By Mara Brooks, Editor
Energy Committee (EC) Chair Rebecca Foster said she is perplexed by the Selectboard’s “disproportionate” concerns over a series of small purchases made by the committee, given the EC’s modest budget and the town’s energy conservation goals.
At a recent Selectboard meeting, Foster was extensively questioned by member Jim Faulkner about invoices related to items not originally listed in the committee’s budget. Foster maintained the purchases were small enough that a Selectboard review was not required.
During the warrant review portion of the June 12 Selectboard meeting, Foster was asked to explain several purchases related to information tables at Grange on the Green, an e-bike rental project in collaboration with the library, and materials for the WindowDresser insert program.
“The WindowDressers program was actually very specifically on our budget,” Foster told the Selectboard. “We wanted to do that a year ago, and it was pushed off to this year, so that has long been a goal.”
Foster said the information tables, which are run by students during concerts at Grange on the Green, are designed to raise public awareness around energy issues.
“We did the exact same thing two years ago at the Fossil-Free Jamboree,” Foster said.
Faulkner continued questioning Foster and Library Director Margaret Woodruff at the meeting about the “particulars” of the e-bike program. He asked how many passes were purchased, what would happen if not all of the passes were used, why the passes could not just be purchased one at a time as needed, and what would happen if all 21 passes were used and more were needed.
Town Clerk and Treasurer Mary Mead said the library, not the energy committee, should have purchased the e-bike passes.
“I’ve lost track of the number of hours the Selectboard has discussed the energy budget over the last year,” Foster said amid the discussion. “But it’s no secret that the energy committee is subject to wildly disproportionate attention.”
Rep. Michael Yantachka said he feared the Selectboard’s “nitpicking” of the EC might discourage committee members from seeking out innovative solutions.
“I think you have to make a decision on whether you want the energy committee to just be a bunch of people sitting around talking to each other about energy or whether you want them to be creative and innovative,” Yantachka said.
In an interview with The News, Foster said she found the Selectboard’s questions “perplexing” because the town’s purchasing policy “unambiguously” states purchases under $1,000 can be made by a committee’s purchasing agent without Selectboard review.
“As a committee chair, I’m a purchasing agent,” she said. “The Selectboard needs to figure out if it’s going to abide by its purchasing policy or not.”
According to Selectboard Chair Matt Krasnow, the purchasing policy might be more ambiguous than it seems. While he agreed that purchasing agents have the authority to purchase budgeted items, he said the policy does not grant them the freedom to purchase items that were never discussed with the Selectboard in the first place.
“There’s an expectation that if a committee wants to make a change in how they spend the money they [originally] proposed spending, that they come to the Selectboard to talk about that,” Krasnow said.
Foster pointed out the EC’s current $3,200 budget, cut from $4,700 the previous year, is equal to “less than one line item” for the town’s recreation committee. She said the Selectboard’s excessive questioning about “$25 expenditures” was “embarrassing” for the town.
“We’re in the middle of a climate emergency,” Foster said.
Foster said the Town Plan outlined “big goals” the EC would like to assist the town in moving forward. She added that no meaningful steps had been taken toward reaching the town’s goal of using 25% renewable energy by 2025.
“It’s right around the corner,” she said of the deadline. “There’s no time to lose.”
Krasnow said while COVID-19 disrupted the town’s efforts to meet its energy goals last year, he hoped efforts could be resumed in the next fiscal year.
“My hope is that the Selectboard and the energy committee can talk about larger projects that can move the needle,” he said. “Based on the expectations in the Town Plan and the continuing problems that are increasing with climate change, everyone needs to invest more money now into solutions that reduce our carbon footprint. The town has an obligation to do its part.”
Foster said she hoped Charlotte could provide “inspiration” for other towns once its own conservation goals are reached.
“People think that local action is small, and it is,” Foster said. “But that’s not the same as being insignificant. It’s really difficult to make changes nationally without making it at a local level. Because if it’s not happening locally, it’s generally not happening.”