No Moore conflict of interest?

ZBA and Conservation Commission member leading the charge against Charlotte Family Health Center doesn’t think conflict of interest rules apply

No Moore conflict of interest?
ZBA and Conservation Commission member leading the charge against Charlotte Family Health Center doesn’t think conflict of interest rules apply

By Chea Waters Evans

Ronda Moore, a member of both the Zoning Board of Adjustment and the Conservation Commission, is leading the charge to prevent the approval of the Charlotte Family Health Center’s application to build in the West Village Center. Moore says her actions qualify as neither a conflict of interest nor the perception of a conflict of interest.

On June 3, Moore participated as a Zoning Board of Adjustment member during a joint hearing with the ZBA and the Planning Commission on an application to build the new Charlotte Family Health Center on Ferry Road in the West Village Center.
During that meeting, she voted in the affirmative that the proposed square footage of the building fell within the town’s land use regulations.

On June 11, the Charlotte Conservation Commission submitted a letter to the Planning Commission that reads, in part, “It is a duty of the town to recognize and properly value impacts on the town’s wetlands, for the sake of both public and privately owned wells, aquatic habitat and the protection of tributaries of Lake Champlain that the town stewards. Because one such tributary, Thorp Brook, flows directly from the wetland and its buffer that is encroached upon by the proposed development, it is incumbent on us to understand and mitigate the impacts that stormwater runoff and its contaminants might have on this vital area.” 

The CC’s letter also requests a three-week period for the Conservation Commission to evaluate the project’s stormwater management plan. The CC is a group of volunteers, including Moore, who are appointed by the Selectboard. 

On June 16, Moore sent a personal email to Town Planner Larry Lewack. It said, in part, “...the magnitude of the impervious surfaces on the proposed driveway and parking lot and the 4200 square foot building abutting the remaining undeveloped wetland in the West Village is way out of scale and sets a dangerous precedent for every wetland in Charlotte. The irony of purchasing an extra acre of wetland to achieve the 2 acres required to develop this site is ironic if not outrageous. Verifiable stormwater runoff management in perpetuity at the expense of the developer/owner should be mandated by the PC.”

On June 17, Moore submitted a petition to the town of Charlotte that has  signatures from 19 residents, plus herself. The petition says that the signatories “allege that any permit or other relief requested in certain site plan and conditional review applications filed recently by the Charlotte Family Health Center for a proposed new health care facility…, if granted, will not be in accord with the policies, purposes or terms of the plan or zoning bylaw of the Town of Charlotte.” The petition signers also agreed to “designate Ronda Moore to serve as our representative regarding such Applications.”

On that same evening, attorney Jon Anderson attended a Planning Commission hearing to oppose site plan approval for the health center project, expressing concern for the wetlands. Anderson said he was there on behalf of, and representing, Ronda Moore.

Moore was appointed to the ZBA and Conservation Commission on May 10. During her interview, Selectboard member Lewis Mudge asked her if she would be willing to recuse herself should a conflict of interest arise. Like all the other candidates, Moore said yes.

The ZBA has an ethics and conflict of interest policy. It states that a conflict of interest is defined as a "direct or indirect personal interest" in the outcome of a matter that comes before the ZBA. The policy also calls for recusal should there be a "real or perceived" conflict of interest. 

Moore said not only does she not have a conflict of interest in this matter, but that she finds the ZBA policy to be so broad as to be practically inapplicable to most Charlotters.

In an email to The Charlotte Bridge on Sunday, Moore responded to a question about whether  she considers her personal concern over the wetland buffer zone and health center (which would be built in proximity to her house) a matter that would require recusal.

 Moore wrote, “Nearly everyone in town has a direct or indirect interest or real or perceived interest in a health center. If your construction of the ethic rule was correct, the rule would be so limiting that it would eliminate or should have eliminated nearly everyone in Charlotte, such as members of the Selectboard and the Planning Commission, from participating in health center application decisions.  By extension, every member would need to recuse themselves in any decision that may relate to an application which provides a benefit to the public because they, too, as a member of the public, would have a perceived interest in the application’s benefits. I don’t believe that is what the rule intended.”

There is a ZBA meeting tonight, with the health center on the agenda. Moore did not respond to multiple requests for comment about whether or not she will recuse herself from deliberations. ZBA Chair Lane Morrison declined to comment on the matter.