News, Walden

“Take Us to Court,” says Walden Select Board

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WALDEN — The June 3 select board meeting quickly got into unusual territory.

Resident Roger Fox was told, “Take us to court.”

At select board meetings almost anywhere in Vermont, residents often bring concerns to the board during a public comment period. The board listens to the comments, sometimes doing nothing immediately, but usually offering a suggestion about appropriate next steps. Sometimes they do their best to resolve issues on the spot.

Walden resident Fox got an entirely different response from that town’s select board.

Select Board Chair Brenda Huntoon called the meeting to order at 6:35 and minutes of the previous meeting, on May 20, were approved without incident.

Public comment?” asked Huntoon, “Roger, do you have anything for public comment?”

“I do,” said Fox. “Go ahead,” replied Huntoon.

“[A] couple of things,” Fox began, “My understanding about agendas is that they are supposed to reasonably indicate business to be accomplished at the meeting. So, looking at the agenda of the April 8 meeting, I see an entry that says ‘Solar:    Updated net metered cost.’ It doesn’t say anytime about taking any action to make a purchase. ‘Office weatherization price estimate’ doesn’t say anything about making a commitment to spend money, so it calls into question the legitimacy of the action that was taken, for what that’s worth

Fox’s reference to the April 8 meeting was to the select board’s vote to spend almost $55,000 of ARPA funds on a net-metered solar generation system at the town garage and another $30,000 on office building weatherization.

Fox noted the purchasing policy adopted by the select board in 2015 specifies “All purchases of $2,500.00 or more, and any supported by Federal funds, shall be subject to a bid process”

Fox then asked “whether the select board has a position about whether this policy applies, or not, to the purchases that you voted to make at that meeting?” He said he understood that the time for public comment is not intended for a public dialogue and the board had no requirement to respond, then added, “but if anybody does want to say anything . . .”

Select board member, Randolph Wilson jumped in, “The office we put out to bid. It had been out to bid for over a month and didn’t say when we were expecting the bids at that point.”

Bob Hatch added, “that we had received.”

Wilson replied, “Solar, we had five quotes a few years ago when I made a couple of phone calls and they were all in the same place. SunCommon redid theirs, pretty much less, going actually down compared to five years before. So, I did look into it. We didn’t get the literal price quotes back, but we didn’t the first time either. Everybody was giving a price over the phone. I had two or three, two people, actually give us physical quotes. So, I sort of went that way again and SunCommon was right on top of it.”

Fox: “There’s nothing in the minutes to reflect that, and I’m going to take you to task in terms of violating the purchasing policy.”

Wilson: “Okay.”

Fox: “So, just so you know . . .” A long silence of over 15 seconds followed, after which Fox added, .“You might want to advise your vendor of that”

“Advise my what?” said Wilson.”

Fox replied, “Vendor.”

“What he’s talking about [is] canceling it,” said Hatch.

Wilson replied, “Oh, that’s not going to happen.”

Hatch added, “I know,’ followed by Wilson’s laughter, after which Wilson commented, “Certainly not going to happen. Take us to court, Roger. Anyway, we got to go on.”

With that, Hatch moved on to a question about a new state childcare tax of 0.44% that the board voted to cover for employees.

Minutes of the meeting report only, “Public comment: Roger Fox questioned select board agendas and the purchasing policy adherence to ARPA Allocations.”

Reached after the meeting, Fox had no comment on his exchanges with the board, or their suggestion that he “Take us [the select board] to court.”

The remainder of the meeting was uneventful.

Board members learned they will need to begin using online copies of Vermont statutes unless they begin paying for hard copies, which will no longer be available to towns for free.

A review of the FY24 budget indicated that there is likely to be a small surplus of under $1,000, after using the return of an unexpected overpayment to the school of $21,729.76 which will be used primarily for Highway expenses.

Culverts on Coles Pond Road are being replaced by the road crew, along with ditching that is being paid for with Better Roads Grant funds. Repairs estimated at just over $14,000 are being done on the International 10-Wheeler.

Listers are completing the annual change of appraisal notices, reported Messier. A grant to cover the cost of work stabilizing the banks at the Bayley Hazen Road bridge has been approved. The town will work with the State of Vermont this year on the possible replacement of the bridge.   

With “bills and a cemetery mowing contract signed,” the meeting adjourned about 40 minutes after it began.

Paul Fixx is editor of The Hardwick Gazette and lives in Hardwick.

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