Letters to the Editor
Charter Change Update, from its Authors
When a Selectboard receives a rare, voter-initiated, 1,000+ signature petition to alter the Town Charter, one would expect members to be curious about the issue they might have missed or ignored.
Instead, our Selectboard opened the first of two public hearings with, and then published in the Essex Reporter, seven concerns their Chair asserted “had been received”.
Had the petition’s authors been approached, we would have gladly addressed each topic. But the Selectboard did not take the opportunity to engage with us; the members “glossed over [it] intentionally” according to the Chair, revealed later by a public records request.
The seven stated concerns:
“Confusion over who votes for who”.
“Possible over/under representation.”
“Even numbered board.”
“How to break a tie.”
“Legality of districts.”
“Transition to new board.”
“Legislative approval required.”
Confusion over who votes for who. It’s 3 representatives from and by the Village and 3 representatives from and by the TOV. Just like the elections for 4 + 4 School Board Members.
Possible over/under representation. The Selectboard assumes the TOV is being represented by at-large representatives. However, if the TOV were getting anything more than lip service from these members, our Selectboard wouldn’t be attempting to shift Village taxes onto the TOV without securing some concessions.
Our Selectboard apparently believes that having 3 people dedicated to representing TOV interests, as per the Charter Change, is somehow less ideal than currently having 5 town-wide representatives in name only.
Even numbered board. Nothing in Vermont statute prevents it. In fact, our School Board is even-numbered and recently voted 4.5 to 4.5 on a motion, as reported at the public hearing. (The two Westford members each have a one-half vote).
Given our history, anything other than an even-numbered board in Essex will perpetuate the animosity caused by one part of town controlling the agenda at the expense of the other.
How to break a tie. Robert's rules contain the procedure. Besides, what happens now when one Selectboard member is absent or recuses, making the odd-board an even one? (That’s how.)
Here’s a thought. An occasional tie may be exactly what we need! When something isn't working for all board members, it’s time to try something different. Try another approach.
Legality of districts. These very same districts, with no redistricting plan, are included in the 2020 Merger Plan. Our Selectboard voted unanimously last month to use that hybrid representation model for the first seven years of a merged entity. No legality concerns arose.
Regardless, both districts are surrounded by statutorily-defined boundaries. EWSD uses these Village and TOV districts, too, to populate our School Board.
Transition to new board. The Town Charter says: “the terms of the presently elected Selectmen shall not be modified”.
Once the Charter Change is approved by the legislature, instantly there is a vacant seat. It would be filled by someone from the under-represented district at the next annual meeting. As at-large board members’ terms expire, new members would be elected from and by the underrepresented district, until all at-large members terms are expired. Simple!
Legislative approval required. True, and let’s leave it to the legislature rather than second-guess how it will respond to a voter-initiated and -approved charter change. The legislature will determine the appropriateness of the request.
Maybe it would be best if our Selectboard remained neutral. Right now, the Selectboard “doth protest too much”.
About the public records request. At the first public hearing, the Selectboard Chair read into the record the above concerns received from “Staff, Selectboard Members, and residents from all corners of the Town and Village”.
Having learned to “trust and then verify”, we filed a public records request to confirm the sources. The records showed just one of the seven concerns came from someone besides the Chair -- a fellow Selectboard member. The rest were solicited.
February 10, 2020