Remote Selectboard meetings become rote

It was a full house—metaphorically speaking, of course—at Monday’s Selectboard Zoom meeting. Photo by Juliann Phelps.

The April 6 Selectboard meeting focused primarily on activities related to business at Town Hall and recreation, as well as the selection of a contractor for ash tree removal. The meeting, held via Zoom, moved much more smoothly than the previous one, with far fewer audio issues, as the Selectboard became more comfortable with remote participation and discussion.

The first order of business was to validate Article 6. While approved on March 3 at Town Meeting, according to Town Administrator Dean Bloch it was left out of the warning published in the Town Report. The town attorney recommended holding a Town Meeting to validate and vote on the article. Selectboard Chair Matt Krasnow accordingly suspended the Selectboard meeting and reconvened as a town meeting, deferring to Town Moderator Charles Russell. Russell, sporting a red bandanna around his neck as the sounds of blackbirds echoed from his front porch, read the warned article and called for a vote. Article 6 passed by a majority voice vote.

Ash tree contract awarded
After a lengthy discussion by the Selectboard members, with several mentions of “lessons learned” from the previous year, the board selected Teachers Tree Service as the contractor for the removal of ash trees on Ferry and Greenbush roads. Teacher’s Tree Service bid $19,500 and will complete the project in five to six days. Tree Warden Mark Dillenbeck was present to speak further on his written recommendation, citing the time to completion, references, and past performance as criteria used in his determination. Both Krasnow and Louise McCarren agreed with the additional criteria.

James Faulkner recommended going with the lowest bid, Chris’s Lawn Care and Mini Excavating. Road Commissioner Jr Lewis asked, “Why jump over Greg Smith [the second lowest bid]?” He continued, “Just because it takes longer, doesn’t mean they won’t do an excellent job.” Dillenbeck responded he wanted the work to be completed as soon as possible to reduce traffic interruptions “and take advantage of the ferry being closed down.” The differing opinions were represented in the resulting vote:  3-1-1 with Krasnow, Tenney, and McCarren in favor, Carrie Spear abstaining, and James Faulkner opposed. Greg Ranallo of Teachers Tree Service was present for the vote and said he could start as early as next Monday.

Trying to keep Town Hall business as usual
With the closure of Town Hall and postponement of the April 7 budget and trails vote, Bloch briefed the Selectboard on staff work locations and status. Bloch said that he, Town Clerk/Treasurer Mary Mead and Assistant Town Clerk Christina Boohers were physically present in the building, while zoning and planning, recreation, and the office of listers were working remotely. The library remains closed, as well as the Senior Center. Bloch and the Selectboard discussed how to ensure that staff have continued access to the internet, computer equipment, voicemail, and town files to perform their duties. The board also voted to continue paying town employees during Governor Phil Scott’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” mandate, while encouraging them to incorporate additional professional development into their work hours.

The Selectboard also voted to lift the meeting suspension for town committees, commissions and boards. This was based on the recent passage of VT House Bill 681, which allows for town meetings to resume with a remote option. With an eye to Open Meeting Law requirements, the Selectboard requested town committees, commission and boards to post agendas a week in advance in The Charlotte News, in The Citizen and on Front Porch Forum, to review House Bill 681, and to conduct their meetings via Zoom. Planning Commissioner Peter Joslin and Vice Chair Frank Tenney also discussed how to handle the regulations for notifying adjacent landowners for zoning and planning activities, which includes posting notices at The Old Brick Store, Spear’s Corner Store and the post office (while Town Hall is closed).

Playground closed, tennis courts open
The Selectboard heard from Recreation Director Nicole Conley and Recreation Commissioner Bill Fraser-Harris regarding recent public requests to keep the tennis courts open. Debate about the transmission of COVID-19 on sports equipment as well as social distancing became hot button topics, while two members of the public, Maura Wygmans and Jean Andersson-Swayze, voiced their support for keeping the courts open. The board decided to keep the courts open and to put up cautionary signage. Fraser-Harris offered to communicate the outcome via Front Porch Forum.

Other business
The Selectboard approved restarting Thompson’s Point dog-waste pick up a month early. They agreed to delay staff performance reviews and discussed the zoning administrator’s issuance of zoning permits and follow up on minor violations. Tenney said, “I wouldn’t take it off the table; Daniel can continue his job as he sees fit.”

The board also discussed behavior at Mt. Philo State Park. According to the town administrator’s report, “State park staff has indicated they have received concerns/complaints regarding overuse of the park, lack of social distancing, lack of dog control, and failure of dog owners to appropriately dispose of dog waste.” Fraser-Harris said he put up orange tape to keep cars off the grass and spoke to the state about increasing signage. “They would like the signage to be uniform and for it to come down from the state level,” he said.

Last, the Selectboard will take up the FY2021 budget as an agenda item during its next meeting. Krasnow asked the board to consider areas where spending could be restricted, but no decisions will be made. Tenney noted the budget was already passed during Town Meeting, but “if it was voted down [as an Australian ballot], it would give us an opportunity to re-evaluate.” Krasnow noted, “The Selectboard is authorized to underspend the budget.”

The next Selectboard meeting is scheduled for April 13 at 6:00 p.m.