To the Editor:
After viewing the August 23 Easton Planning & Zoning zoom meeting with their discussion of and changes to their “Rules of Procedure,” I and others who watched were appalled. It was an amazing display of Orwellian proportions. P&Z’s true intent was revealed in the wording of their original draft document, but their attempted whitewashing in this latest meeting was made blatantly obvious because the substance of the rules was not changed, only the wording — such as substituting the headline “RESTRICTIONS ON SPEAKING” (item #XIII in the draft document) with a far more benign headline “PUBLIC COMMENT.” The restrictions haven’t changed, only the spin.
Please look at the video of this meeting on the Easton town website (https://vimeo.com/showcase/7815378/video/592408826). When you see it, listen carefully, particularly at 38 mins. 30 seconds when former P&Z Chair Rob Maquat explains how and why our town’s go-to attorneys at Berchem Moses have allegedly advised Easton P&Z not to answer questions at public hearings. Does Berchem Moses give this same advice to the many other municipalities they serve? Is this a wise investment of Easton taxpayer dollars to pay these multiple attorneys to recommend ways to seemingly work against the public interest in terms of transparency and disclosure?
There is a statement at the end of P&Z’s Rules of Procedure that says this: “All of the above procedures are on the advice of Town council.” A couple of days ago I asked our very helpful P&Z clerk Margaret Anania who this Town council was and she answered as follows: “Grant, this was through a verbal communication between the current Chair and multiple attorneys at Berchem & Moses.”
Verbal communication? Nothing in writing except for the stifling draft product? Is this the kind of transparency we want here in Easton?
Finally, whenever P&Z Chair Ray Martin spoke in this 8/23 Zoom meeting a display came onto the screen with his photo and a caption that read “Ray Martin — The Martin Agency”. The Ray Martin agency is the P&Z Chair’s commercial development business. To see it Google raymartinagency.com.
So, a commercial developer is now the Chair of Easton P&Z? With the proposed sidewalk that has been strongly promoted by P&Z leading to a proposed commercial Village District that could break zoning and open Easton to widespread commercial development, the commercial opportunities abound for developers here in Easton. P&Z currently has on its five-member commission yet another commercial developer in addition to Ray Martin, and a real estate agent, and a very large land owner who, when he served as P&Z chair for over 20 years, may have been instrumental in enacting a P&Z regulation from which he and his family could profit (Regulation 3340 Agriculture Item #4 Supplemental Space).
Selectman Bob Lessler is working on a badly needed Easton Ethics Ordinance and we hope that it prohibits the P&Z chair and other members of P&Z from profiting from decisions they make and actions they take. We also hope that it is ready in time for Easton citizens to approve it in the upcoming town meeting on 9/13 and town referendum on 9/21.
The absolute power of our P&Z is enhanced by the fact that these five people on P&Z are responsible for both the planning and the zoning functions in Easton including setting powerful regulations that are now enforced by a recently hired former Law Enforcement Officer. A wise move on the part of the town and the selectmen would be to advocate strongly for an ordinance that splits these two functions into separate planning and zoning commissions. Divide the power. Divide the awesome responsibilities.
First selectman Bindelglass ran for office on a platform of transparency and inclusion. This Planning and Zoning Commission seems to be doing its very best NOT to practice either of them. Somebody needs to do something about this. We have an election coming up in November. Let’s hear from the candidates.