Why Is A State Agency Hiring The Town’s Director of PLUS?

Hillary Hedges Rayport •

To the editor: It seems more than a few people think the NP&EDC’s open meeting law violation was simply a clerical error. David Iverson, the chair of the Planning Board, wrote on Facebook “it was noticed incorrectly as the decision reflects nothing more. no great conspiracy here.” Letters supporting the NP&EDC have called the error “technical,” “slight,” “unintentional” and “a procedural misstep.”

In fact, when the NP&EDC hired the new Director of Planning and Director of PLUS last May, they held secret meetings and hid information the public had a right to know. Nantucket’s Planning Director of more than 25 years, Andrew Vorce, announced his retirement in secret, and the NP&EDC thought it was appropriate to keep that information secret for a full three months. To compound the violation, the NP&EDC proceeded to promote Ms. Snell in secret, and ratify it months later as a done deal before anyone even knew the job was open. So, to be clear, this violation isn’t about a “clerical error.” It was an intentional effort to hide government activities from the public.

The office of the Attorney General says: “The purpose of the Open Meeting Law is to ensure transparency in the deliberations on which public policy is based…Because the democratic process depends on the public having knowledge about the considerations underlying governmental action”. We should care as much about this violation as we do about our democracy.

Why did the NP&EDC want to keep Vorce’s retirement announcement secret until Ms. Snell was hired? Again, Mr. Iverson enlightened us all on Facebook: “Don’t pretend that Ms. Snell’s promotion to fill Mr. Vorce’s position was a surprise…Ms. Snell is highly qualified period end of discussion.” Certainly, a sure way to end a discussion is to start it in a secret meeting.

As a step towards correcting their illegal action, the NP&EDC has published a packet for next Monday’s meeting which includes six heartfelt recommendations for Ms. Snell, mostly from people closely familiar with her achievements running the PLUS department. One letter, from a Planning Board Alternate member, echoed Mr. Iverson’s Facebook claim that the Sewer Director and the DPW were non-competitive promotions, which is not true. Next, the packet contains over 70 letters from people asking the NP&EDC not to ratify Snell’s contract. It appears Ms. Snell’s hiring was, in fact, a surprise to many people. Some people seem most concerned about good governance and others about the runaway unplanned growth our island has seen since Ms. Snell came on board. Curiously, two letters I addressed to the Board were not included (only an informational letter I sent to general citizens made it into the packet, no doubt put there to imply that otherwise no one would have noticed). I’d like to share with you what I’m principally concerned about.

Why on earth is an 11-member all-volunteer board hiring Nantucket’s Director of Planning and Land Use, all on its own, without Human Resources, or the Town Manager, or review by the Select Board as a body? Most people don’t know that the NP&EDC is not a Town Board. It’s a special State Commission and Regional Planning Agency. If that’s not confusing enough, while the NP&EDC’s enabling legislation allows them to hire a Director of Planning, (whose salary is paid through the Town Budget), a side agreement dictates that the person they hire automatically becomes the Director of PLUS. And that is how we have a volunteer Commission hiring the Director of a Town Department that oversees a large part of the Nantucket economy. Sound strange to you? It should.

While the six heartfelt letters praise Ms. Snell as a manager of PLUS’s strong customer service, not one has anything to say about Ms. Snell’s job as Planning Director, wherein she oversees comprehensive planning for the County of Nantucket and its surrounding waters. Nantucket’s Master Plan hasn’t been updated in over 15 years. The main duties of comprehensive planning are being overlooked as our RPA gets all tangled up with Town business.

I hope the individual Commissioners on the NP&EDC who are independent thinkers will ask whether they should be executing Ms. Snell’s contract, or whether it’s better for the Town of Nantucket to hire Town Employees, using Town best practices, while the NP&EDC focuses on what they were formed to do, which is comprehensive planning.

Hillary Hedges Rayport

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