Council Abolishes Joint Negotiating Committee

The Town Council voted to streamline the process for evaluating and purchasing conservation land.

Among the changes was the elimination of the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC). Established in October 2011, the JNC had negotiated purchase and sales agreements on properties that the Conservation Commission recommended be purchased by the town for conservation purposes. With the dissolution of the JNC, the Town Council or their designee will negotiate purchase and sales agreements with sellers.

While no public comment was planned for the change, Deb Lievens and Mike Speltz of the Conservation Commission asked to provide feedback after the Council had already voted to adopt the change. Both expressed their disappointment that the Conservation Commission was not afforded the opportunity to review and comment on the new process prior to the meeting. “It just seems that we [Conservation Commission] ought to be included. We ought to have a little bit better knowledge of what is going on,” said Lievens. Speltz later added, “The first time I saw this was today when I got ahold of the full agenda. You can certainly make the case that this involves the Conservation Commission and I believe a draft of it should have been shared with the Commission before you considered for a final adoption.”

In late March the Conservation Commission sent input on how they would like to see the land acquisition process improved. Chairman Farrell acknowledged that feedback was sent, but that the Council decided to go with the suggestion of the town attorney instead.

The newly adopted process has six steps. In the first, the Conservation Commission identifies a property with high conservation value owned by a willing seller. This step also involves getting an appraisal on the property. Step two has the Conservation Commission recommending the purchase to the Council which then meets in a non-public session to decide whether they want to try to purchase it.

Next the Council or designee negotiates a purchase and sale agreement with the seller. The Conservation Commission then holds a public hearing and votes to accept or reject the agreement. If accepted, it moves back to the Council which holds public hearings and then casts a final vote.

Commenting on the process, Speltz noted that while the new process was good, he had some suggestions for improvement. One was to have the Conservation Commission informally preview potential purchases at the start of the process to get Council input before going to the time and expense of getting appraisals done. He also suggested clarifying that appraisals should be done by companies that are knowledgeable in raw land assessments.

Speltz also thought it was important to keep one part of the current process where a Conservation Commission member(s) provides insight on the conservation value of the property. His suggestion was to do this during the non-public Council session. In response Chairman Farrell was non-committal saying, “We invite guests to non-publics as necessary and as needed, so I’m not gonna see any need to add anything.”

Councilor Dolan asked Town Manager Kevin Smith to collect input and determine if the resolution should be amended in a future meeting.

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