Westborough selectman proposes resident `Bill of Rights’

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By Susan Gonsalves, Contributing Writer

Westborough – During a Dec.  8 meeting, Selectman Syed Hashmi proposed a resident “Bill of Rights” with a goal of “equal justice” for residents while protecting their rights and the “character and integrity” of neighborhoods.

Hashmi said he was compelled to develop the document after his personal experience trying to get information about a project that impacted his street.

“It was a deeply frustrating process,” Hashmi said, noting that it was difficult as a selectman and made him wonder what it is like for people who are not public officials.

His proposal called for town departments to incorporate regulatory information into one concise document, which would be used to communicate with residents before municipal work begins.

He said that input from residents should be sought prior to the start of any project. He noted that abutters should get communication by certified mail one month before plan development that includes contact information for the person responsible for neighborhood outreach.

Also, Hashmi said the town needs to meet with residents to seek input prior to plan development, have a “walk-through” for residents and time to get questions answered.

Other aspects of the bill:

  • mitigation must be made clear
  • final plans are shared
  • residents know how to follow up and express dissatisfaction
  • trees be spared
  • officials respond to resident email communication within two business days.

“If we as a town government state that we value transparency and accountability, then we need to live those words,” Hashmi said.

Selectman Allen Edinberg said that looking for resident input and having walk throughs a month before a project begins is unrealistic and problematic.

He used the example of the Department of Public Works trying to fix a storm drain and having people’s basements flood while waiting for these preliminaries to occur.

Or, if the Recreation Department wants to erect a fence at the tennis court, he couldn’t see the value of letters, walk throughs and “engineering by committee.”

“Not every project is the same,” said Selectman Ian Johnson. “What if on town property, we want to trim trees so they are not in the road during storms?”

Johnson noted that communication can be made clearer about what protocols are but departments like DPW, Planning Board, Conservation Commission, etc. each have rules and regulations to follow.

Chair Shelby Marshall said striving for improved communication is a “no brainer,” but town work does not operate like prepping for a medical procedure.

She added that Town Manager Kristi Williams is creating a communication plan that addresses many of the points.

“The (plan) may not be the home run but a solid double of what you ask for,” Marshall told Hashmi.

Board members said a “town vs. residents” situation should be avoided.

Marshall added that the manager’s communication plan is “a roadmap forward so we can jump on the bus” and move ahead.