Hold elected officials accountable for votes

With area elections over, and most town officials sworn in to begin their terms of service, it is a good time for all of us to begin to keep closer track of the decisions made at the open meetings of the boards of selectmen, boards of education and all the other commissions and committees that define the reality of life in the region. The decisions made at these meetings will determine the approach each town takes toward the future. Citizens often take the relatively routine board actions for granted; once town officials are elected, most of us assume they will run things as they have been charged. Between elections, town residents tend not to follow every vote, important though these votes often are to their daily routines.

To give an example, an important decision was made at the meeting of the Board of Selectmen in Salisbury this month (Nov. 2): to act on the recommendation of the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and hire a consultant to make a complete review of Salisbury’s land-use regulations and procedures (see this newspaper’s front page story last week.) The analysis, which will be done by Connecticut Planning and Development of Hartford, should give Salisbury the opportunity to redefine its zoning process, if necessary, in order to have a better structure and oversight for the town’s incremental development.

Salisbury’s Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman Jeff Lloyd pushed for the analysis after a particularly tough go-round in reference to a property on Lakeville Lake, which had neighbors suing each other and the town, and which ended up creating a disagreement between the two zoning entities in town, the ZBA and the Planning and Zoning Commission. When the two bodies given the charge of overseeing development in a town, with the added input of the zoning enforcement officer, cannot find common ground, how can citizens understand how to proceed in planning their own building projects? Such a situation creates a chilling effect on any kind of improvement or new building in town, both commercial and residential.

This action on Salisbury’s part should set a standard for other towns to observe and perhaps take some inspiration from for their own zoning, as Salisbury did from the town of Washington, Conn., after that town did a similar analysis resulting in the modification of office procedures and a better defining of duties for zoning officials. All towns whose zoning was written and boards and commissions formed decades ago are finding there are any number of difficulties surfacing as more and more complicated problems need to be solved by them. It can only be hoped that the analysis will provide Salisbury with the help it needs to feel more in control of its destiny going forward.

This is one instance of the sort of thing that can be revealed at governmental meetings which can be of great importance to the way a town develops. The meetings are open and should, according to state law, always be noticed at least 24 hours before they are to begin. Keeping track of discussions and decisions at these meetings can seem daunting to citizens with busy lives, who can’t attend such meetings on a regular basis. However, many are recorded by the area cable access channel, CATV-6, and are then broadcast at regular intervals. There is also some discussion on town government on the local radio stations, WQQQ in Lakeville and WHDD in Sharon.

And, as anyone reading these words already knows, this newspaper lists upcoming municipal meetings on the town pages every week, to give interested citizens time to plan ahead, as well as having reporters attend meetings and write about them. Simply reading the paper can help all keep up closely with what’s happening in the region. It’s not only important that we vote in elections, but that we monitor and keep those voted into office accountable throughout their terms.

 

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