OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD SPECIAL MEETING MINUTES
March 16, 2021
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:00 p.m. This meeting was conducted entirely by teleconference. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner, Bradley Rafus, Peter Silverberg, and Moderator Paul Blais were present, as well as Peggy Rafus, Marilou Parkhurst, Douglas Parkhurst, Marilyn Allen, Linda Lyon, Everett Wilson, Kaitlin Stone, Donna Silverberg, Turner Lewis, Kathy McLean, Susan Kelly, Stephan Chait, Patricia Dow, Cara Cheyette, Scott Ashcraft, Edee Edwards, Rhonda Ashcraft, Chris Parkins, Janice Bliss, Patrick McAllister, Patrick Eck, Marketa Psenickova, and Robbin Gabriel.
Lewis Sumner opened the meeting and welcomed Pete Silverberg as the newest member of the Selectboard. I’m sure we’ll work well together, Sumner added. Silverberg expressed his appreciation of the support he received during election, said he was looking forward to participating, and believes the Board members can have a great relationship.
Moderator Paul Blais reviewed call-in instructions and the basic rules for the meeting process.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Sumner advised he had a letter to read, under New Business. Pete Silverberg requested a discussion on communication.
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Sumner made a motion to approve the 2/8/21 meeting minutes as written. Brad Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Brad Rafus nominated Lewis Sumner as Selectboard Chair. Pete Silverberg seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0-1, with Sumner abstaining.
Sumner nominated Pete Silverberg as Vice-Chair. Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0-1, with Silverberg abstaining.
Selectboard Expansion Procedure
Sumner announced that the Town would be holding an election, and the Selectboard would sign the warning on April 6th, after the 30-day period for rescission petitions had expired. The election will be scheduled for May 25th, to give candidates about two weeks to declare prior to the statutory requirement that candidates’ consent forms be submitted by the sixth Monday preceding an election. Paul Blais asked if the requirement to obtain signatures on a petition was still waived. Sumner and Town Clerk Patty Dow both believe we are still under the Governor’s executive order waiving that requirement, but Dow said she would confirm prior to issuing consent forms. Even if that order has expired, said Dow, the Secretary of State’s Office or the Governor’s office has the authority to make custom decisions on these issues based on a town’s individual circumstances. Cara Cheyette asked what the deadline would be for nominating consent form submission. The election will be on Tuesday, May 25th, replied Dow. The sixth Monday preceding that date is April 19th, so that would be the final day for candidates to submit their consent forms to the Town Office. The Selectboard will sign the warning on April 6th, notices will be posted and nominating consent forms will be available online. Candidates will have nearly two weeks to submit prior to April 19th. The warning will be posted no later than Monday April 25th, which is 30 days prior to the May 25th election date, and no earlier than April 15th, which is 40 days prior to election. Cheyette suggested an election could be warned earlier, instead of waiting until the time period allowed for reconsideration petitions had expired, and that election date could be cancelled should a petition be presented. But you’ve worked it (the election schedule) out, she added, so I’m going to withdraw that idea. Dow said she had solicited advice on that topic from Will Senning at the Secretary of State’s Office, and from VLCT (Vermont League of Cities and Towns), and had learned that while the Selectboard could set an election date and sign a warning at any time, if they did so prior to the April 1st rescission deadline and then a petition for reconsideration on the article expanding the Board to five members was submitted, the election date would have to be cancelled. VLCT and the Secretary of State’s Office both said the Board’s decision to sign the warning and set an election date after the rescission period had passed was acceptable practice. Cheyette thanked Dow for the information. Blais wanted to know whether the municipal offices of Trustee of Public Funds and Selectboard member were incompatible. Dow did not have the list with her, but believed those offices were not incompatible. Sumner agreed with Dow, and Silverberg, who did have the chart available, confirmed that the two offices were not incompatible.
Office Key Policy (Patty Dow)
Dow said that every few years she drafts a new policy for the Town in an area where one is needed, such as the check return and speed control policies implemented in the last few years. This year Dow has drafted an office key policy, as the Town did not have one. She based the policy on a VLCT template, and also researched existing policies in other towns. Board members have each received a copy of the document for review. Sumner made a motion to accept the office key policy as written. Silverberg seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. In discussion before the vote, Blais asked whether a policy approved by the Board goes into effect immediately, or is there a second reading at a later meeting, prior to adoption. Sumner advised the policy is approved, and becomes effective after a 60-day grace period.
Dow had one additional comment on the special election. She wanted everyone to understand that the election vote would be for one Selectboard member for a term of one year, and one member for a term of two years, but in the future both of those positions will be two-year positions. Dow said this is spelled out in statute; 17 VSA §2650(2)(a).
