By MADELINE HUGHES
Development Review Board member Jeff Hodgson has resigned from the board citing the ethics complaint lodged against his fellow board member and a “complicated in the legal sense” practice the board adopted in 2015.
“Last night was really the straw that broke the camel’s back for me,” Hodgson wrote in his Jan. 10 resignation letter. “To sit there and watch a fellow board member defend himself against what many might view as a baseless and unnecessary accusation was difficult. Particularly due to the fact that it came from our Director of Planning & Zoning (aka “citizen” according to ethics claim).”
The Shelburne News requested a copy of the resignation letter on Feb. 1 after seeing a notice on Front Porch Forum posted by Town Manager Lee Krohn on Jan. 31 advertising the open board seat.
In December, Director of Planning & Zoning Dean Pierce filed an ethics ordinance complaint against Development Review Board Chair Jeff Pauza because of a 2016 comment Pauza made in an open meeting. The Ethics Committee held a hearing on the complaint on Jan. 9, the night before Jeff Hodgson resigned from the board.
“As a person who works as a consultant in the development realm, I am always careful to recuse myself if our firm has any current involvement with any applicant before the board,” Hodgson wrote. “With on the record review our role as DRB members has become even more complicated in the legal sense. I feel that this opens up board members (regular residents) to even more scrutiny and chances to make an honest mistake.”
Hodgson has been on the development review board since 2013. He was serving his second term, which was supposed to be finished in April. The town introduced the “On the Record Review” in 2015, two years into Hodgson’s first term.
On the record review
On the record review is a process that allows the development review board to conduct business in a more legal manner that allows the process to occur at the town level instead of bringing appeals to the Environmental Court.
The then-Town Manager Joe Colangelo wrote in his November 2015 report that on the record review “gives Shelburne’s DRB more local control by eliminating de novo review of local decisions at the Environmental Court. (On the record review) also requires applicants to provide a necessary, thorough record to the DRB demonstrating compliance – with local by-laws. In a de novo process, applicants have less incentive to present proper evidence on an issue to the local DRB because the review process at the Environmental Court grants a fresh start. Shelburne’s DRB will be provided additional training” for on the record review.
“To me it’s not a very average-citizen-friendly process,” Hodgson explained. He was planning to serve out his term because an on the record review had not occurred for a while.
“Everyone tries to abide by the Ethics Committee rules but we are all human and there is more room for error because of the legal atmosphere,” Hodgson said.
The selectboard is considering evaluating the practice of on the record review, Krohn said.
Vermont runs on volunteers
Hodgson also questioned whether both the ethics complaint and the legal formality of town board decisions will impact the decision of residents to volunteer. He stated in his resignation letter that his volunteer hours might be better spent elsewhere.
“I have no interest in being the next target of someone searching TV footage for any possible potential ethics violation that may have occurred during our meetings,” he wrote.
Pierce’s complaint states that he discovered Pauza’s 2016 statement while reviewing notes.
At the meeting in question, Pauza replied to an applicant, “Really? I was going to support it.”
Int he video of the 2016 meeting, Pauza went on to explain why he would have supported the applicant’s request based on the information presented to the board.
On Jan. 22, the Ethics Committee found that Pauza was not in violation of the ordinance, but did suggest that board volunteers be educated further about the ethics ordinance.
The Vermont Secretary of State’s office said quasi-judicial boards, like the development review board, are under no obligation to go into closed session to make decisions, but are afforded the opportunity if members of the committee vote to do so.
In Shelburne, volunteers make up 22 official boards, commissions and committees listed on its website and a few unofficial committees that provide additional volunteers. Each body typically consists of four to eight members who meet monthly or bi-monthly for a few hours to discuss issues ranging from what is needed at the dog park to the town budget.
“Vermont runs on volunteers – they are absolutely fundamental to running Vermont towns,” Town Manager Lee Krohn said.
When asked about what this complaint and resignation mean for the municipality, town manager Krohn’s said it’s a tough position.
“It puts the town manager in a tough place because it raises a lot of questions,” Krohn said, noting it was a public official who made the complaint as a private citizen. “Is there something that should be done, or can be done here? It’s complicated.”
Pierce declined to comment on this story and Hodgson’s resignation letter.