On June 17th I was surprised to receive a call from Town Hall inviting me to meet privately with Toll Brothers. At the Board of Selectmen (BOS) meeting three days before, First Selectman Scalettar had announced that she asked Toll Brothers for its best offer regarding development of the Country Club of Woodbridge (CCW). Now I was invited to hear what Toll Brothers was offering – but in private, not in a public meeting.
It’s worth recalling the BOS Meeting of January 20, 2015. On that day, Ms. Scalettar first made public the Toll Brothers response to a 2014 Town-issued Request for Proposal (RFP). Ordinarily, under our state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the BOS conducts Town business in open, publicly accessible meetings and documents at Town Hall are available to the public. For months, Ms. Scalettar had declined to share publicly the two RFP responses. After one of the respondents dropped out, Ms. Scalettar expressly found on January 20, 2015 that “reasons for temporary confidentiality no longer outweigh the public interest in disclosure.” She “assure(d) all Town residents that there will be many opportunities after tonight’s meeting to hear the proposal, ask questions, and voice your opinions” and promised to post relevant documents on the Town’s website.
So how do we go from Ms. Scalettar’s statements in January 2015 to the offer of a private meeting with Toll Brothers in June 2016? Technically, one-on-one conversations between each Selectman and Toll Brothers do not violate FOIA, as FOIA’s definition of a meeting is two or more Selectmen meeting together. But these private ”non- meetings” certainly violate the purpose of FOIA, which is to make certain that the public’s business is conducted in public.
Since January 2015, Toll Brothers has remained the sole party offering plans to develop the CCW, and their proposal has changed considerably. Back in January the proposal was for Toll Brothers to purchase all of the CCW and build 170 homes. In Fall 2015 Toll Brothers offered six alternatives. Now there is yet another variation – and Ms. Scalettar evaded FOIA so as to inform each Selectman of Toll Brothers’ proposal in private.
While I declined to meet with Toll Brothers I can understand why other Selectmen did. Ms. Scalettar provides virtually no information to her fellow Selectmen – at least those across the aisle – in advance of a BOS meeting. We receive the meeting agenda twenty-four hours in advance as required by FOIA, but only blank pages to support each agenda item. Under prior leadership, Selectmen routinely received a half-inch or more of substantive documents to supplement the agenda. With only blank pages to review, we are given no opportunity to prepare for the meeting, to formulate thoughtful questions and alternative ideas.
On June 22nd Ms. Scalettar hastily called a special BOS meeting in response to complaints about her lack of transparency. There Ms. Scalettar publicly summarized the Toll Brothers’ new proposal—but the public didn’t get to hear the sales pitch that Toll Brothers had made in private. (There’s much more to say about the meeting and the proposal – please watch for the next article.)
For many months as Toll Brothers’ plans have evolved, I have urged Ms. Scalettar to schedule a public meeting offering Town residents – the owners of the CCW – the opportunity to ask questions directly of Toll Brothers representatives as well as Town officials, and voice their opinions on the Toll Brothers plan, any alternative ideas for the CCW, and suggestions for next steps. Despite her assurances in January 2015 that there would be “many opportunities” for residents to ask questions and voice opinions, Ms. Scalettar has repeatedly ignored requests for such a forum. Concerned residents have been restricted to raising issues during the public comment period of BOS meetings or similar venues – never have they been invited to a meeting that is devoted to their questions, comments and concerns.
It’s worth watching Ms. Scalettar’s statement on January 20, 2015 – the meeting video is available on YouTube. For too long, her actions have opposed her words. Please join me in urging our First Selectman to belatedly invite residents to widely-publicized public forums so we as Selectmen can be informed by constituent voices. And please join me in urging our First Selectman to respect the intent – not just the letter – of FOIA.
Maria Cruz Kayne, Selectman is an Unaffiliated Voter who ran on the Republican Ticket. Contact # 203 387 5922.