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Groton councilors abandon coastal access effort in 4-4 vote

I'm so old, I almost qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine appointment, the pandemic's brass ring.

That means I've covered more town and legislative hearings over the years than I care to think about. And that was before Zoom, when attending meant hours and hours in town halls, school auditoriums or General Assembly hearing rooms, as my hair grew gray.

And yet I have never seen any public meeting like those for the Groton Town Council run by Mayor Patrice Granatosky, who presides like a prison guard managing what she deems to be an unruly cell block.

The mayor has a timer — really — which she wields with fervor.

"Can I just ask one more small question," Councilor Lian Obrey asked sheepishly at a recent council meeting, after her time was up.

"No," the mayor shot back, with what I came to see was ironclad adherence to rules, with no allowance for the setting, a group of public-spirited volunteers trying for a community spirit to do the public's business.

It was this fervent adherence to rules that prevented the council Tuesday from reconsidering a previous deadlocked vote on whether to pursue legal action to validate a public access trail through a Mystic marina that has been listed on state public access trails for decades.

With only eight councilors present at the previous meeting, the vote deadlocked at 4-4, with Councilors Aundre Bumgardner, Conrad Heede, Rachael Franco and Portia Bordelon agreeing to pursue a definitive court ruling on whether the town can legally continue to offer public access along the Mystic River at Fort Rachel.

At issue is a right of way that exists in many land records, on maps and which forms the basis of a longstanding designation on state public access guides, on paper and online.

The town attorney says his research shows the road was never formally accepted by the government and that a court would have to rule on whether public access can continue.

This seems to be a no-brainer to me and the four councilors in favor of it. Why shouldn't the town pursue legal avenues that might be necessary to confirm public access that even the previous owner of the marina acknowledged in a public forum?

Alas, four councilors voted no to pursuing this public access.

The most vocal against it was Councilor Joe Zeppieri, who at the most recent meeting angrily chided fellow councilors for pursuing the issue and said the whole thing is "grossly unfair" to the marina owner.

I would suggest that the marina owner must have known before buying the property that the previous owner had acknowledged the public access and that it appears to this day on state maps showing coastal trails.

A previous Groton town manager used to lead public tours down that marked trail through the marina.

The four councilors who were trying to stop this giveaway to the marina, pleading that the town at least deserves a review of the issue by a court before abandoning the public access, tried to bring it up again Tuesday, since there was another councilor in attendance who could break the tie.

But the timekeeper mayor enforced every rule she could to find that the issue could not be brought up again for at least a year. She also resisted an attempt for the public access councilors to muster six votes for a reconsideration, quoting rules that they needed to be on the prevailing side, while admitting she didn't know what the prevailing side in the rules means when there is a tie vote.

Councilor Franco, who reasonably pleaded for a vote to finally put the issue to rest, called the blocking of votes parliamentary gymnastics.

The whole session left a bad taste in my mouth, not just because I think the preservation of public access in Mystic is important enough to warrant the attention of a court review.

But I was more saddened to see such a surprising lack of geniality and compromise in the council's conduct of public business.

But don't take my word for it. The council sessions can all be watched on its YouTube channel. Groton residents might want to take a look before they vote again.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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