To the Editor:
I am writing to you and your fellow Board members as I would like to offer a correction/clarification to your comments concerning a portion of the recent (3/3) BOS meeting and to set the record straight.
Specifically, I refer to your comments tabling action for a year concerning the Town’s proposed Sea/Washington Street re-configuration, bemoaning late citizen involvement, saying, “It’s a shame that we have such a lack of consensus after 2 years of discussion”. There is more here than meets the eye.
It is indeed unfortunate that no residents’ comments were heard in this public forum, for the public might have learned what you learned as an attendee, just 4 days earlier, in a meeting of the Sea/Washington Street residents with the Town Administrator and the head of the DPW. – high lights below.
At that meeting it was acknowledged by the Town Administrator that none of the affected residents had been contacted/consulted by the Town over that 2 year period concerning its plans for their neighborhood. (It was also acknowledged by the DPW head that some of the new designs for the neighborhood were drawn up by its outside consultants who had not even visited the site). Thus, despite “2 years of discussion” none of the residents were even aware of the Town’s intentions until last fall when the project was halted by a Citizens Petition, requesting a delay for their input, just days before actual construction was to begin. The real “shame” is that the “2 years of discussion” was in fact a very poorly managed waste of our Town’s limited time and money, for not involving the affected residents.
At that meeting on 2/27, upon hearing the town’s proposal for the first time about permanently changing their neighborhood, a vote was taken by the affected citizens of Sea and Washington Streets. As an attendee, you know that the vote was 24-0 AGAINST moving forward. This was not a case of “lack of consensus”– it was total neighborhood unanimity against the Town’s recommendations by those affected.
Make no mistake, we, the townspeople, are grateful for the volunteer efforts that the BOS puts in on our behalf. In this tone, I would like to make several observations and recommendations for the BOS going forward that could make the town planning process smoother and less confrontational.
Over the last 18 months the town has encountered numerous instances (3 cited here) where the Town’s planning initiatives have failed, being reversed/abandoned due to poor planning and subsequent significant resistance from the affected residents (Sea/Washington Street re-configuration, Ocean Street road abandonment, Beach Street parking).
There are 2 common denominators for these 3 failed projects-(many more failed similarly)
For background, the Town leaders have a well-developed history of pursuing grant monies. The genesis of these 3 projects is that they are grant driven, created by outside consultants retained by the Town to produce “projects” that will qualify for grant monies. The origin of these projects is NOT based on a demonstrable need or in depth research, rather the focus is on targeting the grant and THEN creating a project that will qualify. The end results are expensive, artificial “solutions in search of a problem” to supplement the Town budget with “free” money, professing to know what is “best” for the Town and its residents, without involving those directly affected in any discussion. Many of these grants are a double edged sword, for while it is tempting to view them as “free money” for the Town, there are ancillary costs that the taxpayer must bear to complete the project. The current “Complete Streets” initiative is a case in point, where a $242,000 grant will cost the taxpayers an additional $418,000.- 63% above the grant.
Numerous suppositions are made by well-intentioned BOS volunteers who are non-professionals to "justify" illusory projects- projects that are neither properly researched as to real need nor based on any sound factual analysis. For example, at the recent 3/3 meeting BOS leaders justified their support of pending projects, over residents objections, as being “purely from a safety perspective” or because “it’s a visible part of town” or “it will provide a degree of safety”. Never was a real need cited.
Case in point- the 2/27 Sea/Washington Street discussion. When the question was raised as to the actual need for Town intervention in this area, the Police Department stated that there hadn’t been an accident/injury in that area “at least in the last 30-40 years- if ever”, and the Town Administrator acknowledged no studies were ever done supporting the need for this project, justifying the project “because it is the right thing to do for pedestrian safety”.
Yet, the Town hired a consultant to create a solution for a problem that didn’t exist- and the solution to the non-existent problem was created from afar without even visiting the site- at a proposed cost of $137,420- APPROVED UNANIMOUSLY BY THE BOS. A simple “Yield to pedestrians- State Law” cone in the sidewalk would have sufficed, at less than 1% of the cost -with no ancillary pedestrian risk.
At that meeting, looking at the extremely poor “highly recommended” design and hearing the DPW head state that, “on paper- at least- the plan should work fine” was hardly comforting. We, the citizens, have to live daily with the residue of poor BOS/DIP life changing planning that is interjected into our neighborhood without dialogue or recourse by outside consultants, long after the consultants have been paid and left.
In these 3 instances, while there may have been “public discussion” of these projects thought up by outside consultants and “planners”, there has been acknowledgment by either the Town Administrator or Town Planner that those affected by these proposed plans had not been directly consulted, saying, “in hindsight it probably would have been a good idea”.
The bottom line?
The current methods for the Town’s communications with its citizens – web site, Town Hall bulletin board, Cricket– are not working. Over the last 2 years none of those affected by these projects were aware of the Town’s plans for them until the project was well underway – or completed.
To start, henceforth, I would propose a 6 month moratorium on ALL grant driven Town projects.
Also that the BOS engage in the old fashioned means of communications, specifically mandating the Town Administrator and Town Planner to directly contact those who might be impacted by their decisions, in writing, BEFORE implementing them, not afterward, similar to abutters being advised in writing of proposed zoning issues affecting them. May I also suggest that the BOS agree to make future decisions based on fiscally sound facts and truly demonstrated need, not “feel good” sentiment?
Evaluate all proposed expenditures as follows - If there is no need, then do not proceed.
Directly engaging the ”local knowledge” of those residents affected in the town’s thinking at the outset-people whose experience can accurately evaluate the need and real impact of a project on their neighborhood, will accomplish 2 things – it will prevent “surprises” to the affected residents, and more importantly, it will stop the recurrent, needlessly expensive pattern of hiring outside paid consultants to tell the residents what is “best” for them, from afar.
In summary, it is not the responsibility of the citizens to constantly keep abreast of the BOS/Town leaders’ actions- rather it is the responsibility of the BOS/Town leaders to directly inform the citizens of their proposed actions that could directly impact them.
I look forward to your response,