HARWICH — The community preservation committee gathered in a legally posted meeting last Thursday evening and revisited its recommendations for applications to be funded through the Community Preservation Act at the annual town meeting in May.
A previous meeting of the committee held on Jan. 12 was called into question for potential violations of the state Open Meeting Law for failing to specifically identifying the topics that would be voted on in the session. Town counsel advised the committee to post another meeting and properly post the agenda. The committee did so and conducted the meeting Jan. 26.
In the meeting on Jan. 12 only two people were in attendance while in Thursday's properly posted session approximately 20 people showed up. In Thursday's session Town Administrator Christopher Clark requested the committee read each of the 14 projects under consideration and allow public discussion. CPC member James Atkinson asked if they would be rescinding the votes from the previous session.
“The meeting was not valid and any action taken is not valid,” Clark said of the previous meeting.
“We're agreeing the votes of the last meeting were not valid,” responded Robert MacCready, chairman of the committee.
“A potential violation occurred and you're taking preemptive steps against an Open Meeting Law challenge,” Clark said. “You know the meeting was defective based on town counsel's opinion.”
The broader process of notifying the public of the community preservation committee's deliberations was called into question by Donald Howell, who questioned whether the committee followed the state statute governing community preservation committee operations as it relates to legal advertising.
Howell cited M.G.L. Chapter 44B, Section 5 as it relates to studying the needs of the community and consulting with municipals boards. “As part of its study, the committee shall hold one or more public informational hearings on the needs, possibilities and resources of the city or town regarding community preservation possibilities and resources, notice of which shall be posted publicly and published for each of two weeks preceding a hearing in a newspaper of general circulation in the city or town,” the law states.
The committee posted and held a public informational hearing on Thursday, Aug. 11 at 6:30 p.m. But Howell said a check of the town clerk's office showed no record of a legal notice of the hearing being published in a newspaper of general circulation in the town.
MacCready cited the August session as the public informational hearing on community needs.
“That's your position,” Howell inquired.
The committee began addressing the applications for funding and Atkinson asked how they would be handling the four requests that did not receive motions in the previous session. MacCready said they would entertain a motion to oppose them.
Those four requests – $62,027 to create a public records storage facility in the basement of the community center, $40,000 for records management to archive town records, $41,250 to digitize the Harwich Oracle for Brooks Free Library, and $12,500 for a building condition evaluation of Albro House – were opposed by the committee Thursday night.
The committee voted to approve five funding applications, one more than had been approved in the earlier session. The committee agreed this time around to approve a request for $39,000 for historic preservation of the fence rails at Evergreen Cemetery.
The other applications which received support from the committee were $167,900 for phase four expansion and improvements of recreational facilities at Brooks Park; $28,500 for a new irrigation system at Whitehouse Field; $13,800 for a Field Track Fit facility at Veterans Memorial Field; and $5,100 to restore the chimney at Chase Library.
The request for $500,000 for the Hinckley's Pond restoration project was turned aside again after a brief discussion. Stanley Selkow, president of the Hinckley's Pond Association, said he sent committee members a memo after learning about the Jan. 12 vote to reject the funding. He expressed disappointment there was no discussion of his memo. MacCready said the committee had a number of discussions when they were reviewing the application.
“The silence speaks for itself,” Selkow responded.
“Quite honestly I'm disappointed it's not being approved,” Clark said.
Clark said the request was part of the town's comprehensive wastewater management plan, and it will now be his recommendation to fund it through a debt exclusion. He said this project has been vetted and it is legally before the committee for use of CPA funds.
“I'm very disappointed with the tenor of the meeting,” Clark said after the session. “It appeared that instead of being informative and helpful to applicants, there was a glee in turning people down. That sets the wrong tone for a government that's supposed to work for the people instead of against them.”
The committee also opposed four additional requests: $100,000 for an affordable housing buy-down program in Harwich Port; $24,000 for bike route crossing lights at the Pleasant Lake General Store; $15,000 for a project manager for filing documents for the West Harwich National Register District submission; and $3,994 to electronically preserve inventory and artifacts for the Harwich Historical Society, including the Crowell Barn.