To the editor:

To the Chatham Town Board:

Here’s what I see happening in Chatham.

When my wife and I moved to Chatham three-plus years ago, I soon learned that this town has wonderful and generous people, welcomes volunteerism like the fire companies, and has a healthy array of businesses and services. We are proud to call Chatham our home — full-time, year-round, all-in.

I also learned that the town is deeply divided over land use and over a chasm among those who “have,” those who have less, and those who “have not.” Chatham reflects the income inequalities that are tearing apart our nation.

Now comes a pandemic that has caused a high rate of infection, closure of businesses, loss of employment, loss of in-person schooling, and mounting frustration.

This is a moment when leadership matters. Business as usual goes out the window. The agenda that dominated last fall’s elections needs to be set aside. In my opinion, your primary concern as Town Board should be on shepherding the town through the pandemic and preparing for the “new normal” that lies ahead. That phase is likely to be shaped by a deep depression — business disruptions, record unemployment, loss of tax revenue — and by escalating partisanship.

Instead, you have focused your first year in office on the insignificant issue of short-term rentals. I say “insignificant,” because, compared to the town’s larger needs, the ability of a handful of wealthy landowners to monetize their property seems small. Hotly debated, but still insignificant.

The STR law you have proposed and sent to the county for review would certainly enrich those few landowners. But I am hard-pressed to see that it will do anything positive for the town as a whole. This town needs more jobs, more affordable housing, more students in our schools, more access to technology, more potable water — and now, thanks to the coronavirus, more help for small businesses and employees.

I think you are wasting your time. That means you are wasting our time. Giving a few landowners a new revenue stream is a trivial concern for a board serving the entire town.

Moreover, the way you are going about it seems destructive of town governance. I mean secret meetings, unpublished or incomplete agendas, and a virtual-meeting process that you have used to shut down communications. In fact, your governance process seems to violate the state’s open meeting rules and, thus, could void the legality of what you are doing.

I think it is time, as they say, to “get it together” and to serve the citizens who depend on you.

Tom Ehrich

Old Chatham

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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