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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Agenda Meeting Surprise

Are we giving away Ninigret Park?
Dan has a plan
by Tom Ferrio

I attended the Town Council agenda meeting Wednesday night to see if there would be any discussion about whether we could legally have a hearing on the new lighting ordinance, considering that changes are still being made and we will clearly not have the legally mandated time to see the wording that will be discussed on Monday.

I didn't expect to see the Parks and Rec Commission be disemboweled with proposals on the agenda that could give away town decision-making about Ninigret Park direction and day-to-day operations.

There was no discussion about whether the lighting ordinance was ready for prime time. It seems clear that the Council (by 3-2 vote if necessary) will decide that the changes are "not substantial" so that the public posting period was not violated.

I was caught by surprise by the hot topic: four (count 'em, four!) related agenda topics, proposed by Councilman Dan Slattery, that could completely change the direction of Ninigret Park.
  1. The first proposes setting up a group to re-design the Ninigret Park Master Plan (developed and approved in 2008). Slattery generously allows that one of the twelve positions on this Stakeholder Commission can be held by a Parks and Recreation Commission member. As you might expect if you are a regular reader of Progressive Charlestown, positions are reserved for the Planning Commission, Frosty Drew Observatory and U.S. Fish and Wildlife, all groups that reacted less than positively to Jay Primiano's not-politically-astute idea of lighting a practice field in Ninigret Park, presented at the December 12 Town Council meeting.
  2. "Discussion and potential action regarding a Memorandum of Understanding" (with) "the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a Ninigret Park Stakeholder."
  3. Also on the agenda is "Discussion and potential action" regarding putting "two documents" on Clerkbase, about the "legal, ethical, and moral responsibilities that the town agreed to" when it accepted the Ninigret Park land. It would be great to see those documents (Progressive Charlestown has a pending request for them), but it seems really odd that a Town Council vote is needed to put items on the town website or Clerkbase.
  4. Paralleling number 2, " Discussion and potential action regarding a Memorandum of Understanding with Ninigret Park Stakeholders the Frosty Drew Observatory and all Abutters to Ninigret Park."
These agenda items triggered a "vigorous speech" by Gregg Avedisian, complaining that these items are clearly designed to remove the Parks & Recreation Commission and the Parks & Recreation Department from day-to-day control of Ninigret Park. I must note that only the agenda can be debated at this meeting without violating the Open Meetings law. Avedisian was arguing that these items should be replaced by ones that retain the position of the Parks & Rec Commission in the Ninigret Park master Pan and the operation of our park.

For each item, Dan called for a vote and all items were approved to be included in the agenda as worded. (I do not have the exact vote pending ClerkBase video availability. Gentz, Slattery, and DiBello voted to retain each of these on the agenda. When video is available I will update this article with links.)

These should prove to stimulate extremely interesting discussions (that is code) at Monday's meeting. But it will not happen until after the lighting ordinance discussion drains the energy out of the Council members and audience alike. It's easier to get items like this pushed through late in the meeting, after another item that is expected to be controversial. 

Does the name Frosty Drew Park sound good to you?

Note - at the time of publication of this article, the agenda for Monday's meeting just became available on Clerkbase (you will have to navigate to the March 12 Regular Town Council Meeting). Supporting documentation is not available yet and the video of the Agenda Meeting is not available yet.