Trails and Tribulations
10/5/20 Selectboard Meeting Summary
by Ken Signorello & Irene Wrenner
October 6, 2020
The first October Selectboard Meeting had a short agenda but ran long. It opened with a bang.
During Public To Be Heard, Betsy Dunn raised concerns about a municipal employee’s posting on Front Porch Forum.
Here are excerpts from the October 3rd post, which Dunn said contained “a number of inaccuracies that need to be addressed”:
On Town meeting day in March, the Essex Town government will mail a similar ballot to Town voters, which includes voters in Essex Junction due to our dual citizenship in the Village and the Town.
That statement is misleading because no vote has yet been warned for March, another audience member pointed out. As well, it is directly contradicted by the paragraph below which says there will be no Town vote, if the Village votes down the merger. Which is it? Or is this paragraph, as Dunn put it, “a bullying tactic”?
If Essex Junction voters say no to merger this November, the Essex Town government would not send out ballots next March and there would be no merger. The Village and Town governments and all the services they provide would continue as they are.
This paragraph is what Dunn most strenuously objected to, as did other members of the public. She felt that this statement was designed to bully Villagers into voting "yes" on merger with a baseless threat.
This tactic was familiar to another public attendee. She explained that during the discussion on whether to set up a separate municipality for Recreation back in 2016, George Tyler warned voters that, if they didn’t vote “yes” that December, the Town and Village recreation departments would never merge. That vote failed, but within two years, these same recreation departments had begun talking about moving in together, which they subsequently did.
Dunn also pointed out that the two Plans of Merger will be different, and the Village will need to vote on the same plan in March as well, to have any chance of passing the legislature.
As far as the former state legislator is concerned, the post seemed to oversimplify the process:
If voters approve both these proposals, the current Essex Junction and Essex Town governments would merge into a single Essex government, with the approval of the Vermont State Legislature.
Lorraine Zaloom noted the FPF posting was confusing to her because it was published townwide, and the employee’s title includes the Town of Essex. It looks like it’s coming from (and to) the Town, as well as the Village.
Unified Manager Evan Teich explained it was produced by the Village Trustees in consultation with themselves. A Village/Town employee was tasked with making the post.
Elaine Haney responded to the public’s comments: “Disinformation is not what’s going on here”.
In other news, the Conservation and Trails Commission had a vacancy filled. Grace Vinson interviewed and was appointed on the spot. That leaves one open seat. Hikers and mountain bikers take note.
This was yet another review of how the Town’s Merger Charter differs, or should differ, from the Village’s version.
Andy Watts has been diligently traversing the Charter outside of meetings, as evidenced by numerous suggestions to correct errors, typos, and inconsistencies he has made in writing and in person.
Copious suggestions are not welcomed by the Board Chair. She explained they risk delaying the Town charter’s public debut in November. Consequently, behind-the-scenes pressure is being applied, to minimize changes and finalize it ASAP. Haney says: “We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good”.
What’s left to change at this stage? Among the many concerns discussed:
Dawn Hill-Fleury wondered why we are not doing more of a merger? Many people want comparable levels of service, such as early sidewalk plowing when we merge. With the current plan, only the Village is set to continue getting that service via the Sidewalk Tax DIstrict for 12 years.
Andy Watts worried that specifying a 12-year Tax shift period may be viewed as a bait-and-switch. He suggests not specifying a specific time period because a future Selectboard could shorten the period.
The ordinance adoption procedure was set to be as per State Statute. A single public hearing was added. One less than in the current Town Charter.
Haney suggested that Selectboard members go to the upcoming Open and Outside event and talk up the Village charter to be voted on November 3rd. This, even though the Town Charter has some significant differences from the Village Charter.
There was no mention of what will happen if two different plans of merger find their way to the House Government Operations Committee.