opinion: ‘Let the light in. Leave the muzzles off by having a public meeting’

Louise MacLellan-Ruf: Muzzled by executive session? Perhaps

Tue, 01/19/2021 - 5:30pm

I am in an interesting position. Having not been involved in any Executive Sessions (ES) discussing the cell tower I am not bound by any confidentiality agreement. That may change this Wednesday.  At which time, City Council, the City and the Planning Board (PB) may all be muzzled. An ES is scheduled this Wednesday to meet with the PB, Council and an attorney. To get up to speed, I attended a PB meeting a few weeks ago. The topic? Bay Communications and the cell tower.

The PB discovered they were defendants and would be found in contempt of court if they did not approve the cell tower application. What was highlighted at the PB meeting by Chair Laustsen and members was a list of what they perceived are inaccuracies in the written settlement agreement.  The PB voiced that Council, City Manager and attorneys must not have read the PB response of denial to the Bay Communications application. The consensus is that the Council and City just signed off. True? Some of us will find out Wednesday but the community may not if the discussion moves to ES. 

Easy questions: Did Council go into deliberations accepting that there were no options other than to grant the approval of the cell tower? If this is the case, did Council enter discussions with Bay Communications addressing the PB concerns about the sidewalk and fencing? 

Supporting the PB contentions that they were left out of deliberations is a comment by then Councilor Geiger. Paraphrased, Geiger said that Council wanted to limit the number of people involved in the lawsuit. That merits a WOW and a nod to the Planning Board’s concerns.

Some have said that the PB is in the wrong and made mistakes. Maybe they are. Maybe they have.  Knowing what we do of the PB they can handle being enlightened. This is not the first time the PB has received pushback or negative feedback.  The PB can publicly handle whatever Council or the public may throw at them. This is verified by their willingness to be held in contempt.  

Is this Wednesday’s meeting a misuse of ES? Possibly. If there is something proprietary or confidential that precludes a public discussion on a zoning issue let the public know. Was the judge who ruled on the cell tower in an ES or was it done in a public forum? If it was done in a public court, why is the City and Council requesting an ES? The PB are identified as defendants. If they, individually or collectively, were discussed in ES they should have been involved.  

We should be impressed that our PB has taken a stand. They believe in their recommendations. They parsed out the settlement agreement and identified their concerns. They have not shied away from speaking openly.  They should be commended for their thoughtful service. 

No doubt this is a conflict for the Council, City and the PB. But without conflict nothing changes. Kumbaya works for a while. But if everyone agrees all the time progress is limited. Unless there is an obvious need for confidentiality I plan to vote “no” to convening an ES. Let the light in. Leave the muzzles off by having a public meeting. On this I think the Planning Board would approve. 

Louise MacLellan-Ruf sits on the Rockland City Council, after been elected in November 2020