Town Meeting

Brighton Town Meeting — Voters question authority

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by Joseph Gresser

ISLAND POND — About 60 Brighton residents turned out for the town’s floor meeting Monday night and they weren’t there to be gentle with town officials.  New Town Manager Noah Bond, only months into his job was asked almost to his face, if he had dictatorial tendencies.  Others fared no better.

Mr. Bond wasn’t actually at the meeting, but appeared remotely on a big screen.  Town administrator Joel Cope explained that he was in East Peoria, Illinois, where he is to be married.

The evening got off to a spicy start when freshman Moderator Bruce Rumball-Petre asked if there was any discussion about a measure on the Australian ballot that would allow the town to borrow $400,000 for ten years in order to buy a new grader.

Road Foreman Andy Martin said the current John Deere was built in 1993 and has needed a lot of costly repairs.  Brighton wouldn’t be looking for a brand-new model, he explained, but is hoping to turn up a used grader, perhaps with a bit of warranty remaining.

He was immediately besieged with questions about the need for a new machine.  Some said they pride themselves on running their equipment right into the ground before looking for a replacement.

Mr. Martin said he likes that idea, but for a town where only seven of 42 miles of road is paved, having the grader in the shop for a month might be a major inconvenience.

Mr. Cope said, “You don’t have a road department if you don’t have a grader.”

Discussion on the article that, if passed, would permit cannabis retailers to operate in Brighton picked up from where it left off the last time the measure was on the ballot — last year.  This is the third year where proponents of a pot shop have petitioned to put the measure before the people of Brighton.  It was rejected each time.

Molly Cook, a leading opponent of allowing such businesses in town, argued from Colorado’s experience, which she said has not been positive.  In addition, she said, state law says once one such store is allowed to open, the town cannot keep others from setting up shop in Brighton.

The mood in the room was markedly not in favor of such operations.  The person who hopes to start such a store in Brighton is not a town resident and his request to speak at the meeting was turned down by a single vote 19-18.

Unusually, there were sharp questions about town officers’ reports, particularly the water and sewer department.

Some asked why the budget has increased.  Water Commissioner Mark Vaillancourt explained that after the death Marty Frizzell, the chief operator of the water and sewer system, in 2021 the company he worked for said it would no longer be able to provide someone to tend Brighton’s plants.

Mr. Vaillancourt said he and his fellow commissioners found a company that is also working for Lyndonville and offered to take on Brighton at a fair price.

The big problem, he explained, is that the system went for 40 years without significant maintenance and the bill is coming due.  The work needed to run the plants is complicated and state requirements are strict, he added.

Another issue that drew significant comment was a proposal to have the select board appoint a town clerk and town treasurer rather than having voters elect candidates for that office.

Some said a state law could bar people from holding two elective offices at once.  If enacted that would require current Clerk and Treasurer Teresa DeBonville to give up one of her jobs and would force the town to hire another person.

Mr. Cope said he doesn’t think that is the major issue.  The core of the matter, he said, is that “a town clerk needs a lot of skills.”

If it remains an elective position, voters could choose someone who doesn’t have the ability to do the work required by the town and by the state.

That didn’t sit well with some including Erica Petre who rose to ask, “So you’re saying the select board is qualified to select a clerk, but the voters are not?”

Mr. Cope said he believes select board members have a better idea of what the job entails and more time to check out candidates.

That comment appeared to hit a nerve, as several people asked why citizens are not given the opportunity to participate in such hiring decisions.

Anne Budrewicz, said she thought the process used to hire Mr. Bond was closed to the public.  Select board members Heather McElroy and Stacey Roese disagreed, but said they will welcome public participation in further hiring decisions.

The matter was settled when Ms. DeBonville said she had been asked if she minded being appointed.  She did not, she said, noting that she always faced the chance of being voted out under the present system.  Should that happen, Ms. DeBonville said, she would just leave the town offices without the opportunity to help her successor learn the ropes.

Mr. Cope said the select board would certainly appoint Ms. DeBonville if given the opportunity by voters.  Those present gave their town clerk and treasurer a hearty round of applause and agreed to let the select board appoint her.

Voters hesitated to approve a measure sending $1,000 to Green Mountain Farm-to-School when it was pointed out that the organization’s program gets $6,000 a year from the Brighton Elementary School.

The organization helps students in their garden and teaches about locally grown foods.  It was only when someone saw the extra money was to maintain the garden when school is closed, that voters gave the expenditure their nod.

Voters, with some reluctance, agreed to give up having town reports mailed to them after hearing it costs $2.69 to send each one out.  They were assured the reports would still be printed and an attempt will be made to make it convenient to get one.

There was little discussion about the $1.6-million town budget, which Mr. Cope said is a 4 or 5 percent increase over last year’s budget.  It easily passed.

Mr. Bond’s work as town manager came under direct scrutiny at the end of the meeting when he was asked what his leadership style is.

He said he wants to see a master plan created with input from everyone in the community.  Once that is in place, he said, his job would be to carry it out.

One of his recent decisions, not to open the town gym to public use in the summer drew a great deal of criticism.  Many said they pay for the building with their taxes and should be able to use it.

Doug Niles said he coaches young people in basketball.  Some in his program may be good enough, if they work hard, to be North Country Union High School varsity players.  That work, he said, requires them to practice on wooden floors rather than on concrete.

Mr. Cope said the town hall is a “129-year-old fire trap,” and it is necessary to curb public use as a matter of public safety.  He said earlier attempts to open it up have led to serious acts of vandalism.

Mr. Bond said he made the decision to close the gym after hearing from the recreation committee, but he expressed openness to finding ways to allow some public access in the summer.

He also agreed to include members of the public to help find a new recreation director for Brighton.  The town has found it hard to keep the position filled, a blow to its attempts to draw visitors to the events it holds.

Mr. Bond said he currently has several applicants for the job.




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