My father, Paul T. Veillette, passed away in April. I mention this not for sympathy, but because he was a powerful force, a believer in common-sense zoning, and a long-time columnist for The Chatham Courier. Another powerhouse who recently died was Judy Grunberg, a dear friend of my family and this entire town. It’s been a heartbreaking year.
Before my father and Judy left this Earth, I promised them that I would do everything in my power to stop this current Town Board from forcing zoning onto us more fitting for Westchester than for our rural, farming community. I take that promise seriously.
For all who knew Dad and Judy, you know they were reasonable, well-respected, selfless, and unshakable. Those are qualities public servants should have. How I wish those adjectives described our current Town Board.
After months of attending Board meetings, pleading for changes to these proposed zoning laws, Judy stood strong and asked the Board, “I just want to know one thing. Are you listening to us?” It is crystal clear they were not.
The Board is in bizarre denial that they work for us. As if it never occurred to them that the record number of almost 300 outraged people who crowded the July 8th Tri-Village Firehouse zoning meeting have rights as property owners and voters.
We long ago tired of the Board lamenting, “Where were you before? Why haven’t you joined committees?” Is there an expiration date on when a citizen can get involved? Are we supposed to come out of the womb and head straight to Town Hall?
Maybe it’s just us, but wouldn’t the more appropriate response be, “Welcome to the table! How can we work together to improve our zoning and town?”
It took a firehouse full of outraged citizens to make the Board blink and decide to conduct zoning Q&As with the citizens, with a promise these meetings would continue “until no more questions are asked or no one shows up.”
Bravo! The citizens showed up for every Q&A and over 100 zoning issues brought up by the citizens, not the Board, were changed. Yet the Board was ready to pass this deficient law on June 20th.
The Q&As were productive and polite. We enthusiastically worked together with the Board to great results. Until the Q&As abruptly stopped, and we were yet again dismissed.
And now, the Board has violated our trust once more. Just as they posted the “cleaned-up” red-lined version of the proposed zoning law on the town site, they simultaneously filed paperwork with the County Planning Board to review the proposed zoning laws, as is, without even giving us a chance to read them. The filing occurred on September 30th, yet the date Town Supervisor
Maria Lull put on the signed document was Oct. 2. How could that not make us suspicious of wrongdoing?
They are required by law to discuss issues like this in a public meeting. Yet it was never put on any agenda, never listed in minutes, and not in any video of the Board meetings. This decision, and signing of the paperwork by our Town Supervisor Maria Lull, was done behind closed doors.
That is a violation of Open Meeting Law. If this was on the up-and-up, why was there zero mention of the intent to file?
Let’s make this clear, this was not an act of incompetence. This was a deliberate act of deception. Either the Town Board purposely acted in unison to do this, or Maria Lull acted on her own. Either way, it is the most disrespectful action this Board has taken to date.
I still hear Judy standing strong, asking, “Are you listening to us?” I am so deeply sorry, my dear Judy, they are not. Instead, they point fingers of blame at anyone who disagrees with them.
Dear Town Board, the blame for this zoning mess and divide in our community rests squarely on your shoulders. You choose to disrespect us instead of work with us.
I don’t care how many Letters to the Editor they and their friends write or how many back-patting mailers they send out, claiming “Truth Matters.” They have repeatedly betrayed our trust. The truth is, they will do it again. The first time you’re a victim; the second, a volunteer. I will not volunteer to support another four years of this disrespect.
My father and Judy may not walk among us today, but they will forever be a part of the heartbeat of our community. In fact, Judy told me many times that for the very first time in her life, she would not be voting the Democrat line. The Board may not have heard Judy, but I did. I will be voting for Donal Collins, Vance Pitkin and Abi Mesick on November 5th.
Jeanne Veillette Bowerman is the Editor-in-Chief of Script magazine, Senior Editor of Writer’s Digest, and screenwriter of the narrative adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Slavery by Another Name, with its author, Douglas A. Blackmon, former senior national correspondent of The Wall Street Journal.