To the Editor:
For additional context to the articles “Groton Residents Call Town Council Squabbles ‘Embarrassing’”; “Groton goes back to earlier plan for vacant properties,” and “Robert’s Rules No Help for a Disorderly Groton Council” I would refer you to the Groton Municipal Television YouTube channel to review meetings where discussion occurs regarding the Property Re-Use Committee (PRUC) or the 2021 and 2023 Town-Owned Property Evaluation (TOPE) draft policy documents.
In contrast to the meeting of Oct 12, 2021, the meetings of March 28, 2023, June 27, 2023, May 23, 2023, and July 3, 2023 as evidence of possible pre-engineered outcomes, repressed information, and stifled debate enabled by curiously worded agenda items and other parliamentary procedure parlor tricks.
Compare the agenda items from two different Town Council Committee of the Whole (COW) sessions. Both were intended to address the TOPE policy.
In 2021, the agenda recommended three options:
1) Adopt the proposed 2021 draft
2) Adopt the proposed 2021 draft with changes
3) Do nothing
In 2023, the agenda recommended three options:
1) Adopt the proposed 2023 draft
2) Adopt the 2021 draft,
3) Do nothing and keep the existing policy
The October 10, 2021 agenda allowed for active council participation in reviewing and revising 2021 document. This meeting developed into a relatively nuanced note-taking workshop session.
The June 27, 2023 agenda did not allow for such deliberation and rapidly devolved into a hostile summary rejection of the meticulously developed 2023 document with no review. This action completely disregarded over twelve months of work donated by a broad-based committee of experienced, respected volunteers from relevant agencies, boards and commissions, elected representatives, and concerned constituents who, in good faith, attempted to address the overwhelming community desire for substantial policy reform, as expressed in the 2021 election results.
What was the difference?
One sentence. Two Words.
The 2021 agenda included the phrase “with changes,” thus allowing councilors to workshop proposed edits.
The 2023 agenda had no such phrasing.
As per current Town Council Rules, the mayor and manager are responsible for constructing agendas. Mayor Melendez and Manager Burt created the 2023 agenda item with the precise conditions for what they immediately classified as “contrary motions,” thus disallowing deliberation of the 2023 draft after Councilors Cassiere & Franco quickly made and seconded a motion for the 2021 draft.
The mayor and manager should explain why they constructed the June 27, 2023 agenda such that it enabled certain councilors to block deliberation on the 2023 PRUC draft document.
The mayor and manager should explain why, during the preamble on this item, they did not disclose how the two motions were contrary to each other, despite the fact that Melendez “knew this was going to happen.” Why did they not announce that whoever made the first motion would block consideration of the other one?
At the close of the March 28, 2023 meeting, Melendez urged the council work towards compromise. The 2021 draft is the source from which the 2023 document grew. If the majority wanted to strip the 2023 draft down, they could have either previously participated with the PRUC somehow or conducted piecemeal extraction work during the June 27 Committee of the Whole meeting. To ensure that level of engagement, Melendez and Burt could have constructed the June 27 agenda to allow only for editing the 2023 draft. They all chose not to do these things. Why?
Did they make their choices due to ignorance, indifference or some specific intent?
The community deserves to know the precise concerns these councilors have with every single part they summarily rejected from the 2023 PRUC draft document.
Voters should be able to take note of who stands for what and why.
Concerned constituents and elected representatives need an arena where debate occurs on a fair, firm and consistent playing field with clearly understood and unchanging rules of engagement.
This is what should happen within city or town council chambers.
Often, and especially with this thirty-third Groton Town Council, it does not.
Remember, remember – the seventh of November. Election Day.
We should make better choices.
Thomas is a Democratic member of the Groton RTM, District 3