Letter: Former EPC chairman says public hearing on Ox Ridge should welcome all feedback

To the Editor:

Planning & Zoning Chairman John Sini wrote in these pages that the public has a “gross misunderstanding” of what it can and cannot say in public hearings on Ox Ridge.  He admonishes that P&Z “will not entertain comments that are outside the bounds of its limited zoning authority.”   Rather than offer meaningful guidance in the letter, he generally directs inquiring minds to the town director.
Personally, I do not have strong feelings one way or the other on the specific matter at hand.
Having chaired the Environmental Protection Commission for 10 years, however, and being appreciative of longstanding Darien tradition, constitutional rights and good governance, I  believe that if anyone is under a “gross misunderstanding,” it is Chairman Sini.
We on the EPC held hundreds of public hearings, including ones where emotions ran high and people lined up to speak.  Other commissions long have the done the same.  My fellow commissioners and I tried to treat every speaker with respect, courtesy and attention.  Like other Boards, we sometimes sat until very late hours, so that everyone could be heard.  If someone was off the mark, we let him/her make their point anyway and sometimes commented why the input may not be salient.  Often that was all it took for others to decide they did not need to rise.
It seems to me that conducting meetings in such manner — which we did not invent! — is the very job that Mr. Sini sought, and his fellow Commissioners elected him to do as Chairman, after the Town voted him in.
What’s more, I believe that under state and federal constitutions, citizens have free speech and assembly rights at public forums on topics of community interest.  I believe those rights include: no prior restraints by our government.
Personally, I hope that all who wish to be heard, not be deterred, by what strikes me as a misguided rebuke by the chairman.  In my view, our Town democracy insists on the active participation of our engaged citizenry.

Peter N. Hillman

Darien

The writer served on Darien’s Environmental Protection Commission for 11 years until June 2011 — 10 of those as chairman.