Letters to the Editor: April 18

Historical society is seeking your memories of eclipse

To the Editor:

The Charlotte Historical Society is seeking memories of your experiences with the total solar eclipse. Did the eclipse have a special meaning for you? Where did you go to view the event? Did you have special plans to coincide with the eclipse? Who did you view it with? Do you have any special thoughts you would like to share? Would you like to create a unique piece of artwork? Write a poem? We are inviting residents of all ages to contact us and ask you to try to fit text submissions to one page if possible.

The historical society would like to create an archive of eclipse memories to preserve this moment for posterity. We would like to include any photos or selfies you wish to share from the day, or even a group of family and friends who observed the day with you. If you do wish to include a photo of people, please identify them.

It is our hope to curate an exhibit that will be at the Charlotte Museum in 2025, and possibly a traveling show to exhibit at other town locations.

Submit material to [email protected]
Dan Cole
(Dan Cole is president of the Charlotte Historical Society.)

Resigning because of selectboard missteps, not difference of opinions

To the Editor:

On April 9, the selectboard killed the tree planting event scheduled for last Saturday, April 13, as part of the town’s Earth Month Celebration. Their decision came two days before the 50 trees were delivered by truck and four days prior to the event. As a result, 40 volunteers were told not to come, and the tree warden and two deputy tree wardens resigned.

As one of those resigning deputy tree wardens and the project’s leader, I resigned, not because townspeople had differing opinions about planting sites, but rather because of the missteps of the current selectboard.

  1. At its April 9 meeting, the board referred to the Rutter Tree Fund as “taxpayer money” and “community money.”

    Last November, selectboard chair Jim Faulkner wanted his fellow board members to “understand this Rutter Tree Fund, there’s not a penny in there that is taxpayers’ money; it’s all donation.” Faulkner then acknowledged that the town was missing any paperwork on this fund but said, “We’re working on that now.” Over four months later, no progress. Despite the advice of the town attorney to get together with the primary donors and work it out, the board never contacted donors.
  2. On April 9, the board voiced concerns that planting plans did not get discussed in an open forum. While not required, the plan was discussed at the warned Nov. 30 meeting. And Faulkner asked for approval of the $10,000 disbursement from the Rutter Tree Fund.
  3. Last November, Faulkner told the board the tree planting agreement was in place for State Park Road and that it was acceptable, although not perfect. Last week he referred to the contract as “null and void” and “not legal, according to the attorneys.”

    For background, the agreement used for State Park Road was based on a template created by the previous tree warden, Larry Hamilton, and reviewed by the town attorney. It was modified for State Park Road, adding additional protections for the town. Traditionally, the property owner and tree warden signed the contracts. The recent contract was signed by both.

    The legal issue arose with the passage of Act 171 in 2020 which inserted the local legislative body into the process when a tree warden enters into an agreement with a landowner. The act says that with the consent of the selectboard, the tree warden can enter into agreements with land owners to encourage a shade tree preservation plan.

    To make the contract valid, the selectboard could have, at its April 9 meeting, authorized the tree warden to sign or simply co-sign the agreement; but the board chose not to.
  4. Why did the selectboard go into executive session at its April 9 meeting on the basis that a discussion of the contract they deemed invalid “would significantly disadvantage” either the town or the property owner if it were to be discussed in open meeting? How could open discussion impact a contract that they deemed invalid, and why was a private conversation needed when the contract and issues were discussed in open meeting before and after the executive session?
  5. Over the past two decades, the town has planted dozens of trees on private property with a simple tree-planting agreement outlining the cooperation of the town and the landowner. I am unaware of any property owner coming back to the town with tree maintenance demands. Why does the selectboard treat property owners as enemies that the town needs to be protected from?
  6. Four months have passed since they talked about creating a tree-planting agreement, four months since the board approved the disbursement of Rutter Tree Funds for the “purchasing, planting, watering of trees” on State Park Road, the garage and the trails. Four months since the board chair said they were working on the administration of the Rutter fund.

    Six months of logistics, 40 volunteers, 50 trees — all wiped out just two days before the trees were delivered. They decreed that no trees should be planted Saturday, and no town water could be used to water the trees.
    The volunteers who signed up to help plant trees represented almost every volunteer committee, commission and nonprofit in town. Charlotte runs on its volunteer efforts. I am extremely grateful for their support and cooperation. This benefit to our community and budget is huge. I’m saddened that this seems not to be the perspective of the current selectboard.

    Alexa Lewis
Adding some clarity about the Rutter Tree Fund

To the Editor:

Thank you for writing about the select board meeting on Tuesday night pointing out the conflagration I missed due to being out of town. Unfortunately, Mary Mead’s statement about the Rutter Tree Fund has put misinformation out in the public. And rather than have her narrative be the only one out there, I’d like to add some facts and clarity here.

Late last year another $20,000 was sent to the town earmarked for the Rutter Tree Fund for the purpose of continuing the tradition of planting and caring for trees. About the same time the committee made a plan for the trees for State Park Road and trees to screen landowners along existing town trails in West Charlotte.

Here’s a little history about how the Tree Fund came to be involved with the town garage landscaping project: When the town got the citizens of Charlotte to agree to pay for the town garage, a line item for landscaping had been plugged in for $25,000. As almost always happens, the building ended up costing more than was planned for, and the well of money ran dry before the landscaping could occur. So, Jim Faulkner asked the tree warden to help supply the trees and a planting plan.

Rather than cost the “taxpayers’” money, the Rutter Fund bought the trees, rallied the volunteers thus saving the taxpayers $25,000. Then the selectboard put a pause on the entire planting scheme.

