MWDN: Southborough looking at three working groups to solve town problems

The Metrowest Daily News reported today on discussions at last week’s Planning Board meeting. There, the board discussed the forming of working groups to workout some of the towns recent thorny issues.

The groups would focus on marijuana dispensary zoning, Barn Hollow Open Space infringements, and preservation of open space throughout town.

MWDN reports:

The Planning Board Monday agreed to look to set up informal “working groups” with other town leaders to solve differences around medical marijuana zoning and controversial open land.

Meetings would not be posted, members said, but the solutions that come out of the meetings would be discussed at future public meetings.

“There will be a public airing of all of it at some point,” member Paul Cimino said, but the best way to get solutions in place would be to meet in the working groups.

Two articles that were debated at the October 7th Special Town meeting led to residents postponing the votes: medical marijuana dispensary zoning bylaw and Barn Hollow Open Space.

Working groups were suggested by members of the Planning Board and other town committees to resolve the issues in preparation for the annual Town meeting in April.

At the October 7th meeting, the Planning Board offered both their original medical marijuana bylaw draft and a last minute compromise reached with the Board of Health. Some residents objected to the compromise as allowing dispensaries to abut residences. Voters opted to delay the vote to allow more time to consider the compromise and discuss alternatives.

One working group would follow up on this issue. The intent is to reach consensus between the Planning Board, the Board of Health and other boards before bringing a new recommendation to the public.

Another group would work towards resolving the open land infringement issues in the Barn Hollow neighborhood. At the October 7th meeting, Selectmen John Rooney made an impassioned plea to allow the town to work on a compromise. Voters delayed action on adopting the open space parcel. MWDN reports:

There are many logistical issues that need to be worked out, [Planning Board] members said, and it would be easier to build consensus in private first before presenting the result at a public meeting.

Some residents complained at the October 7th meeting that Barn Hollow residents are receiving special treatment by the town. At this point no one can say how many other infringement issues exist with the other open space parcels throughout town.

Rooney proposed a third working group to “iron out larger problems with the town’s acquisition and preservation of undeveloped land”.

MWDN reports that at least one attendee of the Monday night meeting was unhappy with the plan:

Advisory Committee member Karen Muggeridge said she would like to see the open land topics discussed more publicly. She “strongly” encouraged the boards to instead do the work at public meetings.

The discussion about forming working groups took place on Monday night. It was at the following night’s Board of Selectmen meeting, that Selectmen voted to rescind an Open Space review committee. At that time they stated that they would seek to discuss and hopefully resolve the issues around open space review and enforcement at an upcoming Planning Board meeting.

For the full MWDN article, click here.

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John Butler
10 years ago

As reported this plan demonstrates once again the Planning Board’s disregard of the Open Meeting Law. Any group of citizens created pursuant to action by a public body to consider public questions is itself a public body, under the law and must comply with the State Open Meeting Law. The subterfuge of calling it a working group will not suffice to exclude it from the scope of the law. It doesn’t matter what other committee memberships the members also hold, when they meet to make recommendations to a standing committee they are, in that meeting, a public body, a subcommittee by virtue of their reporting to another body, and they must meet in only in public at posted meetings. Last summer the Planning Board attempted to claim that the planner screening committee was not a public body, and proceeded to violate the law until the process blew up upon exposure. This plan is similarly fated.

More troubling is the lack of appreciation of the fact that the open meeting law is a means for good government, a means to gain and secure public trust in a process. Instead of violating the law in this way, or intending to circumvent the law by promoting secrecy in any way, all committees here should adopt the full spirit of the law going beyond the letter of its current requirements. No other process is likely to culminate in the 2/3 vote of Town Meeting needed to enact many of these proposals.

10 years ago

Mr. Butler and Ms. Muggeridge are both correct. A “working group” is a public body and MUST abide by Open Meeting Law. They are going down a dangerous road with this approach. I am astounded that our new Town Administrator is not advising the boards about how their proposal fits in within Open Meeting Law. Somone needs to submit a complaint to the State AG’s Open Meeting Office as soon as their first meeting takes place and nip this in the bud.

Al Hamilton
10 years ago

John Butler is absolutely correct. I cannot believe we are going down this road again.

