Thursday, February 12, 2009

Still no chair at P&Z

The interim deputy city attorney, Geen Thazhampallath, rendered a definitive opinion on a topic which generated much parliamentary law discussion among Planing and Zoning Commissioners at their last meeting, on January 14th.  At issue was whether seated alternate P&Z commissioners could vote during the annual election of officers. [Faithful readers will recall that vice-chair Richard Pelletier, acting as chair in the absence of Commissioner Barbara Plum, did not want a vote for chair to occur until that issue was resolved. Commissioners Catherine Johnson, Ron Borrelli, and Deborah Kleckowski all argued, in vain, that seated alternates have the full powers and authorities of a regular P&Z member.]

Democratic Town Committee chair Daniel Russo rendered his opinion at the January 14th meeting that seated alternates do not have the right to vote for officers.  This opinion was unambiguously and forcefully rejected by Attorney Thazhampallath:
1. Should a distinction be made between the powers vested in a seated alternate P&Z commission member and a regular P&Z commission member?
No, seated alternate P&Z commission members are vested with the full powers and authorities of a regular P&Z member.
2. Do seated alternate P&Z commission members possess the right to vote during an election of officers?
Yes, inclusive in the vested powers and authority of a seated alternate member is the right to vote during the annual election of officers.
Thazhampallath cited both Connecticut General Statutes and the 2004 Revised Middletown P&Z Commission By-Laws to support his opinion.  

At tonight's P&Z meeting, during a "discussion with the public" period of the meeting, a member of the public raised the issue that seems to have driven much of the debate among commissioners over the election procedures and parliamentary law.  Elizabeth Emery, apparently referring to the annual hiatus that Commission Chair Barbara Plum takes from Middletown, said, "We should have the people we elect be at the meeting, not away for three months."  She called on city officials to remove from office anybody who misses so many meetings.  Upon being told that only the voters could remove P&Z Commissioners, she rejoined, "We're going to work that the people who don't show up don't get voted for."

Election of a chair was not on the agenda at tonight's meeting, Commissioner Johnson asked Acting Chair Pelletier to place it on the agenda for the next meeting.  


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Elizabeth Emery, for being first to have the courage to point out publicly the deficiencies inherent in a chairperson who has regularly scheduled more important things to attend to than being a chairperson. Citizens deserve better than absentee-chairperson service, particularly on the twice-a-month-meeting Planning and Zoning commission.

debk said...

My name is Deborah Kleckowski. I am a current P& Z Commissioner.I challenged Barbara Plumb in November 2008 for the Chairmanship. As many are aware, the Commission has been plagued by opposing interpretations of the By-laws, City Charter and State statutes as to the role of "sitting alternates". All the legal wrangling not withstanding the most prevalent matter at hand is the fact that for at least the past seven years the Commission voted for Barbara Plumb to serve as Chair. I, too, am guilty of voting for the former Chair prior to November 2008. The vote was bi-partisan, with at least one Republican voting for her in each election cycle (5 affirmative votes are needed for a vote to be carried).

The reason for my challenge was to bring to the forefront that P&Z leadership was absent for 1/3 of the bi-monthly meetings. It is not in the best interest of the city to have its leaders absent.

When I was asked by my colleagues on the other side of the isle to challenge former Chairwomen Plumb I agreed. I believe it is time leadership be held accountable to the commission and to the city residents for perpetual absenteeism. Further, I believe it is my responsibility as a member of the commission to no longer support absentee leadership. Additionally, I believe to meet the charge of the commission it it prudent to have leadership who embraces new ideas and encourages commissioners to take a more proactive role in the execution of the commissions' charge of planning and zoning as
determined by the City Charter.

My challenge has been met with opposition from my colleagues, and from the Chairman of the Democratic Town Committee. It is unfortunate that for all the rhetoric exposing the importance of bi-partisanship and working for the greater good of the community that such as simple matter as excessive absenteeism for years has created a firestorm of partisanship.

When we were elected, we all took an oath; an oath to serve the public to the best of our ability. Service begins with being present. It is at least the minimum we should expect from our leaders.

Anonymous said...

Ideally, the P&Z Commissioners have an interest in Planning and Zoning no matter which political party they are affiliated with. What has caused the system to stray so far from this ideal, that a responsible Commissioner such as Deborah Kleckowski voted repeatedly for the habitually absentee Chair, Barbara Plum? Who is the Chairman of the Democratic Town Committee and why is this person so enamored of countless years of rudderless leadership at the Planning and Zoning Commission?

Elizabeth Emery said...

Thank-you Deborah, for speaking up, publicly on the eye. Let me say first that I want to extend a big thanks to all of those who chose to serve Middletown and the public in elected and appointed positions. I believe with the exception of the city council and mayor you receive no pay for your service and time given on behalf of your city. Having sat through any number of city meetings in the last year, I am cognizant of the work MOST of you are doing to do your jobs well. Before you vote on city matters you are well INFORMED, or find a way to become well informed about the matter at hand. It takes a lot of time and energy to do so, and to not just be informed by those on your side of the aisle, and take the easy road, voting with the party.

The same has to be said for the voters. We need to keep ourselves informed on the issues and vote accordingly, and sometimes, especially in our local elections, vote across party lines for the right person to do the job, not the right party to do the job.

Which bring me to the point of my post—the very serious matter of elected officials not following through with their “contract,” albeit unwritten. with the public. Having been elected by the people you are obligated to serve, unless there are extenuating circumstances. A long vacation is not an extenuating circumstance, and certainly not year after year. We the citizens are the responsible parties on this matter. We have put the P&Z in the situation they are in, by allowing this absenteeism to go on with our votes, and re-electing someone who has not been responsible in upholding this unspoken contract we made with them. I urge everyone who goes to the voting both to consider the candidates entire record, not just voting record; did they attend all meetings and where they educated on the issues, if they have served previously in office or in an appointed position.

In the meantime, given that Chairperson Plumb, has not indicated any intention of resigning from her position on the P&Z, I ask her to consider please in the best interest of the city and the P&Z please step down from the Chairship now. I urge the public in joining me to ask her to make it simple and just step down. So be it if that is not going to happen, I ask then, that the city council, democratic party, and P&Z put the gamesmanship and politics aside and do what is best for the city and the Commission by allowing an election for a new Chair of P&Z to move forward.

In the meantime, citizens of Middletown, I encourage you to start planning your campaign for next Novembers run for office on the P&Z. I would like to see a slate with some new names, and faces who are already educated on planning and zoning issues, who understanding the stakes, as being in the best interest of good planning for the future of our city, and not future political stakes of being in good favor with the party so you can move along in your political career.

Anonymous said...

Although she is out of line, the Chairwoman's name is Plum not plumb....