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    Friday, December 01, 2023

    P&Z alternate appointment in Ledyard becomes controversial

    Ledyard — Hilary Evans has been trying to return to the position she held as an alternate on the Ledyard Planning and Zoning Commission, but some town councilors voiced concern that she could get the town in legal trouble if she were appointed, citing views she expressed on Facebook about affordable housing.

    Meanwhile, a person the nominating committee of the Republic Town Committee endorsed — Terry Ault — had a Facebook page full of references to the far-right militia groups Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, and has used an image that says "Muslim Skull Crusher" as his profile picture.

    The Administration Committee of the Town Council tabled Ault's appointment last Wednesday, not due to social media but to confusion over minority representation rules. "We are going to be reviewing the minority representation rules to ensure we are following state statute," council Chairman Kevin Dombrowski said in an email Tuesday. He said he has no update since last Wednesday on either Evans or Ault.

    Ault didn't respond to a voicemail and email Tuesday, and Republican Town Committee Chairman John Rodolico declined to comment. It appears Ault's profile was deleted sometime Tuesday.

    PZC member resigns

    Evans served as an alternate on the commission from 2018 to last summer, when she resigned to accept an appointment on the Ledyard Town Council. The Democratic Town Committee had nominated her to fill a council vacancy after the council rejected the DTC's first pick: Nicole Cruz-Glacken.

    Evans didn't get elected to the council in November, and she promptly applied to fill her prior Planning and Zoning Commission seat, which had never been filled: Her application is dated Nov. 3. Ault's application — which says that he works at Electric Boat and has a military background — is dated Nov. 17.

    On Nov. 10, the three members of the Town Council's Administration Committee — Republican Councilors Andra Ingalls and John Marshall, and Democratic Councilor Mary McGrattan — voted unanimously to appoint Evans as an alternate member of the Planning and Zoning Commission and to fill the vacancy she left on the Housing Authority.

    Evans was still a seated councilor at that point, but McGrattan noted the full council wouldn't vote on her appointment until Dec. 8, two days after Evans' term ended.

    Ingalls said at the December meeting that planning and zoning work "is the kind of work where the wrong words, at the wrong time, can actually get the town in legal trouble, including if those words are on social media. Unfortunately, Ms. Evans has been on social media, identifying herself as a zoning official, and as such, sharing her opinions."

    Democratic Councilor Bill Saums said he shared Ingalls' concerns, that a commissioner has "to be more of a judge than an activist," and he had "concerns about speaking before thinking, especially on social media."

    After these concerns were raised, the council opted to refer the matter back to the Administration Committee.

    In meetings last Wednesday, current commission Chairman Tony Capon and member Nate Woody voiced support for Evans. Woody announced his resignation from the commission in the public comment portion of last Wednesday's Town Council meeting, out of disgust with some councilors' statements.

    "This council has decided to slander someone who has done nothing but work hard for this town and dedicated hours of service to this town. You've achieved a new low," Woody said. He announced his resignation and concluded, "So there's another vacancy on the Planning and Zoning Commission, and I encourage Ms. Evans to apply again. Make this council suffer through another round of embarrassment of refusing to approve a qualified nominee."

    He said between the way the council "railroaded" Cruz-Glacken over the summer and now the issue with Evans, the council "appears to have a problem with women who have opinions."

    Evans, who is chair of the DTC, told The Day on Monday night that she is interested in putting her name forward again.

    The Facebook posts

    Ingalls shared screenshots of the posts she referenced, from an exchange on March 31. Evans was responding to a post by John Scott in the Groton CT Community Forum that criticized Rep. Christine Conley, D-Groton, for voting to take away local control of zoning.

    Evans commented, "I see no mention of the fact that certain small towns have used planning and zoning boards for decades to keep minorities and affordable housing out of their towns. CT is notorious for housing inequity because of this, and I notice none of that was mentioned in why someone could possibly think this was a good idea. I'm a local P&Z commissioner, and I'm not opposed to the state stepping in when commissions refuse to do the right thing."

    Another commenter asked if she was conflating all minorities with needing affordable housing, and Evans responded, "No, I said that often local zoning commissions have caused issues for both. Actually, affordable housing tends to benefit women and young families more than minorities, but often people are bigoted and don't see it that way."

    Timestamps show the comments were captured on April 1, but it was unclear who took and shared these screenshots. Scott, who is chairman of the Groton Republican Town Committee, said he took screenshots of these comments over the summer, not earlier. He shared them with Linda Davis, the late former chairwoman of the Ledyard Town Council, amid discussions over Evans' appointment to the council.

    Evans said Monday, "I was not accusing any specific towns, nor did I have any specific towns in mind, when I made that comment. It was just (that) general housing inequity has been a problem." She said when she was on the commission before, she went to trainings that dealt with legal liabilities, which were held by the University of Connecticut CLEAR Land Use Academy and the Connecticut Bar Association. She said she is "completely confident" her post was fine.

    She also noted the post was from before she was appointed to the Town Council, and questioned why it made her acceptable for the council but not the Planning and Zoning Commission.

    Ingalls said in an email Tuesday morning that it's a problem when a seated commissioner "accuses people of being 'bigoted' because they hold a differing view."

    Woody said in his resignation letter, "As a zoning commissioner, it is alarming that the well-established fact that zoning can be and has been used as a tool of discrimination is controversial to the town council. I simply cannot watch a fellow commissioner be treated so poorly and I have no interest or ability to participate in the politicization of the Ledyard PZC."

    Conversation continued

    Last Wednesday, the agenda for the Administration Committee meeting included a "motion to revisit the motion to recommend the Town Council appoint Ms. Hilary Evans" as an alternate member, followed by a motion to appoint Ault.

    Woody — the PZC member who just resigned — said when Evans was a member, her attendance was excellent and she was always willing to volunteer.

    "To have an opinion about the development direction of the community is far from a disqualifying characteristic for the PZC, Woody said. "To quote the Connecticut Supreme Court, 'The law does not require that members of zoning commissions must have no opinion concerning the proper development of their communities. It would be strange, indeed, if this were true.'"

    Capon echoed Woody's comments. "We have people who are dedicated volunteers, and Hilary is one of them," he said. "If we start politicizing our boards and commissions, we're going to find that the kind of people that we want on our boards and commissions will simply not serve, and the people who do serve will be people who have personal agendas that motivate them."

    After this public comment, Ingalls reiterated her concerns. Councilor Whit Irwin expressed support for putting "more Republicans on the committee and keeping it balanced that way." With the resignation of Woody, who is unaffiliated, the commission now has three Democrats and one Republican as full members, with two Republicans as alternates.

    But Planning Director Juliet Hodge raised the question of whether minority representation rules would allow another Republican as an alternate. Ingalls and Irwin ultimately voted against appointing Evans to the seat, and voted to table Ault's appointment. Hodge and the town clerk didn't respond to questions emailed Tuesday about minority representation.

    At the full Town Council meeting last Wednesday after the Administration Committee meeting, Chris Glacken — who is Nicole Cruz-Glacken's husband — asked "if the same scrutiny was paid" to Ault's social media as to Evans', citing the Three Percenters, Oath Keepers and Confederate flag imagery on Ault's profile.

    Last week, the Justice Department indicted the founder of the Oath Keepers and 10 other members or affiliates on charges of seditious conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

    After Woody's impassioned remarks and announcement of his resignation at this council meeting, Ingalls said, "We certainly will consider Chris Glacken's comments. We will look at the social media. We don't scrutinize it, but when it's brought to us, we look at it, so we will certainly look at it."


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