NEW IPSWICH – A dispute in the Town Offices last week over the provisions of a nonexistent web policy fanned the flames of an already raging debate surrounding the town’s wind ordinance, leading to an impassioned shouting match between officials at a Select Board meeting on Tuesday evening.
The meeting’s primary purpose was for board members and the handful of residents in attendance to hear the first of two presentations by the Planning Board about proposed amendments to the town’s 2010 wind ordinance, which will go up for a vote in March.
After the presentation, however, Conservation Commission chair and town webmaster Bob Boynton stood up to seek closure to a chain of events that the Ledger-Transcript reported on Monday: While uploading wind-related information to the town website on behalf of the Planning Board last Wednesday, Boynton decided to add several links that he had collected while researching – some of it independently, some of it while partnered with Planning Board members.
Later that day, Town Administrator Marie Knowlton requested Boynton remove the information; according to Boynton, Knowlton told him he was not authorized to post the information. When he moved the information to the Conservation Commission website and linked to it from the town website, Knowlton also asked him to remove the link.
On Tuesday, Boynton asked the board to rescind the decision. “I’m asking you publicly,” he said, “to permit a link from the town website to the Conservation Commission website.”
Currently, the town has no official web policy; Select Board member Michael Conlin told the Ledger-Transcript on Monday that the board will work to instate one post-elections.
“Censorship isn’t a web policy,” Boynton said on Tuesday, aiming his criticism at what he sees as an attempt by town officials to clamp down on the free flow of information.
But several officials said that Boynton, who has acted as the webmaster for ten years, overstepped his responsibility as Conservation Commission chair when he uploaded the wind resources without permission from his board. That the information in question regarded an already controversial issue, Marie Knowlton said at the meeting, was purely circumstantial.
“It has nothing to do with opinion [on wind],” Knowlton said. “It was because no one asked me permission.”
“It was inappropriate for you to act as an individual,” Planning Board Chair Ed Dekker told Boynton during the meeting. “No board member can act without approval from other members.”
Select Board member George Lawrence seconded Dekker’s sentiment: “You, as one member of the Conservation Commission, shouldn’t have acted alone,” he told Boynton.
But Boynton, championing more information over less, defended his position.
“It’s pure and simple,” he said. “It’s the public’s right to know.
“I don’t think everybody should have to go out and find everything on their own,” Boynton continued. “Civilization is built on collaboration. I don’t know what’s going on, but I feel the public is getting the short end of the stick… My only intent was to inform the public.”
The conversation culminated in a series of accusations and denials about bias and motivation: Dekker said Boynton did not come to Planning Board hearings, while Boyton said Dekker did not attend Conservation Commission meetings. Dekker also countered Boynton’s claim that his supplemental information was neutral by pointing out that Boynton had included a press release from Pioneer Green Energy, the developer currently eyeing Wapack Ridge for a 20-megawatt wind farm.
Pioneer Green’s Adam Cohen, who made several comments during the Planning Board’s presentation, did not contribute to the debate about the town’s web policy.
Dekker, who initially argued that Boynton could not act without approval from the Conservation Commission, landed on a final point that suggested a different concern.
“Filling people up with too much information – that’s the problem,” Dekker said. “I’m afraid of them saying, ‘That’s too much,’ and voting no to everything.”
Becky Doyle, who is running for a seat on the Select Board to fill a vacancy left by Chairman Bentti Hoiska, called Dekker’s reasoning into question.
“What is the Planning Board so afraid of? It’s just information,” she said during the meeting. “People can choose what they want to read.”
The Select Board voted to approve publication of the information if Boynton receives approval from the Conservation Commission. Upon approval, Boynton will be able to link from the town website to wind resources on the Conservation Commission website.
“As long as the Conservation Commission votes to approve information germane to conservation,” Hoiska said, “[the link] can go up on the website.”
This article appeared in the Feb. 23, 2012, edition of the Ledger-Transcript.
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