OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
June 26, 2020
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order in the yard at the Town Garage at 7:03 p.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner, Mitchell Green, Bradley Rafus, and Town Moderator Paul Blais were present. Other documented attendees were .Jason Ashcroft, Kathy Ashcroft, Alice Aldrich, Robert Teree, Marilou Parkhurst, Douglas Parkhurst, Lisa M. Gilbert, Ed Gilbert, Kathy McLean, Carl M. Barmen, Norman Fajans, Sue Kelly, Marilyn L. Allen, Ray Combs, Arthur R. Ferland, Vicki R. Stone, Keith C. Stone, Jennifer Littlefield, Lesley Pollitt, John Waters, Tristan Roberts, Jennifer Preston, Penfield Chester, Rick Gay, Everett F. Wilson, Linda Lyon, Susan Neustadt, Rhonda Ashcraft, Alan Ashcraft, Scott Ashcraft, Chris Parkins, Janice Bliss, Jessica Cooney, Eric J. Hull, Kaylynn Gaskell, and Robbin Gabriel. Two Windham County Sheriff’s deputies were also present, by invitation.
Immediately on opening, Norman Fajans called point of order. He stated that the meeting was illegal because it violated Act 92, Section 5. Fajans said the Board was required to provide a way, through remote telephone or video access, for people to participate in the meeting, even if the meeting was being held in a physical location. Fajans said the Board needed to adjourn the meeting and reschedule, providing a phone number. Paul Blais, who had been asked to serve as moderator of the meeting, advised that he had posed that question to the Vermont Secretary of State’s office and the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT). Blais was advised that under the current modified open meeting law, if the meeting is held in a physical location, there is no requirement for electronic access.
Linda Lyon said she had spoken with the State Department of Health, and had been provided with the law. She read a portion for the record. “It is the intent of the General Assembly that during the continued spread of coronavirus 2019 in the State of Vermont, public bodies should organize and hold public meetings in a manner that will protect the health and welfare of the public while providing access to the operations of government. Public bodies should meet electronically and provide public and electronic access to meetings in lieu of a designated physical location.” It’s almost a moot point whether it’s the law, said Lyon, who then cited a list of physical conditions that put people at higher risk from the virus. Lyon provided the Board with printed copies of the law, and urged them to provide a remote access option.
Kathy McLean said that as of today, Windham County has a new rise in the coronavirus, and also recommended meetings by Zoom or teleconference.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Lewis Sumner said the Board would move on, and would now adopt Roberts Rules of Order.
Lewis Sumner made a motion to adopt Roberts Rules of Order. Mitch Green seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Paul Blais was then requested to moderate the meeting. Hearing another protest about the physical meeting, he repeated his earlier statement that the meeting was not illegal. Blais also pointed out a set of cones that had been set up ten feet apart, enclosing a 100 square foot area, and advised those present to use that visual as a guideline in positioning themselves in the yard. Blais then outlined procedure for the meeting.
Sue Kelly stated for the record that although the Board had received advice about the legality of the meeting, it was apparent the intent of Act 92 was to provide access to open meetings. She asked the Board to consider that they were acting in opposition to the citizens’ wishes, and invited applause from those present in support of her statement.
Decision on Citizens’ Petition
Brad Rafus asked to speak on this agenda item. He announced that given the events of the last eight months, and particularly last week, he and his wife Peggy Rafus have decided not to extend the July 15th deadline that is part of the purchase agreement for the Rafus property. As contract contingencies cannot be met by that date, the contract will effectively be void in two weeks. If the Selectboard chooses to hold a special town meeting and negotiate another contract, Rafus continued, Peggy and I might be open to that. Rafus also announced he would resign from the Selectboard. I’ve had threats against my family this week, I’ve had people driving down my driveway in the middle of the night shining lights in my house, and my family, my kids, my grandkids are more important to me than doing this job. People are actually ridiculous. Good luck, and take care, Rafus finished, and walked away from the table.
