‘Problem Properties’ Debate Postponed
By: James Kinsella
The Barnstable Town Council meeting scheduled for last night was canceled after Barnstable Town Attorney Ruth J. Weil said late yesterday afternoon that the meeting notice was not posted in time.
On the agenda of the much-anticipated meeting were public hearings on five proposed town code changes intended to address chronic problem properties and blight in town neighborhoods.
A proponent of the changes, Greater Hyannis Civic Association member Laura T. Cronin of Hyannis, said she was “very disappointed” that the hearings now will be delayed.
“We had been calling all week, touching base with our supporters,” Ms. Cronin said. “I think we’re going to lose a lot of support.”
Although the town council now is set to meet on its next regularly scheduled date, November 15, Barnstable Town Manager Thomas K. Lynch said the items requiring public hearings, such as the proposed code changes, likely now will not be heard until the council’s December 6 meeting.
Mr. Lynch said holding the hearings on November 15 would not meet legal advertising rules that come into play for public hearings.
Barnstable Town Council President Frederick Chirigotis of Centerville said last night that public hearings must be advertised at least 14 days in advance.
Even if the advertisements were placed in newspapers tomorrow, Mr. Chirigotis said, that would not allow enough time to meet the 14-day requirement.
“I would have liked to have the discussion start tonight,” the town council president said of the proposed code changes. “I think this is the kind of thing that requires a lot of public involvement… I want to start as quickly as we can.”
Details of the proposed code changes need close attention, Mr. Chirigotis said.
A copy of the meeting notice posted on the town website shows the council meeting notice was clocked in with the town clerk’s office at 12:09 PM last Friday, allowing enough time for the legal posting of the meeting on the official section of the town website.
But the notice was not posted on the official section of the website until less than 48 hours before the scheduled start of the meeting.
Accordingly, Ms. Weil said the notice did not meet the requirements of the state Open Meeting Law, and that the meeting could not be held.
Last night, Mr. Chirigotis speculated that the posting of the notice had been overlooked Monday as town hall closed at noon given the approach of Hurricane Sandy, and then was not picked up on when workers returned Tuesday.
Computer systems also were slow coming online at town hall on Tuesday morning, he said.
The town council president said the town clerk’s office also has been handling a lot of work in advance of next Tuesday’s general election.
“It was a confluence of a perfect storm,” Mr. Chirigotis said.
Barnstable Town Clerk Linda Hutchenrider commented by e-mail on the posting problem and gave a description of the posting process.
Ms. Hutchenrider wrote, "We have a system where offices who wish to post meetings clock them in and leave 3 copies for us. We put one through the system and post it on the web and one goes in the book that is kept on the counter and one ismposted on the wall out front.
"The one that is scanned for the web is kept for one year in a file. All postings are to be placed out front in a file next to the posting clock. The notice was clocked in but the postings were not left. We double checked all of our postings back 2 weeks and did not locate them.
"They did bring us copies of what was posted but it was too late and did not meet the 48 hour necessary posting requirement. Mistakes happen but we did follow through when it was noticed but it was too late to meet the legal requirements.
"We receive the full agendas by email to create the agendas but those are
not what are used to clock in the required filing. Filing the agendas
are the responsibility of the office that creates the agendas, those are
not created here. We are merely the filing repository and posting office."
The proposed code changes came out of grassroots meetings that have been held since last year about continuing problems with crime and blight in Hyannis.
Supporters say similar problems can be found in the town’s other villages, if to a lesser extent.
Opponents argue that the proposals go too far on infringing on private property rights and would affect hard-working people who have fallen behind on property maintenance.
Ms. Cronin is concerned that pushing the hearings back to December 6 could cut into public support, given that some residents will be leaving for the winter and others will be engaged in holiday activities.
She is asking people who anticipate they will not be able to attend the hearings to send letters to their town councilors expressing support of the amendments, so that their support will be on the record.
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