By Chea Waters Evans, News Editor
It was all about the budgets at Monday’s Selectboard meeting, as the first five town departments to present their FY2021-22 financial hopes and dreams shared spreadsheets in the first round of the yearly budget process. There were also a few interviews for open town positions and a discussion about the Community Resilience Survey, which will be rolled out across town in the coming months.
Until this week there were two open positions remaining on the seven-person Planning Commission; three candidates were interviewed on Monday night for the remaining two seats: Kelly Devine, Alex Bunten and Benjamin Pualwan.
Devine is the executive director of the Burlington Business Association and was instrumental in developing the Champlain Valley Cohousing property on Common Way. She has lived in Charlotte for 15 years. Bunten, coincidentally, also works at the Burlington Business Association as a Special Projects Manager. He was formerly the editor of The Charlotte News and was born and grew up in Charlotte; he moved back to raise his family here. Pualwan was formerly chair of the Zoning Board of Adjustment for five years; he is a program management analyst for the Department of Homeland Security and has a master’s degree in public policy analysis. He has lived in Charlotte for 24 years. The Selectboard will deliberate in executive decision to decide which two candidates will be appointed.
An interview for one of the two open spots on the Board of Auditors was quick, since at the moment Selectboard member Louise McCarren is doing that work on her own and there’s no one else who wants the open positions. Mike Dunbar was unanimously approved for the job. During his interview, he said that he decided to pursue the position because as an engineer and a business owner, he had the experience and interest to take on the task. He’ll take the job as an appointee until Town Meeting, at which point he will have to run for the post in the March election.
The Charlottte Community Partners is a group of representatives around town (including a member of the board of The Charlotte News) that has been meeting every other week by Zoom since April. Their purpose is to provide a network of resources and information for Charlotters during the coronavirus pandemic. They have also been meeting and discussing distributing a community resilience survey to all Charlotte residents in order to find out what our strengths and weaknesses are as a community. The presentation by the Charlotte Community Partners group regarding this survey took an uncomfortable turn during the meeting, but all ended as the group had hoped.
McCarren started the topic off with a motion that she wrote and that Selectboard Chair Matt Krasnow read: “The Selectboard thanks and appreciates the work of the RAC but at this time the Selectboard declines to be a partner.” She said she had two big issues with the survey: who funds the organization that creates the survey, and what they will do with the data, which will be publicly available. “As best as I could ascertain, there’s not a lot of support on the board for this endeavor,” she said. “That doesn’t mean you can’t go ahead, because you should if you want; there’s no reason you can’t.”
Reverend Kevin Goldenbogen, who is the senior pastor at the Charlotte Congregational Church and who spoke on behalf of the group, said, “I guess I’m just confused by the process…we haven’t spoken yet. It feels perhaps that there have been some conversations behind the scenes that we’re not privy to.”
McCarren said that she had learned about the group from public documents that were shared in advance of the Selectboard meeting, personal research, and from communications with Library Director Margaret Woodruff, who is a member of CCP. “Perhaps we were a little quick with the resolution, but convince us why we’re wrong,” McCarren said, though she did not clarify why she was speaking for the board with her initial motion, though she said they had not discussed it yet as a group.
“I’m not sure we’re asking you for anything,” Goldenbogen said. “We’re here to primarily communicate. Our only ask was to put a copy of the survey in the Town Hall.”
“I’m speaking for myself now, because I’m only one of five,” McCarren said. “I thought you were asking for us to be a partner in it. I’ll take accountability if I misunderstood what you wanted.”
Selectboard member Carrie Spear said that in her opinion, the survey was “too big for the general public,” and that many of the questions might not pertain to people in Charlotte.
Goldenbogen explained that the purpose of the survey is to “identify weaknesses and celebrate where we’re strong,” and that the information gathered could help a variety of town organizations plan how to better serve Charlotters. He said it “came out of recognition and desire to be a resource to the town going forward, and recognizing places in our town where we’re strong and not so strong, and help us illuminate that, and help people in various areas and corners of town use that information however they want.”
He said the survey will be available online and on paper, in both English and Spanish, and that there will be provisions made for those who can’t read. In the end, with a friendly amendment suggested by Krasnow, the Selectboard passed McCarren’s motion with the additions that they would include a link to the survey on the town web site and have paper copies available in Town Hall.
For the first round of budget presentations, Krasnow said that he and the Selectboard encouraged town departments to “think about what’s needed as compared to what’s wanted” this year, keeping in mind that the financial impact of the coronavirus could extend well into the next year and beyond. Any department with a line item budget presents their figures to the Selectboard; Monday night’s included the Charlotte Library, the Charlotte Land Trust, the Road Commissioner, Planning and Zoning, and the Conservation Fund.