Selectboard wrestles with public reactions

The Shelburne Selectboard received a petition Tuesday night signed by 189 residents asking for a special town meeting to reverse a controversial hazardous materials ordinance, but the documents were ruled out of order.

Chairman Gary von Stange said the town charter requires any petition to rescind the ordinance be submitted within 30 days of passage. The ordinance, approved 3-2 by the board on Aug. 8, covers the storage, handling and distribution of hazardous substances.

Former selectboard member Chris Boyd said he was aware of the 30-day limit, but local residents had tried working with the selectboard to get the ordinance repealed. When their efforts fell on deaf ears, the petition was started, said Boyd, who is also a former town fire chief. He said there was a very short period to collect names.

“It’s your constituents,” said Boyd, who provided the signed copies to each board member.

Von Stange noted other residents do support the eight-page ordinance.

The exchange came after about a half-dozen residents spoke in favor of the board’s action, but others still question the need for the regulation in light of various federal and state laws.

Contentious exchange
The debate was followed by a contentious exchange between Dr. Colleen Parker, a selectboard member, and volunteer Fire Chief Jerry Ouimet when he attempted to correct the record about his review of the ordinance.

Ouimet said while he was on vacation in August, the public was told he favored the proposed ordinance, but the reality was he had not fully weighed in on the topic. He had given an immediate reaction that there was no mention of requiring calls to 911, but agreed to meet with Town Manager Joe Colangelo to discuss other issues after reviewing it. For whatever reason, the two did not connect in the following days.

Parker said it was not her, but selectboard member John Kerr, who had reported the fire chief’s support.

Colangelo said he wrote what he thought was true at the time about the chief’s position.

Ouimet said that, as the town’s fire chief, he thought he would have been brought into the ordinance discussion at an early stage.

“I should have some input,” said the chief, bringing applause from the audience.

Parker then asked Ouimet why he had gone to a federal court hearing Monday afternoon in apparent support of Vermont Railway against the town.

The chief explained he was subpoenaed the day before the hearing for some unknown reason. He said nobody had told him why or what they wanted him for at the hearing. He said he just knew he had to follow the court order summoning him.

In the end, nobody testified at the court hearing.

Parker then asked Ouimet if the Vermont Railway had offered the volunteer fire department space to store its antique fire engine. The chief explained the railroad was among many businesses in town trying to find new space to store the old fire engine because it could no longer be kept at Shelburne Farms, where it had been housed.

Parker’s questioning drew a sharp rebuke from selectboard member Jerry Storey.

“I think this is over the line,” Storey said. “Enough is enough. Enough is enough, really.”

He said personal attacks are not how to conduct town business and the board needs to refocus.

The selectboard did invite the town attorney and some consultants make a presentation about the need for the ordinance. Town Attorney Claudine Safar gave a slide presentation, including a video explaining how she drafted the ordinance.

Von Stange said the presentation was developed because there were “a lot of misconceptions” and critical comments on Front Porch Forum had “very little truth.”

A handful of residents thanked the board and the presenters, but others questioned the video, which showed an explosion that killed 47 people in Canada.

Thomas Murphy said the details of the explosion were misrepresented. He said the various conditions that happened in Canada would not have happened in Vermont.

“It was pure emotion,” he said about showing the explosion. He said he was very disappointed in the presentation, bringing more applause.

He said claims by the presenters that the Environmental Protection Agency is focused on New Jersey and not Vermont just are not true. Murphy said his company had a surprise inspection by EPA the previous week.

His comments were echoed by former selectboard member Toni Supple. “The EPA is certainly watching over our water,” she said.

Bruce Nunziata said he appreciated the work done on the ordinance, but he has been asking the board for two and a half years to handle a more pressing daily public-safety threat — speeding on town roads. He said drivers continue to speed through town at 50 and 60 mph. He said a couple of selectboard members have mentioned traffic safety, yet nothing has been done.

“Talk is one thing. Deed is another,” he said.

Questions also were asked about the second person who will be hired or designated to enforce the ordinance, and the cost of paying to train that person and the town health officer. Von Stange said no decision has been made to hire anyone yet.

Vivian Jordan said it would have been better if the town had brought in experts with an opposing point of view so residents could get a truer understanding of the issues.

No ethics discussion
In other action, the selectboard, on a 3-2 vote, said it did not want to further discuss an earlier request by the Town Ethics Commission that it be allowed to spend up to $2,500 for legal help without coming to the town manager or the selectboard.

Von Stange, Parker and Kerr opposed the motion by board member Josh Dein to add the topic to the meeting agenda. Dein said he had asked the item be on the agenda prior to the meeting but it was not listed.

Dr. Steven Metz, a retired veterinarian, said he believed the selectboard had a conflict of interest by refusing to allow one of its committees the funds to do its work.

In an unusual offer, Davies Allen offered to mail a check for $2,500 for the Ethics Commission to have funds for legal expenses. Allen is in Shelburne while his company Chesterfield Associates of Westport Island, Maine, is working at Shelburne Shipyard on a project for Lake Champlain Transportation Company.

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