The Upper Charles Trail Committee at its meeting Wednesday night debated the content and formatting of committee documents contained on the UCTC page of the town’s website, with some members asking that more details be added.
At the meeting’s opening, chair Jane Moran said the current trail map should be broken down into three segments to provide more clarity. The idea was mentioned in previous meetings that the current map be broken into three sections — north, central and south — to facilitate discussion.
“I think the request for simplification from the public actually arose because we weren’t necessarily presenting segments as alternatives,” said Scott Knous, the committee’s treasurer. “It’s unclear to the public which segments are alternatives to one another and which are not. The confusion, I think, is we’re not presenting things as alternatives, and we’re not connecting segments together to make even larger segments or route alternatives.”
He added that he felt that segments that are considered “non-contended routes” by the public at the sections beginning with Hopkinton State Park to East Main Street at the north would not need alternatives if the community already agreed with their placement. The central section would go from East Main Street to Loop Road, while the south section would continue to the parking lot just over the line in Milford.
Moran said each section would be reviewed by the committee to see which proposed alternatives will be kept on the maps.
The north section will be the first one that the committee will discuss. There was some debate as to whether the public should have access to the map before the public meeting. Knous and Jamie Wronka, the alternate UCTC member, argued that it would be better for transparency to make the map available 48 hours in advance of the meeting for residents to access. Members Eric Sonnett and Bob Snyder disagreed, saying that the map still is under discussion. Member Cynthia Esthimer noted that other boards post documents along with their agendas, such as the Planning Board and the Select Board.
“I think that given the difficulty we’ve had in public engagement, giving them the reference of what we’re going to be talking about with the map makes sense,” said Wronka. “If we don’t offer it until after we’ve had the conversation, that doesn’t offer them the opportunity to come in and offer their feedback.”
Moran approved of the “dissected map” portions being released before public discussion. No vote was taken.
Chair’s TCMC appearance raises questions
On Feb. 23, Moran appeared before the Trails Coordination and Management Committee to discuss the citizens’ petition that Peter LaGoy, the TCMC chair, proposed as a private citizen to disband the UCTC in its current form and make it a TCMC subcommittee. Moran said that she was speaking on behalf of the UCTC in her role as chair.
Knous questioned Moran’s statement that the UCTC voted unanimously to support the TCMC’s application for Community Preservation Committee funding for an engineering study of what has been referred to as the western alternative route.
Said Knous: “I looked back, and I don’t see where we voted at all. I know I’ve been vocal against [having another committee address it] because I thought we should keep it.”
Replied Moran: “Why wouldn’t we support any effort of the TCMC to forward their desire to … take this on?”
Wronka asked whether Moran’s statement to the TCMC was meant as a member of the public or on behalf of the UCTC.
“I as the chair can speak for the whole committee,” Moran said. “And I as the chair would hope that we would support any other committee in their effort to look into the western alternative, which has been contentious all along.”
She added that she would check the minutes to verify the vote.
Esthimer said that the UCTC voted “years ago” that the western alternative would not be a viable option from its perspective.
Moran offered to retake the vote but noted that the committee members “verbally supported” the TCMC application, whether or not it had been voted upon. It was not revoted upon because the CPC request is moving forward.
“It’s a circular conversation,” Sonnett said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Esthimer suggested taking “an extra 60 seconds” to get votes documented in the minutes moving forward.
Public forum comments, FAQs discussed
Moran praised Wronka for collating all of the handwritten and electronic comments submitted by the public on an online feedback form at the UCTC’s public forum last April. Wronka had suggested that the comments be posted to the UCTC’s town webpage “in a more legible form” because the check boxes made it difficult to decipher the comments.
Moran added that the FAQ list that has been compiled by town staff should be posted on the website as well, which prompted a debate. She stressed that town funds were used to compile this information and that “hundreds of hours” were devoted to analyzing the data to prepare these answers.
Knous noted that he requested that the FAQ list be pulled down at a working group session last week, saying that some of the questions listed “had not been frequently asked.” He added that the answers were derived by town staff rather than the UCTC “and not discussed and vetted by us.”
Wronka noted that she “asked a bunch of questions” about some of the responses in the FAQ list that she said have not been answered to date.
Said Wronka: “I don’t think that it actually provides much information, and I think it’s unclear.”
Member Ken Parker said that they could be posted “with the caveat that they are a work in progress,” noting that the Freedom of Information Act was a concern regarding transparency.
Wronka added that there should be a note that town staff compiled the document, not the UCTC.
Sonnett replied that the town staff was charged with this duty by the UCTC.
“They rely on the facts,” Moran added. “We may not agree with the answer, but they are the facts.”
Town Engineer Dave Daltorio said that the FAQ sheets were compiled by several staff members. They received UCTC approval before being posted.
Misc.: FOIA request submitted
The chair added that there has been a Freedom of Information Act request for committee emails, including those from the chair.
According to the meeting agenda, LaGoy had made the request for “[a]ll comments and questions received, in their original submitted form, that have been directed to the Upper Charles Trial Committee (committee as a whole, and the chair in particular) between November 2021 and December 2022 on the UCTC pages on the town website.” …
Knous announced that the list of organizations and town committees that the UCTC has decided to contact has been finalized. He added that progress regarding engaging these contacts will be a standing agenda item from now on in order to increase the UCTC’s transparency.