By Shaw Israel Izikson, Contributor
A statement that cleared former Zoning Board of Appeals member Ronda Moore of any conflict of interest during her time on the board was made public during the Selectboard’s regular meeting on Monday, Sept. 27.
The statement, written by Selectboard Vice-Chair Frank Tenney, and approved by the town’s attorney, accompanied a three-page timeline written by David Rugh, an attorney for Stitzel, Page & Fletcher, P.C. of Burlington. The timeline was sent to Chairman Matthew Krasnow and Town Administrator Dean Bloch on August 19.
Moore was appointed to the board on May 3 but resigned two months later on July 28.
One month before her resignation, on June 28, ZBA Chair Lane Morrison told the Selectboard at their regular meeting that Moore should be removed.
Morrison alleged that Moore had a conflict of interest because she was an adjoining property owner to the once planned Charlotte Health Center in the West Village Commercial District at 251 Ferry Road.
The company behind the planned health center was Evergreen Family Health.
At a June 3 joint ZBA/Planning Commission meeting, Moore expressed concerns the property is a wetlands area and that various automotive chemicals could pollute the wetland.
However, at the meeting, Moore recused herself from voting on whether or not the project required a conditional use permit.
A few days after her resignation, on August 16, Moore led a group of 16 residents’ legal challenge to the town’s conditional approval to Evergreen for building the health center.
In early September, the company announced that plans for the health center were on hold.
Rugh’s report recounted Moore’s two months on the board, including her actions at various meetings.
In the statement, Tenney wrote that Rugh’s report determined Moore had no conflict of interest during her time on the board.
“There was no ‘conflict of interest’ present based on a conflict of interest as defined in the then-applicable ZBA Rules of Procedure and Ethics Manual,” Tenney wrote. “Since Ronda Moore’s comments pertained to the health center’s site plan application that was heard by the Planning Commission, not the ZBA, her comments did not qualify under the definition of ‘Conflict of Interest’ under the Rules of Procedure and Ethics Manual then in effect.”
However, Tenney wrote that he believes that ZBA Chair Morrison committed a technical violation of the Rules of Procedure and Ethics Manual.
“This violation occurred when the ZBA reopened its hearing on the health care application on June 17 when Lane failed to ask board members to identify conflicts of interest at the start of the reopened hearing as required by the rules,” Tenney wrote.
Tenney also believes that both Morrison and vice-chairman Charles Russell committed a second violation of the Rules of Procedure and Ethics Manual at a meeting on June 28.
“The Selectboard adjusted its agenda to hear a request by [Morrison and Russell] to remove [Moore] from the ZBA due to an alleged conflict of interest,” Tenney wrote. “This request was out of order because ZBA members Morrison and Russell should have discussed the matter with the ZBA first under the procedure set out by the Rules of Procedure and Ethics Manual.”
Tenney noted that penalties for violations committed by Morrison and Russell have not been established by the town’s rules.
At the September 27 Selectboard meeting, the board reviewed but did not take any action on the report.
From the audience, resident Stuart Bennett urged the board to take a vote to accept the report.
“I think you guys can easily take a vote on this,” Bennett said. “Yes or no? Was there a conflict of interest? You all read the report. Just say it!”
Krasnow thanked Bennett and did not respond to his comments.
In an email to The Charlotte News after the meeting, Krasnow wrote that the reason it took over a month to make the report public was that the report was emailed “after the date to warn the meeting for August 23rd. As it so happened, the meeting ran for four hours.”
Krasnow wrote that he had not heard back from board members Frank Tenney and Jim Faulkner, who he delegated to work with Rugh on the timeline.
He added that he did not add discussion of the timeline to the September 13 meeting because the meeting went for almost five hours and “no one had requested an update on this issue during that time either.”
When asked why the selectmen did not vote to absolve Moore of any conflict of interest or offer an apology, Krasnow wrote “That would be a question for the Selectboard to answer at a public meeting.”
“Is it possible to speak for decisions that weren’t considered by the Selectboard?” Krasnow wrote. “The Zoning Board of Adjustment is the only town body that has evaluated the issue. The Selectboard held a special meeting to determine if it was within its jurisdiction to do so, and the town attorney advised the Selectboard to recommend to the ZBA to follow its ‘rules of procedures and ethics manual“
When asked how much the town paid for legal fees for the investigation and subsequent report, Krasnow would not comment.
In response to the report, Moore wrote in an email to The Charlotte News “I am vindicated. Thank you Frank Tenney for getting the truth out in the open with his presentation and memo to the Selectboard.”