Stephan Chait asked where the key policy was available. It was just passed, replied Sumner; it will go into effect in 60 days, and will be available in the Town Office. Gabriel said she would also post the policy online.
Approve Request for Truck Quotes
Sumner said we would like to request truck bids, and trade in our lemon truck, which has cost us a ton of money, with bids to be submitted and opened at the April 6th Selectboard meeting. Sumner made a motion to approve sending quote requests to six vendors. Silverberg seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0-1, with Rafus abstaining. Prior to the vote, Silverberg, referencing the truck specifications, asked if the vehicles, which have a gross weight of 68,000 pounds, were at or well under gross weight when fully loaded. With a load and all equipment on, we are at that gross weight, not way under, answered Rafus. Silverberg wondered if buying a heavier vehicle would reduce wear and tear, and be cost effective. You’d have to go to a tri-axle, said Rafus, which would be quite a bit more money, and the additional four feet in body length would create turning issues. Rafus did not think the larger truck would increase longevity; they just up the capacity, but pretty much use the same transmissions and rear axles, he added. Rafus told Marilou Parkhurst the truck under discussion was truck #2 (as shown in the Town Report). That truck is scheduled for replacement in 2024, said Parkhurst, are you replacing ahead of schedule? Yes, answered Rafus. We have had major problems with that truck; it’s back at the dealer now. We haven’t run it much in the last two years. It has an issue and they can’t seem to figure out how to resolve it. Last year we had to buy a used spare truck because being short a truck puts us so far behind. Buying a truck is a year-long process; it’ll probably be a year before we take delivery on this new truck. Edee Edwards has heard that delivery fleets are beginning to discuss replacing vehicles with electric models. She noted that charging stations would be needed, but there was a potential for less maintenance. I’m looking to the future, she said, I know this is probably not reality today. The State of Vermont is planning to try out their first medium-duty electric truck, said Rafus. This is a lighter vehicle than the ones we use. The dealer told us the cost is about $250,000 for each truck. It would probably work in the city, where going is easier, but I don’t see it here for our use. After the vote on the motion, Sumner announced the Board members would be physically in the Town Office for their April 6th meeting, as he wanted everyone present when the bids were opened.
Seasonal Road Posting
Rafus announced the yearly mud season road posting, which reduces gross vehicle weight on our gravel roads during spring thaw, when the road beds are vulnerable. The posted weight restrictions, which remain in place until May 15th, must be filed with the State. This is a normal procedure that protects us if a truck damages the roads, he said. Sumner made a motion to post the roads for mud season until May 15th. Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. During discussion, Silverberg asked what happens if someone gets a weight permit from the Town. Does that make it okay? They can get the permit, but they can’t go on the roads, replied Sumner. Marilou Parkhurst told the Board that just before their road (Fowler Road) was posted a flatbed truck came through and damaged the road. She asked when it would be repaired. We’ve been raking all along, said Rafus, but the last few days there has been too much freeze. We’ve been filling ruts with material, and as soon as it gets warm enough we will go back to raking. Rafus said he would look at what Parkhurst described as deep, hard to negotiate ruts, in front of her residence. Marketa Psenickova asked what happens if an ambulance needs to travel a road posted for mud season. Blais said emergency vehicles are exempt from restrictions and Sumner confirmed that; milk and fuel trucks are also exempt. Most of them work with the town well, said Sumner, they come when it’s frozen if they can, and they check with Brad.
