Thursday, November 14, 2013

New Commissioners, Same Old Planning and Zoning

The arrival of new blood in the form of Democrat Stephen Devoto and Republicans Jeremy Clark and Robert Simpson did little to revitalize the Planning and Zoning Commission at the new commission’s first meeting Wednesday. In their defense, the meeting lasted only 12 minutes. The audio problem that caused a stadium-like echoing of Joyce Rossiter’s opening words was eventually resolved, but the issue of whether Carl Chisem could be seated at the meeting as a Planning and Zoning Commissioner was not.

The first item on the agenda, the annual organizational meeting in which the new commission votes on Chair, Vice-Chair and Secretary, got as far as Joyce Rossiter nominating Richard Pelletier as chair. Before the nomination could be seconded, Molly Salafia questioned whether Carl Chisem, who won election to the Common Council and was sworn in to that position on Tuesday, could hold two elected positions at the same time and moved that the meeting be adjourned until a legal determination was made.

The question was met with a lot swiveling of chairs and exchanged shrugs among the commissioners. Bill Warner said he did not have a definitive answer and agreed that legal advice was needed. Carl Chisem offered only, “I have not resigned.”  Salafia asked for a two minute recess and left the room. When she returned, rather than vote on the motion to adjourn, she and the other republican commissioners left, leaving the commission without a quorum and the meeting ended.

After the meeting, the general consensus among the remaining commissioners and attendees was that one could not hold two elected positions concurrently and that traditionally an elected official resigns their current position upon being sworn in to their newly elected position. Tradition is one thing and the law is another, and no one was prepared to prove that either the city charter or state statutes prohibit holding two elected positions concurrently. Speaking with Stephen Devoto after the meeting, Bob Santangelo quickly dismissed the idea.

By law, the Common Council appoints commissioners to fill vacant positions. By tradition alone, that appointment has gone to the second highest vote-getter in the election. As Chisem is a Democrat, the candidate with the highest number of votes after Devoto is Dan Russo. If/When Chisem resigns the commission, based on precedent only, the Council will most likely choose one of two options: appoint current Planning and Zoning Commission alternate Elizabeth Emory as full commissioner and Russo as alternate, or appoint Russo to the commission.

The Common Council meets later this month, which may explain what happened at Wednesday’s meeting. If Chisem resigned before the Common Council meeting, or even agreed to simply leave the meeting rather than force an adjournment, Emery would have taken his seat. With only two items on the agenda, either Chisem really wanted to vote on the two lot subdivision on Crystal Lake Road or on the chairmanship of the commission.

Spoiler alert: the next chapter of Planning and Zoning is likely to be a battle over the chairmanship. With five votes required, it may be a long chapter. While some of the characters are new, the Planning and Zoning story is the same -- more attention being paid to political issues on the commission, not the land use issues facing Middletown. If Thanksgiving dinner with your family doesn't provide your fill of a dysfunctional group around a big table, the next P&Z meeting is scheduled for December 11.


Stephan (with an "a") said...

I'm happy to read the "spoiler alert", good to know there is a sense of humor among at least some of the electorate.

Anonymous said...

Yeah! I opened the Eye expecting NOT to find a report on P&Z since DeVoto is now a commissioner. I thought this was a great report, New P&Z Stephen. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

If I recall correctly, Huey Long was elected U.S. Senator two years into his term as governor of Louisiana. He didn't take his seat in the Senate till he finished his four-year term as governor, which was two years into his six-year term as senator. Interestingly, the Kingfish declined all Senate committee assignments because committee work would have cramped his style (ceaseless grandstanding). Long is dead now, but wanted to make every man a king by his version of a new deal -- gather up all the wealth in the country, divide it per capita, and everybody gets their share. President Obama's vision of "fundamentally transforming" America looks like small beer compared to the convulsions the Kingfish sought to spark. R.I.P.

Good for Mr. Chisem for trying to concentrate power in a few determined hands instead of having it slopping around like a spilled glass of beer.

"I haven't resigned" smacks of MacArthur's "I shall return" or Ike's 1952 pledge, "I shall go to Korea," with a slight peaty aftertaste of "Barkis is willing."

Mr. Smith has made a lively start as a PZC reporter. Will he go to Washington?

--Gutless Coward (great nephew of Noel Coward)

Ed McKeon said...

Dearest gutless:

Glad to see you've returned to these (electronic) pages. Perhaps there's a kernel of truth in you words.

As for Chisem, he's likely the pawn used to check the crowning of an uncontrollable knight.

Reports are in that he's already resigned. Check. Soon, no doubt, to be replaced with a bishop who will protect the king. Mate.

