Monday, February 29, 2016

Report on Advisory Council Meeting on Public Safety

I WISH YOU COULD HAVE BEEN THERE A Personal Take on the First Meeting of the Advisory Council Updating the Town Plan on Public Safety The Advisory Council (Peter Berger, Linda Blodgett, and Peter Veysey; absent Don Eatmon) met on Monday February 22 at 6 pm in the Town Office. Ed Bove, Executive Director of the Rutland Regional Planning Commission (RRPC), chaired the meeting. Nicole Griffin sat at the table as the recorder. (LPCTV was not present, apparently having been advised by a town official not to come. If this is true, it would appear to violate the provisions of the Open Meeting Law.) In the audience were: the chair and one member of the Select Board; the chair and one member (also a member of the Fire Department) of the Planning Commission; the town’s representatives to the regional Planning and Transportation commissions; members of the Mount Holly Fire Department, led by Chief Keith Hawkins; members of the Mount Holly Rescue Squad, led by Chief, Karen Veysey; the town constable Paul Faenza; the newly appointed coordinator of Emergency Management, Jason Griffin; and about ten additional members of the public. After limited introductions, and no reference to minutes from the previous meeting, a set of 15 questions prepared by the Advisory Council and Ed Bove was handed out (see attached). This was the first time that the public and the town’s Public Safety services had seen the questions. (The questions were basically the agenda for the meeting, and as such, should have been posted as required by the Open Meeting Law.) About half-way into the meeting, both Fire and Rescue expressed some frustration that their responses would have been more complete had they had time before the meeting to review the questions and also to obtain input for all their members. They were invited to send more information to Ed Bove; but they were not invited to a future public meeting when they would be better prepared. Generally, in answer to the questions, the safety officials believed that their buildings and equipment were sufficient for the job. Some private drives and roads are impassable or dangerous, but property owners and agents are aware of the problem. The increase in drug use in town and the danger presented to emergency workers were noted. No significant changes in town population or buildings are anticipated and Bill McGrath, chair of the Mount Holly Planning Commission and former director of Rutland Economic Development Corporation, stated that Mount Holly was particularly unsuited for any industrial development - or any operation with more than 10 employees - due to Mount Holly’s limited septic capacity and insufficient water supply. I wish that all town residents and property owners could have the chance to hear and see our Fire and Rescue volunteers describe their work: the 350 to 400 hours spent in basic training; the loss of work time to respond to calls; the lack of employer understanding; the increasing work load as it becomes harder and harder to attract volunteers; the burnout rate, and the depressing prospects for the services they have put their hearts into. I was moved by their devotion to serve the citizens of our town. Despite their dedication and expertise, it became clear that Fire and Rescue have no way to describe how well they reach their goal of excellent services. “We do the best with what we have”. There is no data showing that the department or squad are providing – or need to provide - services at a rate equal to or better than others serving similar communities. Therefore the Town, which has ultimate responsibility for public safety, has no performance measures to inform taxpayers of the quality of the services they are paying for. (Mount Holly is not alone: the Town of Hartford has described its process of correcting this problem: In 2009 the National Fire Protection Association published Fire (and Rescue) Service Measures My response to this first meeting to upgrade the Town Plan is that there was good conversation back and forth between the Advisory Council and public. However, I thought that expecting informed discussion from the public safety officials and the public based on questions distributed at the beginning of the meeting was unlikely, and I supposed that the deficit was probably the result of insufficient time to prepare for the meeting. I suppose that insufficient preparation time must also be the reason for RRPC’s lack of reference to the bedrock of planning: goals, performance standards, and measurements. Indeed, I feel a general sense of rushing may be compromising this important planning work. The Town Plan is not due until 2018. The newly appointed Advisory Council has no town planning experience and needs time to understand the planning process, to review past plans, ordinances, state intent and statutes, and the roles of various town officials. The Town has not been explicit in defining problems it wants addressed. Subjects as complex as the status and governance of education and the needs of at least 12 community organizations are each given only one hour to be discussed in detail by the representative agencies and the public. RRPC has assumed the job of compiling new information related to the subject areas under discussion: updating maps, reviewing new State and Federal laws and programs, and finding examples from other towns’ plans that could provide examples for the Advisory Council. This must be challenging for Mr. Bove to do when he directs a large organization responsible for the 7 towns of Rutland County.

Annette Lynch

No comments:

Post a Comment