Village Values: Privacy, Quiet, Independence

4/27/21 Trustee Meeting

by Irene Wrenner

May 5, 2021

Shortly after the opening gavel, the Trustees, managers, and Village attorney entered an executive session for nearly an hour. 

 

They kept a large audience waiting to talk trash and Separation at the April 27th Trustee meeting.

 

Upon return to the public session, Brad Luck outlined the tasks and funding he believes are needed to make Separation happen.  

 

Luck is the full-time Director of Essex Junction Recreation and Parks (EJRP). He was not formally appointed by the Trustees at their last meeting, but offered to lead the Separation effort. The Trustees appeared to concur without making a motion.

 

Village President Andrew Brown explained that Luck is a Village-only employee and, as such, is better-suited to coordinate the Separation effort than any staff member shared by the Village and Town. For example, the Unified Manager answers to both municipalities. 

 

Brown suggested “Essex Junction Independence” as a name for this Village-led initiative. That phrase appeared in newspapers at the time of the 1999 Separation attempt. 

 

Luck presented a list of “process goals,” including to “act with civility, transparency, and deliberateness.”  The Trustees seemed amenable to those goals, even as they continue to meet regularly in private executive sessions about Separation with their attorney.

 

Contrary to prior statements about not needing the Town’s help, the Trustees, by consensus, agreed with Luck to “work with the Selectboard and maintain a healthy relationship with our neighbors.” 

 

Instead of complete Separation, Trustee George Tyler suggested maintaining the status quo as much as possible. For example, in addition to possibly sharing the Police, the Town and Village could consider keeping their already-consolidated departments as well as the joint stormwater committee.

 

Tyler advocated, as he has in the past, for a minimal approach toward Separation, while Luck specified a range of Separation-related projects in his five-part scope of work.  

 

After seeing Luck’s to-do list for the Trustees’ Trustee Raj Chawla said, “I’m excited to do the work, but it’s also daunting.” 

 

The non-binding Village vote that passed in April asked the Trustees to draft a Separation charter, if Merger failed, as it did.

 

Finding Funds

 

Luck envisions needing up to $61K through November, which could be financed from anticipated surplus monies from several current and future budget line items.

Protecting Privacy

Luck listed hearing from the public as a priority. He suggested seeking feedback via an online survey of Village residents after each Trustee meeting.

EJ_dumptster.jpg

Trustees voiced concerns about the confidentiality of input received, specifically, how much information the municipality would be storing and whether that would be subject to a public records request. 

Chawla asked that only Village residents “participate and not open them up to that sort of abuse.” Abuse of contact information is a valid concern, given the misuse of mailing lists by both Recreation Directors to promote a political cause in 2016.

 

Listening for Ideas

 

In addition to surveys, Luck suggested that community conversations would help develop a vision for the future. Elaine Haney offered to lead a group of volunteers to engage in public discussions of Separation. 

 

Luck proposed an additional $10K for hosting such outreach events, using money from the Economic Development fund that was allocated to Village-sponsored Events. 

 

The Trustees made no motions and held no votes. Instead they consented informally, to appoint Haney and allocate up to $71K to fund the entire effort. Brown justified their informality by labeling this part of the meeting as a “work session.”

 

Work sessions to explore Separation are expected to be a regular, hour-long mainstay of meetings through November.

 

The Sound of Trashing

 

Residents have complained that trash haulers emptying dumpsters in the wee hours disturb the peace. Meeting attendees reported that companies reward drivers for efficient pick-ups with haulers starting as early as 5 am. Village residents have to live with the consequences.

 

Chawla noted existing ordinances disallow power tool use before 7 am, but don’t restrict when a bank of dumpsters may be upended, a noise which travels far.

 

Village resident Heidi Clark pointed out that pushing trash pick-ups to later times could impact  the already heavy school and commuter traffic. Early morning radio host Marcus Certa, who can hear the midnight train from where he lives, said he’s “kinda gotten used to this being the sound of the Village.”

Village Community Development Director Robin Pierce will contact trash haulers to address  residents' concerns.