CHESHIRE — Residents were supposed to hear arguments for and against the possible merger of two commissions during a Town Council meeting earlier this month, but the rapid switch to a virtual meeting, due to COVID-19 precautions, led to the cancellation of the public hearing.
“Tonight’s public hearing has been canceled because of our rather quick change to Zoom,” said Town Council Chairman Tim Slocum. “I don’t intend, in the near term, to be having a public hearing on this subject.”
The issue at hand was the possible merger of the Energy and the Environmental Commissions into one body. Last month, the Council approved a similar action when it voted to merge the Public Safety and the Prison Advisory Commissions. However, Slocum explained to the Council that he will be removing the issue of merging the two environmentally-focused groups from the Town agenda and will no longer consider the merger.
“The town has approximately 200 citizens who volunteer their time on various elected and appointed boards and commissions, and give their time and effort for the betterment of the community,” he began. “Members of the Council were aware that the Energy Commission barely met due to lack of quorum. As liaison to the Commission, I became frustrated. Environment Commission members were also frustrated … The proposal (to merge the groups) would’ve been considered tonight and potentially acted upon tonight, but has now been withdrawn. Many of our Council committees should be reviewed by the Council, together with their chairpersons, to be certain that yesterday’s objectives match today’s needs.”
Slocum added that he believes there is a great deal of misunderstanding in the public as to what the Environment Commission does, and he insisted that the Council does support the environment and green initiatives.
“The Council does support the environment and independently owned and managed open space initiatives, and acts upon these opportunities when they are economically feasible,” he added. “The town’s capacity to obtain grants is not diminished at all if we don’t have an Environment Commission, Energy Commission, or any commission at all serving the Council.”
Slocum highlighted the recent acquisition of the Fenn Road property as an example of the town supporting the environment, and then added that the council would take any and all suggestions as to how to move forward to ensure that the town’s committees and commissions are continuing to meet and do business on a regular basis.
With the public hearing canceled, Councilor Peter Talbot suggested two individuals — Lynn Dawson and Karen Schnitzer — to fill the vacancies currently on the Cheshire Environment Commission.
“While I appreciate the nomination, those two vacancies are Republican vacancies and they haven’t been filled because we were waiting on whether the two commissions would be merged,” Councilor David Veleber intervened, before the vote. “It’s not like these positions were left vacant because of any neglect. There was no point in filling those two vacancies with new people if the committees were going to be merged. Perhaps this may not be the appropriate time to add those to the commission.”
Despite Veleber’s suggestion, Slocum called for a vote regarding the two appointments, which passed by a 5-3 margin. Veleber, Vice Chair Don Walsh, and Councilor Sandy Pavano were the dissenting votes.