As Alexa Lewis stated, this planting project had been in the works for about six months. The tree stewardship team had Brett Towle, a professional landscaper and member of the team, draw up landscaping plans based on the original plan submitted by Horsford to the town. The selectboard approved the release of the money from the Rutter Tree Fund, and we ordered the trees. The selectboard approved the funding for the purchase of the trees.

The landscaping plan wasn’t reviewed or approved by the selectboard, although Jim Faulkner had the plans and did not disapprove. It has never been the intention of the fund to do “landscaping jobs for public or private buildings around Charlotte,” but as a kindness to the town of Charlotte we agreed to pay for the trees for the town garage, with no obligation on the town’s part for any repayment. We did expect the trees at the town garage would be cared for by the town.

As for trees formerly planted on private property, with the exception of this State Park Road project, the agreements with the landowners have always stipulated that the trees are to be watered, pruned, fertilized and protected by the landowners. The trees on State Park Road would have been cared for by the Tree Tribe. Taxpayers have never paid for anything to do with the trees planted by the Rutter Fund.

Unfortunately, the Rutter Fund never had its own bank account so monies from the taxpayers for ash tree removal and from the charitable donations have been commingled. This commingling is not good bookkeeping practice, but Mary Mead has been doing a good job of tracking the two pots of money (Rutter Tree Fund and preemptive ash tree removal fund). Because there are so few donations and expenses for the Rutter Fund, however, the charitable funds can easily be identified. Lewis Mudge suggested that the charitable donations could be construed as taxpayer money. I’m unaware of any universe in which this would be a logical assumption.

Robin Coleburn
(Robin Coleburn is the daughter of Bill Rutter who started the Rutter Tree Fund with a donation from his father.)

Resigning as tree warden with resolve but also sadness

To the Editor:

On April 10, I resigned my position as the volunteer town tree warden for Charlotte. Our deputy tree wardens, Susan Smith and Alexa Lewis, also tendered their resignations. I took this step with resolve, but also with sadness because I enjoyed many aspects of the job.

An important revelation to me about the tree warden assignment is that it is not so much about the trees as it is about the interesting and wonderful people in this great little town. I especially will miss working with our former deputy tree wardens and other members of the tree stewardship team: Robin Coleburn, Vince Crockenberg and Brett Towle. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know many of you.

I am resigning because work with the current selectboard has become arduous and unproductive. The selectboard seems to be more interested in creating barriers than in facilitating our volunteer work.

Communication has been poor. Important tree warden related items appear on the selectboard meeting agenda and I have not been informed. This has felt disrespectful.

There has also been bumbling. The selectboard chair took it upon himself, without consulting me, to send to the town attorney an outdated legal agreement used when landowners accept trees purchased through the Rutter Tree Fund. If he had consulted with me, I would have provided a recent version of the agreement, and we would not have wasted the town attorney’s time working on an obsolete document.

There is a need to develop a revised version of the tree-planting agreements. It was unnecessary, however, to repeatedly and publicly complain that the current agreement somehow would put taxpayers on the hook for future care of the trees. Great pains were made to include language to prevent that possibility. In the 17-year history of this type of agreement, no taxpayer funds have been involved. Arguing about things such as whether volunteers should be allowed to help maintain town-planted trees or if we can indicate that we “may lend watering tubs” bordered on ridiculous.

A shared and documented understanding regarding the operation of the Rutter Tree Fund is also needed. It is troubling to me that the selectboard members seem to be signaling that they want it to operate in a manner and for purposes other than what was originally intended.

The difficult dynamic with the selectboard came to a head with the tree stewardship team’s most recent project, the planned tree plantings along State Park Road. We did due diligence, informing the selectboard, road commissioner, trails committee, the person who cultivates the landowner’s field and others about our plans. Could we have done more? In retrospect, yes. That is one lesson learned from this episode.

The facts are these. We apprised members of the selectboard of the project and they approved disbursement of funds for that purpose. There was criticism of aspects of the legal agreement signed by me and the landowner, but the selectboard chair told us that he would not require us to submit a revised agreement to the landowner. We placed the order for the tree planting both at State Park Road and the town garage and proceeded with the planning. Holes were dug, stakes and other materials ordered and 40 volunteers recruited. The planting event was coordinated with other groups involved in the Charlotte Earth Month activities.

At the eleventh hour, however, the selectboard chair sent the State Park Road agreement to the town attorney, who declared it invalid because I was not authorized to sign agreements on the town’s behalf per the recently revised state tree warden statutes. The selectboard asked for the State Park Road planting to be postponed. This was problematic due to the fragile state of the perishable bareroot trees and the challenges of coordinating volunteers.

Other solutions were available; a legal agreement was not required, and we could have gone ahead without it. Alternatively, the selectboard could have acted on the landowner’s willingness to sign a revised agreement. We could have drafted a simple memorandum of understanding in the interim. Ultimately, the decision to plant trees on private property outside of the rights-of-way should be up to the landowner, not the selectboard.

I was presented with the option to proceed with the planting against the wishes of the selectboard. I chose not to do this. Before trees went into the ground, the selectboard said there would need to be public hearings, a revised tree planting agreement template, and agreed rules for administering the Rutter Tree Fund. Given my previous experience with the selectboard, it seemed too difficult an uphill climb.

I am committed to helping Charlotte find and orient a new, well-qualified tree warden. As deputy tree warden, I benefited from Larry Hamilton’s mentorship. I would like to pass that wisdom along. I remain an engaged Charlotte citizen, grateful to live in a town where people care, even if we sometimes disagree.

Mark Dillenbeck