Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Restoring Local Control

This was published in the Conway Daily Sun on February 4, 2005. Given that "Silent" Joe Kenney is now the GOP nominee for Ray Burton's Executive Council seat, it seemed a good time to remind folks of Joe Kenney's less than stellar career in the NH Senate. 

Two years ago, the citizens of Tamworth learned of Club Motorsports, Inc. (CMI), and learned of their intent to build a racetrack on Mount Whittier in Tamworth. Tamworth was chosen by the developers, because it remains one of the few towns in New Hampshire that has no zoning laws- therefore, a perfect spot to put the kind of businesses or attractions that most towns have intentionally planned against.

In the spring of 2003, a group called Citizens For the Ossipees formed in reaction to the proposed racetrack. CFTO filed two petitions, one for Emergency Temporary Zoning (ETZ) and the other for a Race Track Ordinance (RTO). The Tamworth Board of Selectmen formed a committee to develop the RTO. The committee included representatives from CMI, members of CFTO, and the selectmen. They met throughout the summer of 2003, and had two public hearings about the RTO. CMI was at all of those meetings, providing input at every step. At one point, they threatened a lawsuit unless the noise restrictions were eased-and so changes were made. The RTO was written with public input and with compromise from all sides. CMI was quoted four times in the press saying that they could live with the RTO. The RTO was enacted on Oct. 1, 2003, by the Tamworth selectmen.

On Oct. 4, 2003, the town voted against Emergency Temporary Zoning, just days after the RTO was put in place. Anti-zoning signs sprang up all over Tamworth like mushrooms after a spring rain. Later, the residents of Tamworth learned that CMI had funded the anti-ETZ campaign. Zoning has long been a contentious issue in Tamworth, and because the RTO had been adopted only days before, the citizens believed the RTO was all the protection they needed, in order to have a say in the regulation of the racetrack. CMI was sitting pretty at this point. They'd help to write the RTO, said they could live with it, and they'd ensured that no zoning, temporary or otherwise, would be coming along to mess up their plan.

That wasn't enough. At this time last year, SB458 was gliding silently through the N.H. Legislature. SB458 turns a racetrack into a "private driving instruction and exhibition facility," which, due to lack of zoning, is exempt from regulation by the town. SB458 did not redefine the term racetrack-it vaguely and magically transforms nearly any two-mile loop of pavement into a private driving instruction and exhibition facility. Any town that does not specifically prevent a private driving instruction and exhibition facility in their zoning ordinances could find one happening to them. SB458 slid silently through the Transportation Committee, and silent Sen. Joe Kenney chaired the hearings and never uttered so much as a peep to his Tamworth constituents about the bill. SB458 went on the consent calendar and passed unanimously. It was signed into law by former Governor Benson on March 5, 2004. On March 10, the voters of Tamworth overwhelmingly voted in the RTO-with 84 percent of the vote. They didn't know that some members of the state Legislature had sold them down the river. They wouldn't learn about it until the day before the Legislature ended the 2004 session.

Most of the sponsors of SB458 were from the southern part of the state-save for Sen. John Gallus. In an unusually scathing editorial last year, George Epstein suggested keeping an eye on the campaign contributions of the sponsors, Gallus in particular. George's instincts were excellent. Every one of the legislators who sponsored CMI's special interest legislation received a campaign contribution from them. Senator Gallus (who owns a Corvette, by the way) received $250 from CMI.

Silent Joe Kenney did not get a contribution, but he has failed to express outrage at the legislation, and failed to take a stand against it-and is no longer compelled to, since he was re-elected. Reps. Harry Merrow and David Babson began the repeal process as soon as they learned of SB458. They were outraged that a developer could draft, lobby, and pass special interest legislation that trounces local control.

This is an affront to the way we do government in this state. Local control is revered and protected in New Hampshire. That it could be so blatantly bypassed should horrify everyone, regardless of their feelings about the racetrack project. This goes beyond Tamworth. This could happen in any town in the state. Reps. David Babson and Harry Merrow filed HB90, a bill that repeals SB458 and returns local control to the town of Tamworth. Supporting HB90 sends a clear message to our state Legislature-that we the people are paying attention and we won't tolerate special interests writing their own laws. Supporting HB90 sends the message that we value local control, and they have no right to sell it off to developers or big business.

There will be two hearings on HB90, in two locations, which is a rare and wonderful gift from the Legislature. The first hearing will be on Feb. 17, at the K.A. Brett School in Tamworth, from 5 to 7 p.m. The second hearing will be on Feb. 22, at the Legislative Office Building in Concord, beginning at 10 a.m. Testimony will be restricted to the topic of repealing SB458 and restoring local control to the towns, where it belongs. This is an issue of crucial importance. No matter how folks feel about the racetrack, we should all be united in maintaining the tradition of local control, and not allowing developers to ride roughshod over the voters in any municipality.

"It is not the function of our government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the government from falling into error." -Robert H. Jackson 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Absolutely right and may I mention that both Mr. & Mrs. Kenney as "public servants" have appeared to be less than desirable to help run our local and state governments.

The fact that they are supported at least by the praise of local individuals writing letters in the Sun speaks to a lowly base of hacks in a political club who could care less about their patriotism and their land.

Whatever happened to honor? Regardless of party loyalty, if a individual has proved themselves to be valueless to the common cause they should never be supported by their base.