Deerfield River Initiative
Christopher Curtis, Vice President of the Deerfield River Watershed Association, has requested a letter from the Halifax Selectboard in support of the organization’s attempt to seek Congressional support and funding for a planning study to evaluate whether portions of the Deerfield River can be designated as a Wild and Scenic River. In response to Silverberg’s request for a definition of “wild and scenic,” Gabriel read from the Watershed Association’s fact sheet: “In 1968 the U.S, Congress passed the ‘National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act,’ which made it the policy of the United States that certain selected rivers of the nation, and their immediate environments, that possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values, should be protected in free-flowing condition for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.” It can’t hurt, said Sumner; they’re not asking for money, and the more support they get, the better their chances of getting Congressional funding. Silverberg agreed. It means they can’t get permits to dam it up, and it sounds like a good idea in today’s environment, he said. Gabriel read from a list, also included in the fact sheet, itemizing what the designation would not do. Such a designation would not put the land under federal control, require public access to private lands, make changes to local land use decision-making or ordinances, create new federal permits or regulations, change existing land uses, prevent access to or use of the river or watershed lands, or affect hunting and fishing laws. Sumner made a motion to have the Selectboard sign a letter of support for the Deerfield River Initiative. Silverberg seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. Prior to the vote, Cara Cheyette said it seemed weird to do something that we know what it won’t do, but don’t know what the benefit is, for the organization or for the Town. I think they want to keep the Deerfield River rural, for recreation, white-water boating, and different things, said Sumner. Silverberg, referring to a americanrivers.org publication, read that the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System was created by Congress in 1968, for the purpose of preserving rivers with outstanding cultural and recreational values in free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations. I think that’s kind of what we’ve heard already, and what we’re endorsing, he said. Edee Edwards asked if any of our watershed goes into the Deerfield River. How does this impact us, we don’t have any of the Deerfield River within our boundaries, do we? Yes, we do, answered Sumner. There are 76 miles, from southern Vermont into Massachusetts and the Connecticut River. Silverberg told Edwards the Deerfield River watershed is huge, going down to Shelburne, Ashfield, Florence, Leyden, Guilford, Wardsboro, all the way up to Sunderland. We’re sort of in the northeast central piece. All of Halifax is in the watershed. Doug Parkhurst asked if this designation had been made for the Deerfield in Massachusetts. Gabriel said the River Association has met with 14 Selectboards in Vermont and Massachusetts, and all have voted to support the initiative. Linda Lyon said she had professional experience with this, having worked with the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Department of Agriculture; both are involved with wild and scenic rivers. One thing it would do is create a point of pride for the Town, and it might make us eligible for some federal funds to apply to the watershed. The Green River is a major tributary of the Deerfield River, and protecting the Green River is an economic advantage to Halifax. Lyon suggested communicating with the Conservation Commission about this matter; they might be able to research questions. Everett Wilson said the Green River was monitored in a couple places by the same people who are studying the Deerfield River. After the vote, Janice Bliss spoke of her love for this area, and offered a heartfelt thank-you to the Board for approving the support letter.
Discuss Remote Meeting Alternatives
Paul Blais recommended that the Selectboard begin using the Google Meet platform when conducting meetings. Blais is on the School Board, and has free access to the Google Meet system, which allows access, including video, through computer, while also permitting meeting attendees to utilize telephone access if they so desire. Blais said one consideration would be bandwidth. During School Board meetings the Board members have their webcams on, while everyone else has theirs off except while they are speaking, thus conserving bandwidth. We would still be able to have recordings of meetings, as we do now. Blais told the Board using Google Meet is an option for their next meeting, if they would like to try it. Silverberg said he does Google meetings all the time; one feature he finds advantageous is the ability to share documents on the screen. Kathy McLean uses Zoom, with groups as large as 50-75 people. Everyone’s video is running, she said, with no bandwidth issues. Blais noted that McLean was using VTel as an internet provider, and she is located very close to the tower, so bandwidth would not be an issue in her situation. Video on all platforms uses about the same amount of bandwidth, he said, and he could control that to some extent by setting a lower resolution, rather than high definition imaging. Blais confirmed for Chris Parkins that people could still participate on Google Meet using just a telephone. Parkins suggested bandwidth problems might crop up if a large number of people in a particular physical area signed on at the same time, Cara Cheyette thanked Paul for explaining options, and asked if using video would primarily affect the user’s bandwidth, or impact everyone on the call. Blais said his experience with Google Meet gatherings was limited to 15-20 people, with participants having their video off unless they were speaking. The internet service at the Town Office is ten mgs up and ten down, he said, and he would hate to get off on the wrong foot with connectivity issues. Silverberg thought the video option would be advantageous down the road, when we go back to in-person meetings. Could we test that, he asked. I know it will work, said Blais. Restricting high definition video should ensure success. Doug Parkhurst lives four miles from the Jacksonville Exchange building, and his internet service is very slow. During video meetings, he and Marilou are able to watch and listen, but sometimes have a problem when they attempt to speak. They get a low bandwidth signal or get cut off. Having the telephone connection will be useful to them. Blais said the next Selectboard meeting would be conducted using Google Meet.
Sumner read a letter from Robbin Gabriel, as follows:
This letter is my formal notification to the Board that I will not be a candidate for appointment to the Selectboard secretary and administrative assistant positions in 2021.
My seven years in your employ have been pleasurable and rewarding; I have learned much, have given back to the best of my ability, and am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with an exceptionally dedicated, caring team of municipal officials.
Please be assured of my commitment to assisting with a seamless transition process, in keeping with whatever decisions you make.
Sumner advised the two positions should be advertised, and thanked Gabriel for her years of service. Silverberg seconded the comment, and Rafus added his thanks and appreciation. Sumner confirmed for Gabriel that two vacancies should be posted, although the jobs may be combined during the hiring process. Interested persons should notify the secretary or Selectboard by April 6, 2021. Edee Edwards, who was a Selectboard member during Gabriel’s tenure, complimented Gabriel’s efficiency, and recommended advertising in the Town’s newspapers of record. Board members agreed to an advertisement in the Deerfield Valley News. Silverberg advocated for local advertising, and Sumner said the Valley News reached a local populace. Cara Cheyette also thanked Gabriel for her assistance over the years.
