When Ted Hess-Mahon was a member of the City Council, every time a controversial special permit/site plan was filed, he stressed here and in the council how the councilors are required to function as a judicial body, and not a legislative body as they normally do, when deliberating a petition
From Newton’s best practices.
Decisions on these land use petitions are required to be based upon information obtained by the Council about the special permit/site plan approval petition and made a matter of public record. It is important for Councilors to avoid prejudging a potential petition prior to the public hearing and conclusion of the Council’s review of the petition.
Persons interested in a land use petition should understand that in order to provide everyone an impartial decision, all interested parties must have had an opportunity to present information about the petition to the City Council.
Councilors contacted directly by potential petitioners, their representatives, or members of the public prior to the filing of a land use petition should encourage such people to contact staff of the City’s Planning and Development Department, who can give them guidance. Also in certain cases, especially major projects, Councilors should encourage prospective petitioners to explain their project to interested members of the Council in a setting where others potentially interested in a petition could be present. The
Councilors contacted subsequent to the filing of a land use petition should encourage the persons contacting them to communicate their information to the Council at the time of the public hearing and/or by filing written comments with the Clerk of the Council.
This morning Andreare Downs, who won Ted’s seat after he resigned, sent an email to those who are on her subscription list essentially doing the same as Ted did – pointing out the rules associated with the special permit process. It’s important for councilors and constituents to understand and follow the process as it was intended in the charter. It seems a reminder is needed every time a development special permit is filed mainly because not all councilors or constituents follow the rules either because they are unaware or they deliberately break these rules.
Councilor Downs email included the below from our Law Department:
“…while City Councilors serve broadly in a legislative/political role, when acting as the special permit granting authority the City Council is acting in a judicial role and is conducting what is commonly referred to as a “quasi-judicial process.” City Councilors are not acting on behalf of their constituents when voting on special permits.”
This distinction is important because in a quasi-judicial process, the city councilors are making a decision following specific guidelines in the charter for judging whether or not to grant the special permit.