What I saw on the Planning Board (during Russo’s reign)

Dear Editor:
Mr. Skalski recently wrote a letter referring to former Mayor Russo’s “loyalists” on the Planning and Zoning Boards.
I was appointed by Mayor Russo to the Planning Board in 1998 but hardly consider myself a “loyalist”. Like others, I was bullied and insulted by the former mayor after supporting his opponent in the 1993 election. Years later, I too was angry when rumors were confirmed and Russo convicted for betraying the public confidence and cheating the city repeatedly while his circle profited. In fairness, when first elected, Russo was a tireless worker, appearing everywhere, involved in everything and implemented a number of useful, far overdue reforms and measures that I supported. The City was cleaner, safety and security improved, and City Hall showed an unprecedented level of professionalism.
Despite our differences and given my interest in land use, I wrote Russo and requested to be named to the Zoning Board in 1994. I was “rewarded” by being named to a Rent Control Task Force in 1995 not having had any background in rent control. The following year our group produced a final report to the City Council that included 17 recommendations and much original and comprehensive research supporting these recommendations. Unfortunately like most citizen task force reports, it died in a drawer unrealized. A year later I received a letter inviting me to serve as an Alternate on the Planning Board.
While perhaps other appointees might have had some sort of allegiance to Russo (or whoever appointed them), my experience is that one’s actions on these boards is guided by different motivations. It is not always easy to know how to vote on an issue, and this gets tougher when looking at a tense, anxious room of individuals with strong opinions.
While commissioners may sometimes vote along the “party” lines of the current administration, this was more prevalent when boards were guided by the Russo appointed attorneys who steered the proceedings. If Mr. Skalski’s point is about unqualified people being appointed to these boards, this is another issue and certainly not unique to Russo’s administration.

Hank Forrest