Last night, the Salem Zoning Board of Adjustments met to vote on three requests for variances to permit charity gambling, and, very specifically, poker rooms. I had to cast three votes against the proposed charity gambling LOCATIONS.
It really stinks when you have to do the wrong thing for the right reasons. We could not vote with our hearts. If we could have, my vote would have been much different.
Here’s why I voted this way:
Last Friday, ZBA chair Bernie Campbell, Vice Chair Mike Smith and I, along with Town Planner Ross Moldorf, sat down with the Town’s attorney for a two-hour consultation.
The Town attorney stressed, over and over, that we had to make our decisions based on the five criteria, not the good that charity gambling proceeds would bring to the local charities. We had to forget the individuals that were petitioning. Our obligation was to the entire Town, not just the charities, and those who would benefit from these organizations. It was pointed out to us that each of the three petitioners had heavy-hitting attorneys with them. One of our missions was to ensure that we did not say anything that would mean that the Town could be sued.
This is a huge decision, with lasting impacts on the Town, both good, and potentially bad. It was too big of a decision for four elected officials and one appointed alternate to make.
The issue is NOT over. It will now be coming before the voters of the town in March. It is unfortunate that the charities have to wait that long, but this is a decision that the town residents should all make, not just a few.
One comment was made that I seemed unprepared. It may have appeared that way, but the problem was that I TOO prepared. I knew how I was going to have to vote. And the way I WANTED to vote, was not the way I knew I HAD to vote. I have lost many hours of sleep, knowing this was coming, and trying to find a way to uphold my duties, while still be able to follow my heart. I couldn’t.
The Facebook community has said that this will cost me votes in my campaign to be elected State Rep from Salem. I would not — could not — cast my vote yesterday simply in order to earn more votes in November.
Our State Representatives knew that Salem had voted for a resolution to approve a casino at Rockingham Park. They had an obligation to fight for that, and some promised to deliver, yet the vote in Concord failed. Our Reps let us down. If I had been a Rep at that time, I would have fought for the Town, because it was what the town wanted. THAT is what a State Rep is elected to do: represent the people of the town.
A State Rep evaluates the merits of a bill, and votes in the best interests of their town. It’s a matter of conscience.
Matters before the Zoning Board of Adjustment are entirely different.
The ZBA is a quasi-judicial board. From Wikipedia: “A quasi-judicial body is an entity such as an arbitrator or tribunal board, generally of a public administrative agency, which has powers and procedures resembling those of a court of law or judge, and which is obliged to OBJECTIVELY determine FACTS and draw conclusions from them so as to provide the basis of an official action.”
When a property owner wishes to do something that is not allowed in the Town’s ordinances, they come before the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The ZBA is charged with reviewing each application for a variance to a Zoning law, and, on a case-by-case basis, addressing the Five Criteria. If any zoning application fails any one of the five criteria, the application fails. Town’s ordinances can vary, but the application of the five criteria applies not just to Salem; these zoning conditions are state-wide.
In yesterday’s vote, regardless of what the people wanted, regardless of what we personally wanted, we had to follow the law and uphold the vows we took when we were sworn into office. We addressed and responded to each of the five criteria. THAT is what the members of a Zoning Board are elected to do.
Despite what was erroneously reported on Facebook chats, the final vote was 4:1 on EACH petition. In each case, four out of the five ZBA representatives found that each property did not meet at least one of the criteria. We actually found that each property failed to pass more than one criteria, although the law says that even just one failed criteria means the petition must fail. Yes, there is some subjectivity there, but we had to rely on the advice of the Town’s attorney and interpret the law as we understand it.
The three of us who did meet with the town’s attorney — Bernie Campbell, Mike Smith and I — voted against each of the three petitions.
Appointed alternate, David Bruce, was not present at that consultation, and voted in favor of the first two petitions, and against the last one.
Representative John Manning was not present at that consultation, either. He initially voted in favor of the first petition, at the old Coca-Cola building on South Broadway. After further discussion, when we had the final vote on that petition, he voted against it, making the final vote 4:1. Representative Manning was the only one who voted in favor of the third petition, on Garabedian Drive.
The Zoning Board made the appropriate decisions when they rejected all three.
I don’t like the way I voted, but ONLY because it means that, for a short time, certain charities, including some I support, will not have the income they need to do good in our communities. Whether or not I am elected as your State Rep, I will be doing everything I can to help pass a charity gambling resolution in March. That, at least, is one thing you can bet on.