The first meeting of the new Selectboard following last week’s election began with unanimity as all agreed to choose Jerry Storey as chair and Jaime Heins as vice chair. The board welcomed Mary Kehoe who was elected last Tuesday.
The board discussed whether or not going into executive session to decide on the release of an email pertaining to a Freedom of Information request by Mike Donoghue of the Shelburne News. The request related to documents pertaining to the dedication in the annual town report distributed ahead of Town Meeting Day.
Kehoe and Dr. Josh Dein argued the email had no reason to be discussed in private, while Heins, Storey and Dr. Colleen Parker said it would be best to review the email first together before discussing it in public. Parker added that it would be best to limit the use of executive session going forward. After a short executive session near the end of the meeting, the board agreed to release the information in question.
Acknowledging the death of a regular attendee at Selectboard meetings, Josh Dein read an emotional tribute to Dorothy Sawyer who passed away last week at the age of 84. Dein spoke of Sawyer’s wit, uncensored language and serious contribution to Selectboard meetings. “Dorothy was an assertive champion for inclusive government, who believed that decisions should be made in the best interest of the people,” Dein said. “Although serving on the Selectboard has had challenges for me over the past two years, I recognized that if this 84-year-old woman, who still worked a 40- hour week, had the energy and conviction to lend her support to me and others addressing Town problems, then I could do no less.”
Dein ended saying he hoped to continue her legacy, prompting a round of applause from an equally emotional crowd.
The board next went through reappointments to the town’s various commissions, boards and committees. The board approved all of those requesting to stay in their volunteer positions.
The board next had a lengthy discussion regarding donating money from a Selectboard discretionary fund to scholarships for children who need financial assistance to play baseball and softball, for example. The gesture was intended to acknowledge former Selectboard Chair Gary von Stange for his nine years of service on the board. Von Stange just ended his tenure on the board.
The suggestion was made by Jerry Storey at last week’s Town Meeting. Parker said Storey’s idea was a very “gentlemanly thing to do.”
Storey suggested the money would go directly to the Lenny Bissonette Scholarship Fund. While all board members agreed about the good intent, Dein and Kehoe disagreed. Kehoe suggested using private funds instead. “I think it’s a slippery slope when we end up using public funds to celebrate former public officials. These are town funds,” Kehoe said.
Town Manager Joe Colangelo said the scholarship fund is popular and in need of replenishing.
While Dein said separate from this instance, there should be a policy formulated for honoring public officials.
Shelburne resident and Development Review Board vice-chair, Mark Sammut said other volunteers had never received any recognition for their service. He instead recommended the board find a way to honor more than just one individual.
Heins and Storey agreed with Sammut; Parker suggested putting $500 of the discretionary fund in a donation to the Shelburne Food Shelf. Dein and Kehoe were reluctant to use the public funds in that way. The move won on a 3-2 vote.
How to award the next Colleen Haag Public Service Award took up another lengthy discussion. The award was to be given at town meeting last week but disagreement on how to determine the recipient last month caused the Selectboard to postpone the decision. The award was created after longtime Town Clerk Haag retired.
Ahead of the meeting, Colangelo drew up a proposal suggesting a process to handle the award including creating a formal committee for the task. Jim Brangan, the 2017 Colleen Haag Award recipient and Haag both were present and offered to sit on such a committee.
Prior to this discussion, Colangelo had solicited nominations for the award from the public. The process got bogged down after many nominations were made suggesting former Shelburne Police Chief Jim Warden be honored. His retirement following a brief suspension last summer though clouded the debate over the award and still divides those who are involved in the discussion.
Haag described this year’s process as having become too politicized. Others have called for specific criteria for choosing a recipient for the award. Ironically, some have suggested the award go to a volunteer and not a town employee such as Warden.
Brangan, who was chosen to help craft the new process, supports that view and wrote just that to the Selectboard in a letter on Feb. 26. He said he disagreed with Warden being considered and suggested it go to a volunteer. Some at the meeting questioned Brangan’s role in helping pick this year’s winner given that view.
Eventually, the board endorsed the plan for Haag and Brangan to take the lead on the award choice, voting 3-2 with Dein and Kehoe dissenting. Kehoe questioned choosing a new process after nominations were already made this year.
In the end, the direction to Haag and Brangan was to form a new committee, create criteria, and select a winner from those already nominated for 2018 with the goal of handing out the award this summer on Shelburne Day, Aug. 18.
In other business, the board also discussed the ongoing process by the state to redesignate the LaPlatte River Marsh as a Class 1 wetland, which would afford it greater protections. The board agreed unanimously that the town should send comments to the state prior to the March 19 deadline.