Yesterday evening, I attended a meeting of my town's planning and
zoning commission. The principal agenda item involved a request for
an amendment to the town plan to allow the building of a private
recycling center in the town. The commission's secretary read a letter from the
requesting party's attorney, who is a member of another town board, withdrawing the request. The letter
said that the principal reason for withdrawal of the request was
opposition to the amendment by a small group of citizens who had
"distorted" the facts.
Whether this makes sense or not, it constitutes an attack, without
any stated foundation, on citizens who spoke their views at a public
meeting and in a flyer delivered to mailboxes asking people to
attend last night's meeting. Coming from a public official and
respected local attorney, it sent a clear message that citizen
participation is damaging, and that those who participate will be
publicly criticized. This makes it less likely that, in the future, my town's citizens will
come forth and participate in matters such as this.
I would like to raise two related questions. Does a local official
have an obligation, in any role he plays, not to do anything that
would undermine citizen participation in government? Does an
attorney have such an obligation?