Berlin Planning Head Resigns After Ultimatum

BERLIN — Berlin Planning Director Chuck Ward resigned Tuesday morning after being told he had a choice to make — step down or he would be terminated.

"I resigned. My letter of resignation is on file in Town Hall," Ward said in a statement Thursday.

While Ward refused to go into detail over what transpired that led to him stepping down, Mayor Gee Williams was specific in an interview this week. He outlined the council’s reasons for seeking Ward’s resignation on Wednesday.

At the Mayor and Council meeting on Monday, concerned merchants converged on town hall to protest what they believed was a pending crackdown on sidewalk clutter, such as sandwich-style signs and tables and chairs. At an April Historic District Commission meeting, the topic of sidewalk accessibility was broached, and Ward was asked to evaluate the code and issue suggestions. The mere possibility of a crackdown on these items sparked concerns throughout the business community, and the Mayor and Council decided at Monday’s meeting to work toward amending the existing code and clarify exactly what is allowed and what is not.

The morning after the meeting, on Tuesday, Administrator Tony Carson met briefly with Ward to inform him the Mayor and Council was asking for his immediate resignation or he would be fired. Ward chose to resign.

“This was not the result of any one action, but this latest brouhaha over the sidewalk issues was an example where both the Planning Commission and Historic District Commission in the eyes of the Mayor and Council were not well served and being properly advised on this particular issue, and it’s one of many such instances over the last few years,” Williams said. “Quite frankly, while Chuck had many fine attributes, his lack of communicating with the town administrator and the Mayor and Council and giving an opportunity to address or get information back to these commissions on these issues was basically not well serving them or the community at large.”

The mayor said it was disheartening to learn of the pending sidewalk recommendations from the local media, rather than the head of the town’s planning department.

“Any information I found out about this was in the local newspapers and this issue led to the highest number of phone calls on any one issue since I have been mayor,” he said. “It was either related to the sidewalk signs or the rumor that the tables and chairs outside were going to be completely outlawed. All of this could have been avoided by simply having the zoning director have basic conversations with the town administrator and gathering information from the town attorney. Our primary concern is making sure any objects meet current pedestrian accessibility standards. It’s ironic that this issue in Berlin, which has one of the best records of any small town in this state of becoming ADA compliant.”

Williams believes all of the current controversy could have been avoided had Ward appropriately addressed the HDC members’ concerns on the spot at last month’s meeting.

“There was lots of information that should have been shared with the Historic District Commission because they had every right to ask questions with accessibility, and I have no problem with that. A responsible response by the staff person assigned to the commission should have happened,” Williams said. “This was just one incident. If it was just one, this wouldn’t have happened. This was not personal in any way.”

Williams said he hopes to have the planning director position filled prior to Carson leaving the city at the end of June for a post in Ohio.

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