Barton, keep an eye on your select board
We urge Barton Town residents to keep an eye on their select board.
This select board has insisted that its goal is to bring transparency to town government, but we see little evidence of it. The board terminated Joyce Croteau as zoning administrator without warning a meeting. We checked with the Secretary of State, and it was legal since it was called a “deliberative session.”
So it was legal, but it certainly wasn’t transparent. The “pre-termination” hearing was open to the public because Ms. Croteau insisted on it.
Also, former board member Doug Swanson has said he believes board members Lenny Zenonos and Ken Mitchell-Eby talk about town business outside warned meetings.
If two members of a three-member board discuss town business outside a warned meeting, it’s a violation of Vermont’s Open Meeting Law.
We admit that can only be speculation, but we’ve had our own suspicions about that one. Board members seem to come to meetings with an extraordinary amount of background information.
Since Town Meeting, two good, civic minded select board members with backgrounds useful to the town have abruptly resigned.
Mr. Swanson, who worked for the state Transportation Department for 25 or so years, was removed as road liaison. Mr. Mitchell-Eby, who has no road experience that we’re aware of, replaced him. Why does that make sense for the town?
Mr. Swanson probably knows something about roads and bridges. He was insulted about being removed, as he should have been. Now Jeff Cota is road liaison.
Then the board went after Ms. Croteau for “insubordination.”
We think the real problem is that her last name is Croteau. And for some dumb reason, apparently you either have to be pro- or anti-Croteau in this board’s mind.
Sure, Bob Croteau was often a difficult select board member who people have trouble working with. And you could certainly say that after three decades it’s time for new blood.
But Bob Croteau chose not to seek re-election. He’s off the board. And Bob Croteau, for all his heavy handedness, for all his arguments with us as a neutral reporter of town select board activities, didn’t have a personal agenda that we saw. He set out to serve the town, just made it difficult for anyone who disagreed with him about how to do it.
We don’t know what this board’s agenda is, but we haven’t liked it much so far.
With regard to Ms. Croteau, Bob’s wife, the real question is whether she was competent at her job as zoning administrator — not whether she’s insubordinate. Small town officials generally aren’t asked to be abject servants of a select board.
At the “pre-termination” hearing where Mr. Mitchell-Eby acted as prosecutor, he repeatedly mentioned Ms. Croteau’s alleged insubordination. Mr. Mitchell-Eby seemed quite sure that the select board is the boss of town officials, including the zoning administrator.
Well, not according to town attorney Bill Davies. In a letter to then select board member Larry Scarpa, Mr. Davies spelled out the duties and responsibilities of a select board, in general and with respect to other town officials.
“…the selectboard has no more authority over the zoning administrator or the planning commission than it does over the listers or the town clerk,” Mr. Davies wrote. “The selectboard can set the compensation of those officers and can impose general personnel policies but has no additional authority.”
(Ms. Croteau was not zoning administrator at the time. )
Joyce Croteau certainly wasn’t clinging to the job for the money, since she made a whopping $7,000 a year before her pay and hours were cut.
And, yes, there were some complaints, but when have there not been complaints about a zoning administrator? Our recollection is that Brent Shafer, now zoning administrator, was driven out of the job years ago by a previous board for no particularly good reason either.
In fact, it was noted at Tuesday’s select board meeting that a complaint had been made against Mr. Shafer.
Let’s get back to the transparency of this board. After Mr. Swanson resigned, the board appointed a third member, Mr. Cota. Mr. Zenonos would not tell our reporter who all three candidates for the job were, citing their privacy.
Seeking appointment to a public office is quite obviously not a private matter. And since there were three candidates, shouldn’t an election have been an option rather than the board rapidly handpicking someone without even making public who else wanted the job?
We did get the names of the other candidates from Town Clerk Kristin Atwood, since who seeks public office is public information.
Barton and Glover librarian Toni Eubanks, who also serves on the Lake Region Union High School Board, quit shortly after Mr. Zenonos’ election on Town Meeting Day. Ms. Eubanks has refused to publicly say why she left the board.
Mr. Swanson has been more forthcoming.
Barton, pay attention to this board. If you have concerns, you have options. Mr. Zenonos was duly elected, running unopposed. But Mr. Mtichell-Eby and Mr. Cota are appointed. You can call a special election by petition and replace them.
It’s up to you. But this is not a transparent board by any means. Nor does it appear to be much devoted to town interests. Barton has all kinds of problems the select board could be addressing besides getting rid of town officials they don’t like, or who don’t agree with them about everything.
Beyond that, the mean spiritedness and unprofessionalism of this board is deplorable. It continues to disparage former select board members, decent people who held office in good faith. — T.S.