ZBA APPOINTEE INTERVIEWS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
During the past few weeks, a petition was circulated throughout town regarding the Zoning Board of Appeals appointees. That petition garnered over 150 signatures from all parts of town and was presented to the Board of Selectmen on March 22nd. Unfortunately, it appears our petition fell on deaf ears. In fact, we are still shaking our heads after the ZBA interviews and recommendations.
Northborough residents deserve more. The ZBA had 4 qualified and capable new applicants vying for 2 open spots and 1 alternate position. 2 of the applicants were standouts. Ashley Davies is an attorney who specializes in regional town planning and has been actively engaged in Northborough governance for years. Suzy Cieslica is a retired real estate attorney and extremely involved parent who's also volunteered on town committees and school committees as well as showing up to every meeting that her time allows. How lucky would our town be to have these two incredibly qualified, caring and thoughtful women on our ZBA. We are baffled that Jason Perrault, the BoS chair, and Scott Rogers, the other BoS interviewer, are recommending the incumbents Mark Rutan and Fran Bakstran. We are very thankful to both Mr. Rutan and Ms. Bakstran for their many years of town service but we believe it's time to give new citizens a voice on the ZBA. You can watch the interviews here (3/29) and here (3/31) and decide for yourself or you can watch this synopsis comparing the qualifications of the incumbents vs. the new applicants.
In particular, we wanted to point out some noticeable contradictions in the treatment of the new applicants vs. the incumbents:
1) At minute 5:24 on 3/29, Mr. Perrault starts out by directing new applicants not to watch other interviewees during the live stream and then makes each new applicant attest that they didn't at the beginning of their interviews. On 3/31, he makes no such request to the incumbents and it seems like the incumbents may have seen the questions ahead of time. Both seemed very well rehearsed. Ms. Bakstran looks like she's either memorized her response to a question regarding the role of the ZBA or is reading from a paper.
2) The ZBA representative on 3/29 explains that some legal knowledge is helpful in serving on the ZBA. So I guess the qualifications of two attorneys in relevant fields are not preferable to the incumbents who's qualifications, along with time served on the ZBA, include 'light construction' and an interest in zoning by-laws (Mr. Rutan) and 'interest in the subject matter' as well as 'strength of her convictions' (Ms. Bakstran).
3) Both Mr. Rutan and Ms. Bakstran mentioned that they really enjoy how the current ZBA works together in allowing for honest discussion and opposing points of view and how they enjoy hearing different perspectives. Since both incumbents have been on the ZBA for years (21 years in the case of Mr. Rutan), it would be nice if the residents of Northborough were also offered different points of view and perspectives rather than the same ones from appointees who've been on there way too long.
4) In deliberating, Selectmen Perrault and Rogers decide that Ashley Davies, who is on the Master Planning Implementation Committee, would 'have too much of a load' to be on both the MPIC and the ZBA while FAILING TO MENTION THAT MS.BAKSTRAN IS ALSO ON BOTH COMMITTEES.
We urge you to write to the Board of Selectmen to encourage them to reconsider their recommendations before the incumbents are re-appointed for another term. Emails for the BoS are:
The following petition was signed by over 150 Northborough residents, from all parts of town, and forwarded to the Board of Selectmen on March 22, 2021.
Soon, the Board of Selectmen will need to fill the two seats open on the Zoning Board of Appeals, as well as one alternate seat. We would like to see the members of the board vote to include members of the community who are not already on boards or committees. Every citizen should have equal opportunity to get involved in town government. The practice of repeatedly reappointing board members who have presided for more than ten years while turning away new volunteers is creating a noticeable imbalance of influence on how our town is governed. Of the six appointments designated for “Citizens at Large” for the Master Plan Implementation Committee, three were given to residents who have been long standing members and chairmen of very important boards/committees. We hope their experience helps them help our town, and we wish them well. But we worry that continuing this practice has created a certain lopsided balance of influence on how our town is governed. There are very capable new volunteers who have applied for the ZBA, and at least one very capable new alternate. Always standing behind the excuse of “but this person has more experience” means no one but the people who already have a strong voice in the community ever get a voice. It is the Select Board’s job to listen to the citizens of the town. When people stand up and tell the Board that they want something to change, the Board must represent the citizens.Because the Zoning Board of Appeals is directly responsible for how special permits and variances affect our community, we want it to be filled with new voices with fresh perspectives.