Silverberg said that prior to election one topic he focused on was communication. He thinks there are some problems with communication between the Selectboard and the townspeople, and it causes misunderstandings and hard feelings. He would like the Board to work to improve communication with the townspeople. Silverberg proposed a recurring agenda item relating to communication, to provide an opportunity to formulate ideas to improve the situation. We can talk about that, said Sumner. Rafus agreed. If we get back to live meetings, he said, the phone option may help. We used to have just a few people at in-person meetings but now we get 15-20 callers. If we make it more convenient, maybe more people will be involved. This will be an agenda topic next meeting. Silverberg thanked Mitch Green for his years of service, and also invited input from both Town officials and the public as he begins learning what his role as a Selectman entails. Silverberg said he will also be attending VLCT Selectboard training.
Hearing of Visitors
Cara Cheyette, the Town’s Windham Solid Waste Management District alternate representative, attended last Thursday’s Zoom solid waste meeting, and said WSWMD has finalized a document related to the roll-off containers used for recycling. The Town will be asked to take permanent possession of the containers at no cost, with the understanding that the Town will purchase the necessary insurance. If the Town declines the containers they will return them at Town expense. Cheyette also said she had voted against the budget.The budget passed, and Cheyette considered organizing a rescission petition, but was advised to accept the original vote. She asked the Board to respect the fact that the budget passed by a small margin. The fact that you have the money doesn’t mean you have to spend the money, she said, and I would ask for some additional oversight as you go through the next year that maybe you don’t buy everything on the wish list that you were given that check, and that you come in under budget. Cheyette also spoke about the article approved on election day eliminating our Town auditors and approving a yearly audit contract with an independent certified public accounting firm. She realized after the fact that the move would not necessarily achieve the goals she had originally expected, and suggested maybe it was better to have local officials handle the statutory yearly audit. In response to Cheyette’s comments, Sumner said WSWMD’s plan for the roll-off boxes had been in the works for over a year, and he was aware of it. He also addressed Cheyette’s budget remarks, saying he had never, in his years on the Board, spent money if it wasn’t needed. I’ve never been that way, and I’m not going to start in now. If we don’t spend the money, it goes back to the voters. That’s why we have article every year stating any budget surplus will be used to reduce taxes.
On the subject of communication, Edee Edwards said she had made the choice to move back to Halifax in the midst of the pandemic, for the safety of herself and her husband, based on what information she could glean about different situations she had opportunity to choose from. I would like to have some perspective from our Town leadership on where we stand as a community on covid-19, she said; I’m aware we had an outbreak in town not long ago and wonder if we have a sense of human and economic costs. Where are we from the Selectboard and EMD perspective in terms of State guidelines and the impact this horrible disease has had on us? Edwards mentioned Amanda Ryan’s gift basket project, which she thought was wonderful. We don’t know as residents where the Town is at covid-wise, replied Silverberg. He noted there were privacy issues, but thought wanting to know where we stand is valid. As EMD, Blais said he is on twice-weekly covid-related calls, and none of the data gets broken down to a town level. One of the calls deals with state-wide statistics, and the other with Windham County. I know the State is extremely cautious about discussing anything related to town specifics or any of the outbreaks they document. Blais said there is a contact tracing team and when there is a case that team goes through the contact t racing process. This is one of the reasons Patty Dow has rules for masking and signing in at the Town Office, to provide a path for contact tracing if needed. Blais said that as EMD he did not get any further statistical information, and Sumner said he did not, either. Silverberg said he would investigate any data available from the State before the next meeting. Blais suggested that Health Officer Sue Kelly might have more information or could perhaps direct Silverberg to another source.
Everett Wilson said he had received one of the packages Amanda Ryan was instrumental in putting together to bring some cheer to local residents. I’m not a shut-in, but apparently I was old enough, Wilson said. I do really appreciate it, it was very nice. Earl (Holtz) brought mine by, and actually, he’s older than I am. Thank you.
Selectboard’s Order to the Treasurer for Payment
The Treasurer’s order will be reviewed and signed in the Town Office on Wednesday.
Gabriel said there were some overweight permits in the mailbox needing signature. Sumner said he would take care of them.
None held. Blais told the meeting that one feature of the Google Meet platform is the ability to create a break-out room, temporarily separating the Board from public callers, when holding an executive session.
Sumner made a motion to adjourn at 8:32 p.m. Silverberg seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.