Resident – While the TA has some authority to make sure personnel policies are followed by the Planning Board, beyond that he has no authority with respect to that board. The Planning Board, like the Library Trustees, Board of Health, and others are independently elected executives that report only to the voters.

Beyond the potential violations of the Open Meeting Law, the optics of this are terrible. What is so sensitive and precious about these matters that it can only be discussed in secret? What is it that we knuckle dragging morons would not be able to understand? Are we just mindless children who need to be spoon fed a carefully precooked diet of pablum? Are we really just going to be fed the sausage without seeing how it is made?

Who are these town leaders who are so timid that they cannot say what they think in a public meeting? I really want to know so I can figure out who to vote for next time around.

10 years ago

Casting my vote for Butler, Resident & Hamilton. New targets for the mighty pen.

I'm just sayin'
10 years ago
Reply to  yawn

Sorry yawn, I am grateful for Butler, Hamilton and whoever else is keeping an eye on the “cookie jar” and keeping us informed. I certainly do not know all the ins and outs of town government,or the rules or regs, but I do know that there has been a lot of controversy and hidden agendas of late and rules have been broken. It never hurts to be informed! And rules are there for a reason. If one does not like the rules, then work to change them…do not disparage those who keep us informed of those rules. Society needs the rules…and them!!

Thank you Mr. Butler, Mr. Hamilton, et al!!!

10 years ago

My points are, instead of continually listing all the problems, be part of the solution…again, I would vote for them as I respect their knowledge. My other point is a question and possible answer… why don’t they run? Being on the receiving end of the “mighty pen” is quite a deterrent. My third point is my hats are off to all the volunteers who spend inordinate amounts of time for our community whether I agree with them or not.

John Butler
10 years ago
Reply to  yawn

Yawn, I don’t mind your suggestion at all, I appreciate it in fact, but I have served continuously for 30 years on various committees. (I write here as an individual only.) As for being part of a solution to this particular problem, about 8 years ago I originated, and have since maintained, the Advisory Committee web site that allows all Advisory Committee documents to be concurrently available to the public as they are created. I am not concerned here to write what I have done, and I am sorry that this sounds that way, but rather to point out that the situation here is not just about people carping about the work that others do while not ourselves being engaged. That would look as if “If you would actually volunteer you would realize that openness is impossible.” It is not at all impossible. In my experience it is much better. That is why I recommend it and find myself disappointed when I see tendencies in the other direction.

just curious
10 years ago

Its decisions like these from the Planning Board that make me wish we could hold public floggings! (Here’s a question for the Historical Commission – when were the last floggings in Southborough?)

Perhaps we could raise some funds for a worthy cause by creating the Southborough Planning Board Game. Here’s how it would work:

We all get a box full of refrigerator type magnets with words that all could be used to describe the recent actions by the Planning Board. The first person to create a grammatically correct sentence of no less than eight words and NOT be forced to use one of these words will be declared the winner:

in error
off base
off target
wide of the mark
not done
and my all time favorite phrase – JUST PLAIN STUPID!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Perhaps the only foolish thing they haven’t done – yet – is to suggest the next public hearings be held at Uno’s!

What is the legal process necessary to get the elected officials removed from this Board? Can a recall election be held?

Frank Crowell
10 years ago
Reply to  just curious

I’ll play

“The outrageous behavior of the Planning Board is only out done by the shenanigans at the State House.”

John Butler
10 years ago

The reason I began my post with the phrase “As reported” is that there is always some possibility for error in the reporting process. In this case, the Metrowest article reads as if it was quite clear, but there is always some risk.

I would further warn Town officials not to try to justify a secret process by having a committee appointed by a Town employee, as seems may be suggested in the Metrowest story by the hint that the Planner should appoint on this. A Town employee may create a committee that is not subject to the open meeting laws only if the situation meets two tests: 1. The employee has full authority within the scope of their job to make the final decision and 2. The employee acts on their own volition not pursuant to direction by a public body or statute. Since only Town Meeting can make a final decision on Marijuana bylaws and similarly no Town employee is empowered to make a final decision on Barn Hollow it seems to fail test 1. Finally, since the creation of these groups has emerged from vote or consensus of a Town board, this situation would appear to pass neither test. (See for Attorney General on this topic.)

Ultimately, however, legal technicalities are beside the point. The main point is that conspicuous and continuous openness, beyond that required by law, promotes both the perception of good government and the reality of good government.

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