Daily Buzz | Who Will Fill the Planning Board's Latest Vacancy?
And how has the process changed in a few short months?
I’m going to start today with a little history that, if you haven’t been following the Buzz or town government since the last election, you might not be aware of. You know that I don’t do politics here, but I do warn you that there are some politics at play here. I won’t get into them, because that’s not what I’m here for. But I am not naïve. I know they’re there.
So. Planning Board. The Planning Board, as you can read in the Local Government section of the Buzz, is a seven-member Board whose members serve a five-year term. This, I believe, is the longest term we have in our local government, and it’s because to be a Planning Board member you need to be aware of a broad range of things and the learning curve is pretty steep. It takes time to become familiar with all the ins and outs, and you’ve also got to have a pretty good sense of the vision for the town and what residents want. Definitely click that link above to read more about the Board itself, while I get back to talking about Board members.
In April, Mike Espejo was elected to Select Board, leaving a vacant seat on the Planning Board, where he had served 3 of his 5 years. And so we needed an appointee to fill that spot until the next election. This was filled by Toni Ann Natola (more on that process in a moment). Fast forward to this summer: Paul Raymond, long-time Planning Board member, has retired and left another vacancy that needs to be filled soon so the Planning Board can get a running start into the busy season that awaits.
The process, however, has changed between these two appointments. Massachusetts law states that when a vacancy occurs on a Board, the remaining Board members must work with the Select Board to appoint someone until the next local election. Pretty vague, leaving room for setting up a process that works for each town individually.
Here’s how Mike’s seat was filled: The Planning Board put out a call for candidates, interviewed the candidates, and then selected someone. They brought that person to the Select Board for a vote.
And that’s where this gets awkward. There was some obvious tension in the room that night, with at least one Select Board member (it was a long time ago, so I am fuzzy on the details) saying the process for selection needed to be improved. In the end, the candidate the Planning Board brought forward was voted in, but the awkwardness hung over that appointment.
For this appointment, the process is different - I’m assuming in response to whatever politics were going on behind closed doors last time around.
This time, the Chairs of the Select Board and Planning Board got together and established a new process together which will hopefully circumvent the tense situation that occurred with the last appointment.
This post would be advertised as always, but rather than just the Planning Board discussing candidates, a subcommittee would be formed with three Planning Board and three Select Board members. Those members would interview all eligible candidates and then meet to make a recommendation to the Planning Board. (In case you’re interested in what makes someone ineligible - anyone who isn’t a registered voter in Burlington can’t be on one of our Boards.)
That’s where we are right now. Some candidates have been recommended to the Planning Board, and they’ll discuss tonight which one or more they’d like to bring to the Select Board’s August 15 meeting. At that meeting, all Select Board and Planning Board members (11 people total) will vote and whoever gets 6 or more votes (a simple majority) will be appointed.
The Planning Board is eager to get going, and the new appointee will hopefully begin immediately at the August 18 meeting.
Another short, but surely productive, list today.
6:00 PM - Planning Board meets regarding the open seat that they hope to fill very soon! (Join via webex)
7:00 PM - Board of Health - This was an error - while their meeting is currently scheduled in the calendar, they only meet once monthly during the summer months. So no BoH meeting tonight!
See you tomorrow!
Thank you for documenting and sharing the process details. Good to see that State Law encourages checks and balance for filling vacant seats. In this specific case, the Planning Board must work with the Select Board to appoint the candidate. The Checks and Balances system provides each branch of the government with individual powers to check the other branches and prevent any one branch or person from becoming too powerful or authoritarian. Unfortunately, simple majority at the joint meeting negates the balance put in place by the State Law as Planning Board alone has the required six members majority to make the five member Select Board's participation meaningless. Likewise, planning board's sole authority to recommend candidate also negates the intended checks and balance, in fact doing so could be in violation of the state law. For the record, I am one of the candidates interviewed on Aug 3 by the joint committee but got eliminated by the Planning Board at the Board's sole discretion on Aug 9.
Thanks Nicci for explaining this process change. For a Board that doesn’t report to the Select Board, it seems a bit complicated. Is this process consistent with how other Board vacancies are filled (Library, Health, etc)? Is this process now documented somewhere in our bylaws? What happens if one candidate doesn’t receive 6 votes?