Williamstown Planning Board formally denies open meeting law violation

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WILLIAMSTOWN — Planning Board members have voted unanimously to assert that there was no violation of the state's Open Meeting Law, as charged last week by Luce Road resident David Leja.

Members reviewed two responses to the charge, one written by Chairwoman Amy Jeschawitz and the other by member Sarah Gardner, who is one of three members named in Leja's complaint. Board members voted to add a paragraph from Gardner's response to the one written by Jeschawitz, and also decided to ask that town counsel review the document.

The vote came during a special meeting at 9:30 a.m. Monday, which was called so Gardner could attend. Gardner, who was defeated by Susan Puddestar during last week's town election, has said she has a conflicting engagement and would not be able attend Monday evening's regularly scheduled board meeting.

The response states that the "so-called Gardner Amendment" is a revision of a bylaw initially crafted by town employees regarding the Waubeeka Overlay District zoning amendment bylaw. Both involve a proposed resort development at the Waubeeka golf course by businessman Michael Deep.

"This was discussed by the board in several open public meetings starting on April 12, 2016. A copy of this proposal has been posted on the board's Google Drive public folder since April 8, 2016," the response reads.

The amendment was viewed by some as an attempt to block Deep's effort to find common ground with opponents of his project.

In his complaint, Leja asserted that members Gardner, Ann McCallum and Liz McGowan improperly worked together, in person or electronically, on the amendment in violation of open meeting law. Leja also alleged their present and past employment situations with Williams College and their votes on a college-owned inn proposal show a bias against the Waubeeka inn plan.

But the board's response said only two members collaborated.

"Board members Gardner and McCallum worked in revising this document between the April 28 and May 4 [Planning Board] meeting," according to the response "This does not constitute a quorum of the board and is not a violation of the OML."

Additional communications were between Gardner, McCallum and town employees, which is also not an open meeting law violation, the response states.

Speaking after the meeting, Gardner noted that the timing of the complaint, which came a day before the town election, seemed questionable.

"(Leja) has said that he was encouraged to file this complaint," she said. "I would like to know who encouraged him."

Gardner said she is not opposed to the development plans but did want to be certain that due diligence occurred as the plans evolved.

"I just wanted to do good planning," she said "I am sorry that this issue has become divisive. I want what is best for the town."

In a statement issued on Monday afternoon, Leja said he filed the complaint purely out of a "concern that the integrity of the boards of the town be maintained including the processes by which decisions are made or amendments are created."

And he took issue with the Planning Board's conclusion that the members' communications were not in violation of the open meeting law.

"If a violation did not occur, an investigation will show that and the integrity of the board and its processes upheld," he said. "Factually, the electronic communications between the three haven't been examined."


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