TRURO — The signers of two petitioned articles that will be on the June 26 annual town meeting warrant want the zoning board of appeals and the board of health to be elected by the public rather than appointed by the select board.
“For me, it is a matter of democracy,” said Joan Holt, who helped circulate the petitions. “I think we all realize how precious our votes are.”
But many in Truro don’t agree, including the chairs of the select board and board of health.
Tracey Rose, the health board chair, said no one has ever brought this up with the members of the board.
“I can only presume it comes from a special interest,” Rose said. “If it was a more universal town-wide request, then absolutely. But I do believe this is a small group of people and that’s disturbing. It’s very suspicious to me.”
The “special interest” Rose referred to is most likely opposition to the proposed Cloverleaf affordable housing development on Highland Road. The ZBA and board of health have both been instrumental in the town’s approval of the project, which has now been challenged in court. (See related article on page 5.)
“It’s a terrible idea,” said Robert Weinstein, the select board chair, of the two town meeting petitions. “One need only look at our planning board, which is elected and which has continued to be an embarrassment to the community.”
Weinstein said the planning board had done nothing to accomplish the development of affordable housing, which is one of the select board’s main goals. Creating housing that’s attainable for year-round residents in a town where the median-price house now sells for $1.2 million has been a priority for years, he said. And yet, the planning board has “done everything in their power to prevent the progress of diverse housing stock,” Weinstein said.
Several planning board members have actively opposed the Cloverleaf development. No one on the planning board responded to calls for comment from the Independent.
Holt argued that elected board members are accountable to the people instead of the five select board members who appoint them. This lessens “the concentration of power,” which she claims is increasing nationally, internationally, and “even locally.”
But, practically speaking, Truro’s planning board members have rarely been elected in a competitive race, said Jay Coburn, a former Truro selectman and director of the nonprofit Community Development Partnership, which promotes and manages affordable housing on the Outer and Lower Cape.
“It’s a complete fallacy that the planning board reflects the will of the people,” Coburn said.
According to Town Clerk Susan Joseph, six members of the current board — Bruce Boleyn, Anne Greenbaum, Peter Herridge, Paul Kiernan, John Riemer, and Steve Sollog — all ran unopposed. Richard Roberts was appointed to fill Karen Tosh’s unexpired term. Coburn pointed out that, when filling an unexpired term, the planning and select boards collectively vote, and there are more planning board than select board members — so, in effect, the planning board can control the filling of vacancies.
Weinstein said several of the petition signers are the “usual subjects” who oppose affordable housing efforts. Herridge, Kiernan, Riemer, Sollog, and Boleyn all signed the petitions.
The authors of these articles got their idea from another petitioned article, which was first presented a year ago but got delayed and so will also appear on the warrant in June, Holt said. It asks voters to make the planning board appointed by the select board rather than elected.
Weinstein supports that article, he said, because “you want the goals and objectives of the policy-making body to be carried out by the regulatory boards.”
This upcoming town meeting is expected to be especially long, since there are 64 articles on the warrant, including nine new petitions and five petitions that were postponed from 2020 in an effort to shorten the town meeting during the pandemic. It begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 26 at the Truro Central School ball field.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article gave the date of the annual town meeting as May 1. On Tuesday evening, the select board voted to move the date to June 26.