To the editor:
Upon reading the editorial in the Feb. 21 Salem News (“Keep slots discussion open to the public”), I am compelled to respond. All of us, selectmen, Town Hall administration and, most importantly, the citizens, have been clamoring for more detail from the developer who is floating the slots parlor proposal. There are large issues, concerns and questions out there. But the developer is not yet ready and has promised a public presentation when they have sufficient information and details.
But in order to prepare for the public meeting, the developer wanted to know the concerns of the selectmen, and what we felt would be the concerns of the citizens. So they asked for a pre-presentation planning meeting. They wanted to make sure they could answer all of our questions and concerns when they came before us publicly.
At the individual planning sessions, they offered a high-level preview of the proposal, which included some corporate financial details, out-of-town alternatives and details that could affect their business negotiations with other third parties. This is information they wanted to keep confidential until the public meeting.
So, in reading the editorial, I take umbrage at the statement, “The express purpose of this approach was to bypass the state’s Open Meeting Law.” In fact, no more than any two members met with the developer at one time to EXPLICITLY conform to the law. If we were to all be in a room, then it could be considered “deliberation.” Even if we exchanged questions and answers in email with three or more of us on the email, it could be considered “deliberation.” But by breaking it up into (ultimately) four separate discussions, we conform to the law, let the developer know our individual questions and concerns, and allow them to prepare details for the public meeting.
In my response here, I speak only for myself. In fact, I have had NO discussion with the other board members about what they asked, heard or felt. And what was discussed in my meeting has not convinced me that there is sufficient benefit to the town to outweigh potential issues, but my role is to hear all sides of the issue, weigh the information and make a decision that benefits the entire town. I have high concerns and few details, and I am waiting, like everyone else, to see the public presentation.
There was no nefarious intent in the meetings held, they were designed to both obey the law and get the concerns out on the table so the developer can provide specific answers. You want answers, and they wanted to know what questions would be asked. So each selectman, individually, told them.
Until then, all of us, including the selectmen, have to wait and wonder.
Gardner S. Trask III