FALMOUTH —  Several residents on Monday questioned the Town Council’s motives after members opted not to appoint any of the nine people who applied to serve on the Long Range Planning Advisory Committee.

The pushback came after an email was sent to the applicants who recently interviewed for two vacant spots on the board. The initial email indicated the reason they were rejected is because they weren’t qualified.

Falmouth Council Chairwoman Amy Kuhn said this week there was no bias involved in the decision not to appoint anyone new to a town planning committee. File

In a sometimes emotionally fraught public comment period, some of those who interviewed to be on the Long Range Planning committee said they believed their rejection was politically biased.

Councilors rejected that characterization.

Chairwoman Amy Kuhn said the reason the Town Council has decided not to assign anyone new on the committee is because it’s “been in a bit of limbo” and its future is uncertain, especially as the council decides how to best conduct a review and update of the 2013 Comprehensive Plan.

“It would be unfair to ask anyone to make a three-year commitment when we don’t even know if the committee will continue to exist or what we’ll be asking it to do,” she said.

The Long Range Planning Committee was first established in 2008, according to town records. It is a seven-member board, except it sometimes operates with nine members when the Comprehensive Plan is under discussion, when that happens the board is referred to as LPAC+.

The main purpose of the committee is to advise the council on the land use polices of the town. Each member serves a three-year term and can be reappointed with no term limits.

Becca Casey, who chairs the committee, could not be reached for comment prior to The Forecaster’s deadline, but Theo Holtwijk, Falmouth’s director of long range planning and economic development, said Tuesday that decisions about who to appoint and when are solely at the council’s discretion.

There are vacancies on the committee, which currently includes former Councilor Karen Farber and Planning Board member Rich Jordan, because several members left before their full term was up.

In addition to articulating the council’s reason for not appointing new members to the Long Range Planning committee at this time, Kuhn also apologized for the tenor of the email sent to the applicants.

She said there was no intent to “give the impression that you were personally unqualified. I sincerely apologize and it would be a terrible outcome if this (error) deters people from applying” to be on any of the town’s voluntary boards and commissions going forward.

But Valentine Sheldon, who ran unsuccessfully for council in June and who’s been a vocal opponent of several 2016 rezoning measures, some of which have now been rolled back, said Kuhn’s explanation was “not logical.”

Sheldon, who interviewed twice for one of the available seats on the planning committee, said Monday that Kuhn’s comments don’t make sense, especially because the committee is working with a consultant and is moving forward “on doing foundational work that will affect the future of Falmouth.”

The committee’s work, he argued, “affects everyone in town” and that’s why multiple views must be included. “A multitude of perspectives must be allowed to have input on land use policy,” Sheldon argued.

Resident Bill McKenney, who described himself as a professional land use consultant, agreed, saying, “diverse opinions are needed.” He also told councilors they should fill the open seats on the Long Range Planning Committee with those who’ve already been interviewed.

All nine candidates, he said, “are well qualified” and McKenney told councilors they should also honor the “promises of inclusion that were made,” this past spring when town leaders vowed to rely on a vigorous public input process when reviewing the Comprehensive Plan and any possible zone changes.

Amanda Henson, another resident, said Monday that as far as she could tell in reviewing town policies and ordinances there are no specific requirements for serving on any board or commission in Falmouth.

“There’s been a lot of divisiveness lately and those who are feeling frustrated are willing to sit down at the table and share their opinions, you should let them,” she said. Henson also argued that the only way “we can come to solutions that work for everyone is if we consider differing viewpoints.”

Lee Hanchett, who’s also been an outspoken critic of many of the town’s processes, said it was clear that all nine people who applied to be on the Long Range Planning Committee were “eminently qualified” and that municipal government has a duty to be apolitical when making appointments to volunteer boards.

Hanchett said the only thing that should matter is an applicant’s interest, experience and capabilities.

In describing the people who recently applied for the planning committee, Sheldon said the group included graduates of Harvard and Oxford, a real estate attorney, a member of the military and an engineer, among others, including long-time residents.

He said “the majority of those who were rejected all have one thing in common: they all publicly questioned the 2016 rezoning or were affiliated with those who did.”

Sheldon also objected to the questions the applicants were asked, which he said were deliberately designed to disqualify people. He said the questions included how the applicants felt about the 2016 rezoning and what they want Falmouth to look like in the future.

Kuhn said the decision not to appoint anyone to the Long Range Planning committee was “not related to the viewpoints” of the applicants and said she “strongly favors a variety of viewpoints. The greater the diversity of opinion, the better the outcome.”

But Kuhn also made it clear that until the council has made a decision about the future of the committee, no new people will be placed on the board.

Councilor Janice De Lima, a member of the Appointments Committee, said for her the applicants’ affiliations are not an issue.

“What is important,” she said, “is that we need diverse opinions and people who have a strong interest in committee work.” But, De Lima added, “we’re looking for people who are tough on the problems, not each other. I appreciate diverse opinions but (committee members) need to be respectful and engaged,” as well.

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