Keeping The Pressure On The NP&EDC

Meghan Perry •

To the Editor: The NP&EDC open meeting law violation is about the lack honesty and transparency of the Nantucket government and it has got to stop!

Monday night over 100 citizens attended a meeting of the NP&EDC expecting to see them rubber stamp their illegal back-room contract with the Director of Planning. That did not come to pass, proving that when citizens pay attention and show up, we hold officials accountable to a higher standard.

As approximately 120 people watched, the meeting began with a brief statement from Janelle Austin of KP law. Notably, Ms. Austin is the same attorney who advised the NP&EDC that the Open Meeting Law complaint I filed last summer was invalid. Why are we still hearing from this person? Vice Chair Barry Rector then deferred all discussion until March 25th, when the NP&EDC would meet again, via Zoom.

Let’s consider the timeline. The NP&EDC received the notice of violation late afternoon on Wednesday March 13th. Not even 24 hours later, they leaped to post a meeting to “approve and ratify the contract with Ms. Snell as Director of Planning”. They did not post Snell’s contract, as ordered by the Attorney General’s office. Then, at the start of the meeting, they scuttled the agenda with no advanced notice. What changed? A massive outcry demanding a public and professional search, and 120 people showing up to see if this board would have the audacity to do what they said they were planning to do.

It should not be up to private citizens to demand officials do their jobs with integrity and play by the rules, but it is. To those who sent emails and showed up, thank you! We must keep the pressure on. Leave aside the question of why a volunteer board and regional planning agency is doing the hiring for a town department, the NP&EDC must to do a professional nationwide search for the next director of planning and director of PLUS. Why sow doubt in the minds of citizens with the process used? According to the AG’s investigation, Ms. Snell presented her own contract and the board accepted it in a private meeting. Does this commission provide any oversight, or just do as they are told, for 20 years under Andrew Vorce, and now the dynasty continues under his protégé?

Given the track record, it begs the question of whether vice chair Barry Rector is postponing in hopes that fewer members of the public will attend, or worse, so he can hold the real meeting in a less transparent format. Since 2020, “Zoom webinar” has been the typical format for public meetings of the NP&EDC. With a “Zoom webinar,” members of the public are not actually “in” the meeting. The public sees only the person speaking. We cannot follow who is joining or leaving the meeting. We don’t know who has their camera on or off. We don’t know if commissioners are texting or communicating in other ways. Are they taking cues from Ms. Snell, who has attended every meeting discussing her contract? Perhaps most important for the spirit of Open Meeting Law, public officials don’t have to look the public in the eye – we are a faceless list of names on the side of the screen, easily tucked out of view. Enough of hiding from the public! Start holding meetings in a hybrid format. Nantucket taxpayers have equipped three hybrid meeting rooms for this purpose.

The NP&EDC, which includes all the members of the Planning Board as well as representatives of the Select Board, the Conservation Commission, and the Housing Authority, are on notice to conduct their affairs with integrity and transparency. Time will tell if one of Nantucket’s most secretive and least accessible commissions can do the right thing. To borrow a phrase from the Assistant Attorney General’s letter, if they don’t, it will be “at their peril”. Residents of Nantucket and state officials are watching.

Meghan Perry

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