The Shelburne Selectboard has decided to postpone presentation of the Colleen T. Haag Public Service Award until after Town Meeting Day and will allow the new board to select the winner.
The Selectboard was expected to go into closed-door session to pick the winner of the award, named for the legendary town clerk and treasurer who served Shelburne for more than 35 years.
Vice Chairman Jerry Storey asked to postpone the award discussion until after Town Meeting Day, when the Selectboard is expected to get at least one and possibly two new members.
He said the Haag Award is designed to celebrate unselfish work and should be celebrated, but he feared the town is still split and whoever was selected would not get the full appreciation deserved.
With the “highly politicized environment,” he said, a delay was warranted.
Former police chief James Warden was the most popular nominee in letters to the Shelburne News and posts on Front Porch Forum – two ways people were asked to suggest recipients. Town Manager Joe Colangelo also accepted emailed nominations but has not shared a list of what he received.
Of the public nominations, Warden received more than twice as many nods as all other nominees combined.
Warden served Shelburne as police chief for 30 years until last summer when he and Colangelo had a falling out over the operation of the police department.
Selectboard Chairman Gary von Stange also came under fire from taxpayers for how the board handled a negotiated retirement package with the police chief. Von Stange claimed the agreement precluded him from telling taxpayers many details they were asking for at several meetings.
Von Stange, a Selectboard member for nine years, is not seeking re-election and will leave the board after Town Meeting Day next Tuesday.
Storey, a former municipal manager in Maine, said it would be good to discuss the criteria and process for the Haag Award. Instead of the Selectboard making the selection, others could be involved, including the winner from the inaugural award from last March. Jim Brangan, a longtime Scout leader, volunteer firefighter and Little League coach, was the first recipient.
Dr. Josh Dein, a Selectboard member, supported Storey’s motion. He said the goal is to salute a member of the community for exceptional service and it would be good for the new Selectboard to take a fresh look at the process and criteria. He said because the award is new, there is no urgency or longstanding tradition that the winner be selected before Town Meeting Day.
Von Stange, the third board member present for the discussion, said he liked Storey’s idea. He said the debate over the award has become politicized with personal attacks. He said some question whether the award could go to a nonresident or whether it should just be for volunteers.
Local resident John Saar told von Stange that until he and Colangelo pushed out the chief “under false pretenses, I believe,” there was no question Warden would have been the unanimous choice. Resident Sean Moran suggested that Haag, who is retired but still serves as town treasurer, be asked to participate in the selection since the public service award is named for her.
Dr. Colleen Parker, another Selectboard member, arrived late for the meeting and was briefed by von Stange. Selectboard member Jaime Heins was absent.
Public safety threat
The board went into closed-door session to discuss several topics, including one that von Stange said involved clear and imminent peril to public safety.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t provide any details,” von Stange said, refusing to elaborate.
Some residents, including Saar, got uneasy with the vague comment about a threat. “Shouldn’t we know about it?” he asked.
Von Stange acknowledged “it’s a great question,” but said he believed no details could be shared. He promised the town would release something as soon as possible.
Colangelo, the town manager, said Shelburne police fielded a complaint earlier in the day.
After the executive session and even Wednesday morning, town officials would not elaborate. “It is a police matter and the police are handling it,” Colangelo told the Shelburne News.
Police also declined to discuss details. “It would be premature to discuss the investigation,” Officer Josh Flore said later Wednesday morning.
In open session, Storey moved to reappoint Rick Bessette as Shelburne’s poet laureate for two years “with a 99-year extension.”
He called Bessette the “true voice of Shelburne.”
A group of students, residents and the Selectboard paid tribute to Bessette for his work in bringing the written word to life in Shelburne.
Bessette became emotional as three Shelburne Community School students read their thoughts about him and his work.
Von Stange read off a list of many poetry readings and public events Bessette has done in his time as poet laureate in the community and especially at various schools. Bessette is a regular contributor to the Shelburne News and has been featured by several media outlets. He has started a poetry program for adults, too.
“I never thought in a million years I had this in me,” said Bessette, who received his initial appointment two years ago. Bessette said he wished his deceased parents and brother, Tom, a longtime public servant for the town, could have been present. His wife, Candy, was at his side.
Storey said, “Rick is his own award,”
Von Stange noted that his wife, Nora, is among Bessette’s “groupies” and she also spoke saying she appreciates his events and his positive influence on children.
Bessette thanked the Pierson Library Board for supporting him, the Selectboard for believing in him, and most of all the children.
Looking around the room, Bessette noted that while the town may be divided on some issues, “I love each and every one of you.”