Green made a motion to cancel the scheduling of the special town meeting, as it will be null and void by that time. Sumner seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0. Prior to the vote, Blais called for comments. Sue Kelly came forward and stated that the number of signatures on the citizens’ petition showed a large number of townspeople wished to have a special town meeting to make this (land purchase) transaction transparent. She said people felt the Selectboard was ignoring the will of the town. The Board realized that not everyone present had understood the import of Brad Rafus’ statement. Sumner advised that if the contract deadline were not extended the transaction could not be successfully completed. Are you saying that the land deal is off?, said someone in the audience. Yes, Sumner confirmed. Blais clarified further—contract requirements could not be met by July 15th; if an extension of that time is no longer available the contract then ceases to exist on that date. There is therefore no reason to hold a special town meeting to vote on the purchase of the land. Sumner told Sue Kelly that it would not be possible to sign the contract prior to July 15th; there is not enough time to get everything done.
Halifax resident Chris Parkins stepped to the microphone and told the gathering he was really dismayed to hear what Brad said. I think that’s horrible that you’ve been threatened, said Parkins. I think it’s horrible that you have people driving down your driveway. I don’t like the way the land deal negotiations went, and I have a lot of questions, but I don’t think it’s okay—it’s not okay. And I want to tell everybody here it’s not okay. We as a town have to work out our differences in a civil way. I’m really sorry that that happened.
Bob Teree asked if the Stevens and Associates contact has been cancelled. It will be cancelled, answered Sumner.
Carl Barmen said he understood the property purchase was over for now. But would the Board be thinking about it a month from now? No, replied Sumner.
Windham County Humane Society Contract
Sumner advised the Town contracts yearly with WCHS; we pay $350 a year for the Humane Society to take our stray animals. Sumner made a motion to accept the Windham County Humane Society contract. Green seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0.
Church Stump Removal
Green advised this item could not be addressed, as Sumner is a church member and would recuse himself, so no quorum of the Board was available for discussion.
Recycling Security Cameras
Sumner said the recycling bins would be moved from Brook Road to the Town Garage yard, and security cameras would be installed to monitor the bins. There is a lot of contaminated material going into the recycling bins, he said; it is costing the town a lot of money. The Board has received an estimate of $1,901 from Amity Alarm for purchase and installation of surveillance cameras. Sumner made a motion to approve the Amity Alarm estimate of $1,901 to install security cameras. Green seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0. In discussion, Linda Lyon suggested the town might want to provide a separate collection box for returnables, and the proceeds could benefit the school. Blais said he was involved previously with placement of the returnables collection box by the school on Branch Road. That box is gone now. Blais supports the idea of reestablishing a collection spot. Tristan Roberts asked who would be monitoring the cameras. The Board said the highway crew would probably be checking the footage when there was a problem. Ray Combs recommended the bins should be clearly marked to indicate what goes into each container; he’s seen a lot of items, vacuum cleaners for instance, that don’t belong. Sumner mentioned that recently the contractor has been marking the bins with chalk, and Green said Stephan Chait and the Conservation Commission are working on a project to create signs to be placed near the bins educating people about proper recycling.
Bob Teree told the Board that the Town needs to decide whether or not Patty Dow’s former Facebook page is the official Facebook page of Halifax, Vermont. He suggested the Board discuss and address the question at the next meeting. Jason Ashcroft asked for clarification on the topic. Green explained that presently there are two Facebook pages titled Halifax, Vermont. One is owned by Bob Teree, and the other was started by Patty Dow, and they are both unofficial pages. Teree said he wanted the Board to consider whether or not Dow’s page should be an official town page. Green said this would be on a future agenda.
Hearing of Visitors
Bob Teree asked when the town is going to hire an independent public accounting firm to do an independent audit of the town’s finances. He said there has been no independent audit for nine years and the Treasurer does not support one. The town of Whitingham has outsourced the audit function for $15,000 a year, Teree continued. They don’t have neighbors auditing neighbors, which is very complex in a town of this size. When is our next independent audit? We’ll have to talk about that, responded Sumner; it will be on a future agenda. It won’t be this year; the budget is already set for fiscal year 2021. Teree responded that the town had budgeted $100,000 for a land deal that is not happening, so should be able to find $15,000 for an audit. Sumner pointed out that we would have to purchase a lot more gravel (now we are not buying the land), and the price has increased about $3.00 a cubic yard.
Paul Blais asked whether the Board would like to discuss, at their next meeting, the possibility of providing remote access to physical meetings. This will be on the agenda for discussion at the July 7th meeting.
Executive Session (if needed)
Sumner made a motion to adjourn. Green seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0. The meeting was adjourned at 7:43 p.m.