Land Use Board members are barred by law from entering into conversations with applicants regarding proposals before them outside of the formal meeting venue. This is called an ex parte contact.
At Monday night’s ZBA meeting Gary Hasbouck responded to the issue of his being seen having drinks with Michael Toohey and Sonny Bonacio immediately following a ZBA meeting where their Moore Hall proposal was before the Board. Mr. Hasbrouck alleged that he just happened to run into Toohey and Bonacio at a bar immediately following the meeting on their application and that he simply said hello and exchanged pleasantries. He said that he never discussed the application with Bonacio and Toohey. He told the rest of the Board and the public that he saw no reason to recuse himself.
Following Hasbouck’s statement, Keith Kaplan, another Board member, made note that he had been at the History Museum fundraiser and ran into Sonny there and chatted with him. He entered into the record that they did not discuss the application. Other members of the Board made similar statements about being at public events and encountering Sonny.
When the meeting was over, Michael Toohey announced that he would be going to a particular bar and advised the members of the Board not to go there. This was meant to be funny and he got laughter from some of the Board members.
These are just more examples of the flagrant contempt displayed by many of the members of our land use boards.
To begin with, it is obviously poor judgment to be seen socializing with an applicant following a meeting where their proposal is being considered. Mr. Hasbouck was seen having a drink with the applicant. It was not a drive by hello. We will never know whether he discussed the application with Mr. Bonacio and Mr. Toohey. We have only his word for it. Bear in mind that early on Mr. Hasbouck had made statements at the meetings that showed he was solidly in Mr. Bonacio’s corner. Most of us would be embarrassed about creating the public appearance of impropriety. It’s too bad he didn’t have the good grace to indicate that he could at least understand why people opposing the project would be disturbed by this.
It is obvious that Hasbouck’s meeting with applicants in a bar is very different from encountering an applicant at a public event. Clearly it would be very difficult to have an inappropriate conversation in a situation such as a public fundraiser where other parties could either overhear you or could easily join the conversation. The “confessions” of the other Board members seemed to be an attempt to denigrate the criticism of Mr. Hasbouck.
Mr. Toohey’s “joke” was particularly in bad taste and had a certain silly macho quality.
Along the same lines, a member of the audience attempted to advise the board that there was a problem with the live web feed at Monday night’s meeting. This person had been contacted by text message of the problem. The response by one of the members of the board was to interrupt her and actually shout at her that she could not speak. She persisted and they finally acknowledged her. William Moore, who is chair of the Board, simply dismissed the problem. In a tone reminiscent of “whatever” he said it was being recorded. He meant that people could access it later. One would have expected the chair to halt the meeting momentarily to try to determine if something could be done. When it comes to the public, Mr. Moore just does not do “nice” well. His attempt to limit the lawyer representing the Moore Hall neighbors to a two minute comment after Mr. Toohey had been afforded an open ended amount of time to present his case for the applicant is particularly memorable. Mr. Moore makes his living doing appraisals for the real estate industry.
All of this is just another example of how broken our Land Use Boards are. It is not that there are no fair and gracious members of these Boards. There most certainly are. Unfortunately, though, a majority of our Land Use Boards’ members are representatives of real estate interests who are used to helping their friends out without the irritating habit of community members interfering.