDC to post an adequate notice, discuss the hiring of the director of planning in an open session, and vote to approve the contract within the next 45 days. 

Members of the NP&EDC stated over the weekend that that is exactly what they are doing with today's meeting, emphasized Snell's qualifications, and pushed back against the idea that hiring her without a formal search was an unprecedented break from customary practice. 

"Don't pretend that Ms. Snell's promotion to fill Mr Vorce's position was a surprise," NP&EDC member Dave Iverson wrote in a social media post. "The Land Bank, Wannacomet Water, the Airport, the Sewer Department, and the DPW were all filled in a similar way. But because it is Ms. Snell it’s a problem? Ms. Snell is highly qualified, period, end of discussion."

Iverson was referencing the hirings of Land Bank executive director Jesse Bell, Wannacomet Water Company director Mark Willett, Nantucket Memorial Airport Manager Noah Karberg, and Sewer Department director David Gray. All were internal hires that were made without those entities conducting a formal public search. 

Others, however, echoed the calls made by the Civic League to reopen the search for the planning director, including Peter McCausland, a summer resident and founder of the political action group ACK Now.

"You should conduct a search for a qualified planning director," McCausland wrote to the commission. "The department’s interpretation of our zoning bylaw as it pertains to short-term rentals was dead wrong. The department heard what 'they' wanted to hear and told Town Counsel what to say. They ignored the Styller decision of the Supreme Judicial Court at the expense of many Nantucket homeowners and many residents competing for housing with STR investors. Recently, they started to enforce zoning as it pertains to timeshares but then backed off because their position was inconsistent with their position on commercial STRs [which we now know was dead wrong], despite the clear language of the zoning bylaw outlawing timeshares. They have been making up their own law! This conduct of the department has been outrageous and an embarrassment to our community. Please conduct a proper search for a candidate who is not tarnished by the history of the department."

Meghan Perry Glowacki, a board member of Nantucket Tipping Point who originally lodged the open meeting law complaint against the NP&EDC, also sent a message to the commission over the weekend and urged others to do the same. 

"If you agree that poor planning and weak code enforcement have plagued Nantucket for decades, please read on to learn how you can join us in demanding that the NP&EDC conduct a public and professional search for Nantucket’s next Planning Director, rather than promote Ms. Snell in an insular, non-competitive process," Perry Glowacki wrote. 

Tonight's meeting is being held on Zoom at 5 p.m. You can register at this link

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