When asked to step down, he first demurred, "I would perfer not to." Bartleby, he is not. Nor you a Melville, who, as you know, was a mutineer before he was a popular writer, before he was a failure, before he was a member of the American pantheon.

Chisem's protestation to remain on the P&Z was a red herring, and not a white whale.

You can call me Ishmael, but I prefer Ed Forecastle.

Stephen Devoto said...

There is no sugarcoating what happened, and the headlines tell the truth: "Erupts in Chaos", "Double Duty Debacle" and "Same Old P&Z."

I am part of a Planning and Zoning Commission that was utterly dysfunctional for its first meeting, we could do nothing more than take the roll call. I am ashamed.

What makes it frustrating is that I had individual discussions with 6 of the people who should have been seated that night, and all of them agreed they would vote for a bipartisan slate of officers (Devoto, Salafia, and Rossitter). 3 Democrats and 3 Republicans agreed to vote for a slate of 2 Democrats and 1 Republican. When Chisem insisted on being seated, we all crashed.

I have confidence that we will come out of the wreckage. Mayor Drew captured the spirit of good government in his inaugural address (was it only 2 days ago?). He called for bipartisan cooperation in the interests of Middletown.

From The Press:
“We live in a period in our history that is probably the most polarized that any of us have ever seen,” said Drew. “In Middletown I think we’ve done better than that. We’ve done better certainly than they’ve done in Washington by recognizing that our oneness is more powerful than anything that might divide us.

“Our charge as a community, really, is to cast aside that superficiality, because we all want the same things,” said Drew. “We all want excellent schools for our children, we all want a robust and thriving economy, we all want clean air and clean water.”

Anonymous said...

In the same breath Mayor Drew used spouting bipartisan rhetoric he neglected to acknowledge the service of Linda Salafia on Common Council.

Considering the electorate's response at the polls, Devoto was the clear choice of the people and should be Chairman. Salafia showed the leadership (apparently lacking in present Chairman) making her good choice for Vice Chair.

Curious to see how this one plays out...

Anonymous said...

I was very pleased to see new faces like Stephen Devoto on the P & Z committee... let's hope the old guards see the light and we can move on from "business as usual".

Catherine Johnson said...

Since the P&Z acts like a jury when deciding land use matters, it is important that things are clean from the get-go. The town clerk , mayor, Dem council majority chair and town committee chair should have been ready with not only the answer to a potential dual councilman/P&Z commissioner, they should have had the new appointed commissioner selection ready LAST WEEK. As none of this was done, at the very least, the one person who should have been paying attention and making sure all the ducks were in order was Rich Pelletier, P&Z chair through Tuesday (last day of the 2012-2013 commission). This discrepancy never should have been left to contend with at the meeting, where applicants waited for the process to begin with expensive presentations teams, where we are paying for the TV crew, and the city hall to be open.

The P&Z can correct this problem themselves for next year or even the next meeting. The commission can change its By-laws so election of officers at the first meeting of the new commission takes place at the END of the meeting, and merely choose one person to temporarily chair the meeting. Every commissioner should be capable of chairing a meeting if called upon.

The city can also change its charter to make a better P&Z. It is widely noted in planning circles that completely elected commissions are often less focused on planning because they are often made up with those with only a political aspiration or someone with an ax to grind. Middletown can change its commission to be half-elected, half- appointed. After elections, if there is an open position, the mayor in consultation with others can choose the BEST candidate for commissioner, choosing from the entire city rather than just those who were courageous to run in an election, so his education or experience rounds out that of the newly elected and pre-existing commission.

Then perhaps the small insignificant detail of who serves as P&Z chair from which political party can be less of an issue, year to year and our focus can be put on learning the best practices for development and rebuilding our community instead of on the personalities involved.

Anonymous said...

Hey P&Z - the CL&P building on Randolph Rd. is slated to be shuttered in the Fall of 2014 - is this on your radar?

What are their plans for this building - what are Middletown's plans?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Catherine Johnson's comments about the Mayor choosing the best candidate for openings on the P & Z with education and experience to aid the commission. The Press today states that the Mayor is considering appointing Dan Russo and Phil Pessina to the commission. Mr. Russo has served on the commission before so I would agree that he has experience; however, Mr. Pessina??? Also, what is the status of Gary Faraci on the commission??

Anonymous said...

I question both of the Mayor's nominations. Yes Russo has been on P&Z, but he was not reelected because the voters realized that his attendance was spotting at best and he added nothing to the planning of the city's future. Pessina is being added as a yes vote for the few democrats that think they run the city. Devoto was the clear choice of the voters and must be the chairman to lead our city forward.