OFFICE OF THE SELECTBOARD
Town of Halifax, Vermont
SELECTBOARD REGULAR MEETING MINUTES
December 1, 2020
Call to Order
The meeting was called to order at 7:00 p.m. Selectboard members Lewis Sumner, Mitchell Green, and Bradley Rafus, Moderator Paul Blais, and Robbin Gabriel were in the Town Office conference room. Linda Lyon, Everett Wilson, Peggy Rafus, Jessica Cooney, Chum Sumner, Edee Edwards, David Jones, Marketa Psenickova, Patrick Eck, Rhonda Ashcraft, Cara Cheyette, Chris Parkins, Douglas Parkhurst, Marilou Parkhurst, and Marilyn Allen attended by teleconference. Stephan Chait called in late in the meeting, while the Board was in executive session, but did not remain on the line.
Sumner opened the meeting, and Moderator Paul Blais gave instruction for meeting conduct and participation.
Changes and/or Additions to Agenda
Sumner advised the Board would hold an executive session for an update on the lawsuit.
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes
Mitch Green made a motion to approve the 11/2/20 regular meeting minutes as written. Brad Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.
Sumner made a motion to approve the 11/10/20 special meeting minutes as written. Green seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0-1, with Rafus, who was present at that meeting in his capacity as Highway Department employee, abstaining
School Board Special Election—Chum Sumner
Chum Sumner provided a summary of the process that has been unfolding since October as the Town prepares for a special election to establish a School Board of Directors for the Halifax School District. In October, the State Board of Education approved requests from Halifax and Readsboro to discontinue their merged school district, and as this was a first-of-its-kind event there were questions regarding correct procedure for re-creating independent school boards. Chum read portions of email exchanges between the town and the Secretary of State’s Office discussing various questions raised about the process and, finally, a message from the Secretary of State agreeing to sign the warning necessary for the election. Notices will now be posted advising interested candidates of the open positions, the legal warning will be published on December 14th, and the election and Australian ballot vote will be scheduled for January 19, 2021. There is no requirement for an informational meeting prior to the election. The ballot will contain articles for three School Board Directors to serve terms ending in March 2021, March 2022, and March 2023. Paul Blais also advised that Act 92 does not require candidates to submit a petition with voter signatures; to get on the ballot a candidate need only fill out and submit a nomination consent form to the Town Clerk.
Winter Road Condition Reporting/School Closings—Chum Sumner
Chum Sumner explained that when a winter storm is expected he consults with the Superintendent of Schools by 5:30 a.m. and a decision is made about school closings. Chum asked if Brad Rafus, as Road Commissioner, could call by 5:00 a.m. with an assessment of road conditions and the highway crew’s ability to keep up with the storm. Rafus agreed, and asked in return that he be notified when the decision to either close school or delay opening is made, as that affects the way the highway department schedules plowing and sanding.
Discuss Highway Department Annual Raise
Brad Rafus recused himself from this discussion. Lewis Sumner said all employee reviews have now been completed. Sumner made to motion to give all highway department employees a 1.5% raise beginning January 1, 2021. Mitch Green seconded the motion, which passed, 2-0-1, with Rafus abstaining. Mitch Green said the 1.5% represents approximately half the increase; the other half is in the form of health insurance benefits.
Discuss March 2021 Town Meeting Procedure
Lewis Sumner said he added this item to the agenda because we need to be thinking about how to conduct the 2021 Town Meeting under current restrictions. We have a couple of options, said Sumner; one is to vote on all the articles by Australian ballot. Another possibility is postponing the meeting, perhaps until May, when we could hold it outdoors. Green liked the idea of holding an outdoors meeting. Voting by Australian ballot does not allow for discussion on the articles, he said. Rafus noted that the Town would need to hold an informational meeting, and the Board confirmed that meeting would be by teleconference about a week before the vote. If we held an outside meeting we would need some type of speaker system, so people can hear, added Rafus. What would a delay do to the budget, and setting the tax rate?, asked Paul Blais. The tax rate isn’t set until July, answered Sumner. Often not until August, added Green. The election of town officials and any other Australian ballot voting would still happen in March, even if the meeting itself were postponed until May, when the articles normally voted on from the floor would be addressed. Edee Edwards had two comments; she asked whether Act 92 required a motion on the elimination of the requirement of voter signatures on petitions (the answer was no), and she recommended the full Australian ballot route, as she believes social distancing might still be an issue in May. Paul Blais said Act 92 gives Selectboards authority to vote on whether to have all Town Meeting articles by Australian ballot. Cara Cheyette also advocated for everything to be done in March. She said Blais has done well hosting teleconference meetings, and even with more callers he could maintain order. Board members speculated that a remote teleconference Town Meeting might increase attendance considerably. Marilou Parkhurst asked if a March town meeting is State-mandated, and could the meeting be held by Zoom. Green thought the Selectboard has the authority to change the meeting date. Sumner said he just wanted to get discussion started; this topic will be on the January 5, 2021 meeting agenda. Linda Lyon said she, too, has concerns about an outdoor meeting, and recommended a full Australian ballot meeting in March.
Hearing of Visitors
Edee Edwards said this is a lonely time; she misses seeing her neighbors. Edwards is planning to post, on Front Porch Forum, a plan to hold weekly Zoom meetings, either a morning coffee hour or a Friday after-work group, to provide an opportunity for people to communicate. I want to try to help us as a community get through this very difficult time, said Edwards, who asked anyone interested to let her know.
A call from Chris Parkins got disconnected, but he called back a few minutes later. Parkins suggested the Selectboard query other towns about their plans for Town Meeting day.
Selectboard’s Order to the Treasurer for Payment
The orders to the Treasurer were reviewed and signed.
Correspondence was reviewed. The Board received Windham Solid Waste’s financial audit, several agency reports for the 2021 Annual Report, and signed one driveway permit. Blais, as EMD, offered a copy of the application letter for the local hazard mitigation update grant; all agreed the Board would like a copy of the final signed document for their files.
Sumner made a motion to enter executive session to discuss a legal matter, with Gabriel present. Green seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0. The Board entered executive session at 7:31 p.m., and exited at 7:40 p.m. with no decisions made.
Cara Cheyette asked Paul Blais if Roberts Rules was available online; yes, replied Blais.
Green reminded everyone that the first budget preparation meeting would be held December 15th, at 7:00 p.m., and a second meeting is scheduled for December 29th, 7:00 p.m.
Sumner made a motion to adjourn the meeting at 7:42 p.m. Rafus seconded the motion, which passed, 3-0.