Under Mounting Pressure, NP&EDC Meets Today To Ratify Planning Director's Contract

Jason Graziadei •

In the aftermath of an open meeting law violation in the hiring of planning director Leslie Snell, the Nantucket Planning & Economic Development Commission is facing mounting pressure 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. While it appears likely the members of the NP&EDC will ratify the contract, they will do so under protest from a number of community members who have flooded the commission with letters urging it to instead conduct a search for the planning director. During last Monday's meeting in which the commission punted on any substantive discussion of the violation or Snell's contract, more than 100 people joined the Zoom meeting, a number unheard of for the NP&EDC's normal monthly meetings. The members of the commission also received 93 pages worth of letters and emails about the situation, with most of them calling on the NP&EDC to conduct a search for the planning director.

The commission also released numerous documents related to the situation - including Snell's employment contract - in the packet of information for today's meeting.

The Nantucket Civic League, along with the leaders of the political action group ACK Now and Nantucket Tipping Point, are among the many who have called 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 last week. "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."

Eight of the letters received by the commission in advance of today's meeting offered support for Snell and urged the NP&EDC members to ratify her contract. The authors of those letters included attorneys Bryan Swain, Sarah Alger, and Rick Beaudette, former PLUS employee Eleanor Weller Antonietti, Finance Committee members Denice Kronau and Stephen Maury, as well as island residents Abby De Molina and Gerry Keneally.

"I understand that the process used before was fatally flawed and must be corrected," Alger wrote. "That is unfortunate, but it is also important, because it is critical for good, fair, and open government that the Open Meeting Law be strictly followed. That said, I do not think that that issue should prevent the Commission from ratifying or otherwise approving a contract with Ms. Snell. Ms. Snell has held this position for more than eight months and in that time has shown that she has the knowledge and ability to be the Director of Planning. Although conducting a national search can sometimes produce benefits, it can also be time-consuming and expensive and end with the hiring of a candidate who does not understand island life or have the commitment to stay in the position long-term. Promoting from within and hiring a known quantity also has its benefits. We have seen evidence of that with the recent hires of the Land Bank Executive Director and Airport Manager, to name but two. Ms. Snell is here and is part of the community, her family has put down roots, she has a home here, she has institutional knowledge, and she has shown that she can do the job."

The open meeting law violation has already prompted Nantucket Planning & Economic Development Commission chair Mary Longacre to step down from her leadership post. While Longacre intends to stay on the commission, she wrote the following message to Snell last week: "In light of the findings of the Attorney General regarding deficiencies in the Executive Meeting agendas of February 23, 2023, and March 20, 2023 and actions taken during those meetings, which were done under my authority as Chair, I am tendering my resignation as Chair of NP&EDC effective March 17, 2024. I apologize if a lack of experience or any inattention on my part contributed to the errors identified by the Attorney General. I am also facing increasing responsibility at work and with personal matters and feel that this is the best move for me at this time."

Tonight's meeting will be hybrid - with the commission meeting in-person at the Public Safety Facility's community room at 4 Fairgrounds Road, as well as on Zoom -with a start time at 5 p.m. You can register to participate remotely at this link.

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