This Monday’s special town meeting demonstrated far more about the shortcomings of municipal government than it did about the average citizen’s desire to exert control over wireless communications. The wireless article sparked very legitimate concerns about:
* our town’s failure to monitor current cell tower permits
* our town’s failure to enforce our own cell tower bylaws
* the presence of a cell tower in a church steeple 300 feet from the Atkinson School, clearly in violation of the 650 setback required in our bylaw.
Our town attorney advised citizens that federal wireless communications laws ty-pically override local wireless zoning laws in court. He did not speak to the is-sues of who is responsible for monitoring and enforcing our bylaws, why it hasn’t been done, and what procedures are in place to revise unenforceable bylaws to bring them into compliance with state and federal statutes.
When former Board of Selectman Susan Haltmaier asked why these permits were allowed to expire and run up large, probably uncollectible punitive fees, and whether our Planning Board had sent letters out to wireless venders encouraging them to speed up their permit applications because a moratorium was pending, the silence was deafening.
North Andover United believes that it is unacceptable for town officials to ignore important questions from our citizens. Not answering Ms. Haltmeier’s questions damages the credibility and accountability of our local government.
Ms. Haltmaier’s first question had everything to do with sound municipal management practices. Whose responsibility is it to oversee these permits? Town Manager Mark Rees owes citizens an explanation of why the permits weren’t tracked. Then both he and the Board of Selectmen owe us an explanation of what systems have now been implemented to ensure that the permits [all permits] are renewed and not allowed to lapse again. If we have bylaws, we are legally required to follow them – not get tripped up in unenforceability issues we’ve created for ourselves. If the bylaws themselves are inherently flawed, then we are long-overdue in revising them to make them enforceable.
Ms. Haltmaier’s second question concerns whether the Planning Board is acting in the best interests of the town or the holders of the permits. If they sent out a letter, it’s a public document, and they need to release it to the public, now. The Planning Board needs to confirm that their actions must always put the interests of the town first. They also need to explain how or why a permit was issued that so flagrantly violated our bylaws, allowing installation of a cell tower in an area occupied by three schools and close residential neighborhoods.
North Andover United took no position on the moratorium article itself. Our concern is that the terms of the Joint Resolution, pledging open and accountable government, be upheld. Our Board of Selectmen, School Committee, Finance Committee, and every other committee and board in town must understand that as citizens of North Andover, we deserve honest answers to honest questions, regardless of whether the news reveals bad judgment or just benign neglect.
Strong leadership requires you to be accountable for your actions when the going gets rough. We ask that our offi-cials do the right thing – answer Susan’s honest questions with honest answers, explain the cell tower next door to Atkinson, and do it at the next regularly scheduled Board of Selectmen meeting.