One needs to attend a Fenwick Town Council meeting to understand the residents’ concerns. The published agenda states “The Public Participation segment of the meeting is the time that the town extends the opportunity to the public to share questions concerns and complaints.”
Each person will be given 2 minutes to do so. Only 15 residents will be heard. The town council as a body, will listen, but not respond, to constituents for 30 minutes a month. According to the published agenda, the town government is interested in taking appropriate action, however “current FOIA laws prohibits Town Council and Town officials from engaging in discussion of any comments made or taking any action.”
I have held senior positions in the State and Commerce Departments for over 20 years and been involved in local government for over 15 years and have never seen any reference in FOIA that prohibits town officials from engaging in discussion.
In certain situations, the law does require that a legislative board /council announce its intention to decide on an issue in the meeting agenda before making the decision. Having worked with elected officials in federal, state, county and local governments, this is, to my knowledge, the only time an elected official has said a federal law restricts their ability to have a discussion. The Fenwick Town Council does not have to listen to constituents, but the decision to do so is theirs to make and cannot be blamed on a federal government regulation.
This gross disregard for the law has serious consequences for our town. As you reported in recent issues, Aug. 20, 2020, Fenwick residents filed a lawsuit against the town council, charging it has not enforced town regulations and ordinances related to outside stand-alone bars, and music.
I do not know the last time, if ever, this issue was discussed at a council meeting. The residents have asked the ABC to deny the hotel’s request for a license, but the town government has not.
Among the many variances the town council gave the hotel developer without residents’ input, was permission to build 65 rooms. Town ordinances require a hotel with 65 rooms to have 72 easily accessible parking places. Two residents raised the issue that there are only 61 easily accessible parking spaces.
The council did not respond because of FOIA (??) or perhaps because they did not have a reasonable response other than to say we made a mistake. It appears that violation of the parking ordinance will be added to the list of town ordinances the council has chosen not to enforce.
It was reported that the town building committee approved plans for a local restaurant to construct an outside dining area. The report did not come from council, because this council does not communicate with constituents.
Residents were concerned because it appeared the town council had agreed to permit additional outside dining in town and the possibility of another request for an outside bar without any input from the public. The properties involved included two separate parcels which needed to be consolidated before a building permit could be issued.
Town ordinances require town council action, even if it is only to approve the building official’s recommendation to rearrange. No such action was taken. Two members of council sent a letter to all Fenwick residents to finally explain the situation while verbally abusing the constituent that raised the issue.
During Friday’s meeting, members of council viciously, verbally attacked the one council member who had vehemently disagreed publicly with council’s actions. Rather than explain their position, several members of council, sadly, have made this a personal issue.
The vast majority of our small town’s residents are genuinely concerned. The town council has not demonstrated competence in managing town business, by willfully disregarding town ordinances and tradition.
Of much greater concern is the fact that some town council members have become verbally abusive of residents that are merely asking the town to follow regulations and ordinances. The council owes the town an apology and a renewed commitment to follow town regulations.