Friday, September 17, 2010

Windsor Town Council hearing to remove wetlands commissioner: to what end?

Robert Fromer is approximately halfway through serving his 4-year term on the Windsor Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commisison. Earlier this year the Windsor Town Council acted on a referral of the Agency to suspend him while proceeding on a resolution to remove him from his position.

On Wednesday, September 16th the Town Council began receiving testimony from the Windsor Inlands Wetlands Agency, represented by counsel, in its referral to the Town Council that member Robert Fromer be removed from its agency. I stepped into the Council chambers a minute before the proceeding began. The evening began with the town attorney, representing the Town Council, who offered legal opinions on a flurry of motions filed by Fromer. I immediately thought I had stepped into the courtroom of a trial on the complex litigation docket (where I have tried cases). Everything about the evening was legal and formal. With Mr. Fromer represented by counsel, there was serious money committed to this proceeding. Doubly so, for the town. The "trial notebook" of exhibits, agency and joint, was at least 3 inches thick. The counsel for both parties, the wetlands agency and Fromer, agreed on the rules of the proceeding, complete with opening statements.

Those statements led me to believe this would all be about Mr. Fromer and his behavior. In the opening statement we heard from the counsel for the Agency that Mr. Fromer's professed desire to be the most hated man in town was likely to be achieved, while Fromer's counsel offered members the opportunity to resign if they couldn't work with him.

While the testimony certainly supported the Agency's claim of Fromer's rudeness and his condescension towards applicants and members alike, it also provided a disturbing picture of how the Agency's response to Fromer seemed to affect its performance of its duties. In the first 4-1/2 hours the Agency, through counsel, presented two categories of witness: those presenting matters before the Agency and Agency members themselves. One attorney testified who represented a major business in town with complex remediation as part of its application. She explained how Fromer was fixated on the public notice for the hearing and his belief that it was defective. That was the sole issue addressed by the Agency in lengthy discussions. Once the discussion ceased on notice, the Agency voted to approve the application with no conditions imposed. The attorney was surprised and voluntarily returned to the agency staff and asked what conditions staff wanted.

A similar tale was told by an engineer who proposed a 2-lot subdivision. As he testified to the Town Council, his presentation was sidetracked and entirely consumed by seemingly irrelevant topics outside the jurisdiction of the Agency. Instead of discussing sedimentation and erosion, this engineer found himself discussing under what conditions the public health code, not the wetlands act, allowed composting toilets. The application was not thoroughly considered, in his opinion. That night the application was approved.

These representatives spoke of the Agency as "held hostage" or "rendered ineffective" by Mr. Fromer and that its proceedings were "peculiar."

Six members of the eight-member commission, including the chair and vice-chair, testified about Mr. Fromer's behavior. Collectively and individually they found his behavior rude, condescending, obstructionist. They described their meetings as chaotic, embarrassing, frustrating. Fromer alienated other members by filing complaints with the Freedom of Information Commission in which the members' actions were the subject. Some members testified about feeling intimidated by Fromer.

Five of the six testified that if Mr. Fromer is permitted to remain on the commission, they will resign. One member said she would consider resigning.

Why did the commission give short shrift to the wetlands concerns once Fromer ceased monopolizing meetings? Were they so frustrated, fatigued, afraid that it would unleash Fromer again? They didn't say.

I grew concerned over the course of the evening of what this proceeding was revealing. Assuming for a moment that the Town Council ultimately believes everything that was presented in the first 4 hours of the hearing, please note Mr. Fromer has not yet begun his defense -- the agency members have painted a vivid picture of dysfunction. Is there nothing short of an expensive mini-trial to assure that the wetlands agency resumes functional conduct in carrying out its duties?

The trajectory of this proceeding is either that the Town Council will vote to remove Mr. Fromer with likely court appeals to follow or Mr. Fromer will be reinstated and a quorum of the members will resign. Each outcome is costly on a number of levels.

The proceeding continues on September 27th.

1 comment:

Samatha said...

Playing-well-with-others and the ability to behave in a professional manner are traits that are not considered when volunteers are interviewed for these "jobs".

Why do expect our community leaders to not be as misbehaved as the citizens as they represent?