In Derby: Morin appointed clerk at heated meeting

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Left to right are: Selectman Laura Dolgin, Selectman Beula-Jean Shattuck, Selectman Brian Smith, Selectman Stephen Gendreau, and Selectman Karen Jenne. Photo by Joseph Gresser (taken in May 2011)

copyright the Chronicle 10-10-12

by Joseph Gresser

DERBY — At a contentious meeting on Thursday, October 4, Derby selectmen voted to appoint Fay Morin interim town clerk and treasurer.  But town voters will go to the polls, probably in December and again on Town Meeting Day in March, to have their say on who should hold those offices.

The meeting at which the vote was taken was actually a continuation of the one that began on Monday, October 1.  That meeting was recessed for three days after the four selectmen present could not come to an agreement on filling the positions.

Selectman Laura Dolgin was not present for the October 1 meeting, but she was there to cast the deciding vote on October 4.

The vote to make Ms. Morin clerk and treasurer filled vacancies in Derby’s town government caused by the resignation of Nicole Daigle, who held both offices for 19 years.

Ms. Daigle took another job this summer, but offered to continue to serve in an unpaid supervisory capacity until Town Meeting Day.  She made the offer in executive session at the selectmen’s July 9 meeting, according to board chairman Brian Smith and Selectman Stephen Gendreau.

Both men said that Ms. Daigle asked the four selectmen who were present (Selectman Karen Jenne was not at that meeting) whether she ought to appoint an assistant clerk and treasurer to keep the office running until Town Meeting, or if the selectmen wanted to make the appointment.

Mr. Smith and Mr. Gendreau said the selectmen said Ms. Daigle, as town clerk and treasurer, should go ahead and fill the position.  Ms. Daigle named Ms. Morin assistant clerk and assistant treasurer after that meeting.

After some selectmen and members of the public objected to Ms. Daigle’s action at the following selectmen’s meeting, Ms. Daigle said she would resign immediately.  She was persuaded to stay on for a time, and agreed to hold the position until the end of September.

The interim appointments will be of short duration.  Mr. Smith said a petition calling for a special Town Meeting to fill the two positions until March had enough signatures to be valid.  The petition was presented to the selectmen on October 1 by Vicky Farrand-Lewis.

Mr. Smith said the selectmen will meet on October 15 to set a date for the vote.  Because Derby elects town officials by Australian ballot, the vote is unlikely to be held before December, Mr. Smith said.

Whatever the result of the balloting, it is questionable whether it will diminish the anger that was evident both between selectmen and among the 40 or so members of the public who attended the Thursday meeting.

Ms. Jenne said, “I did not attend the meeting on July 9, but I believe there was a violation of the open meeting law.”

“I disagree completely,” Ms. Dolgin shot back.

“It says in the minutes that no action was taken, but a hiring decision was made,” Ms. Jenne said.

“No action was taken by the select board and I am correct on that,” said Mr. Smith.

Ms. Dolgin read from a sheet of paper two Vermont laws that, she said, clearly authorized Ms. Daigle to appoint an assistant and required the selectmen to name a replacement for Ms. Daigle when her resignation became effective.

“You are the clerk of Derby Line,” Ms. Dolgin said to Ms. Jenne, “I’d think you would know this.”

A portion of those attending the meeting applauded Ms. Dolgin’s remark.

When Mr. Smith called for a vote Mr. Gendreau and Ms. Dolgin said they were in favor of appointing Ms. Morin, while Selectman Beula-Jean Shattuck and Ms. Jenne abstained, as they did at the October 1 meeting.  That left the question up to the chairman, Mr. Smith, but only after a long argument about whether to abstain from voting is to vote “No.”

Ms. Dolgin, who takes minutes at selectmen’s meetings, pressed both Ms. Shattuck and Ms. Jenne to explain their reasons for abstaining.  Ms. Shattuck at first refused to do more than say “that’s how I feel.”

Eventually, though, she told Ms. Dolgin that she believed the process leading up to the appointment of Ms. Morin was improper.

Ms. Dolgin then turned to Ms. Jenne, suggesting that she had a conflict of interest in the question because she is considering running for the two offices.

Ms. Jenne said she didn’t see what one thing had to do with another.

When Ms. Dolgin again asked her to explain her reasons for abstaining, Ms. Shattuck said, “There have been things that have been underhanded and I don’t like it.  I’m not going along with it.  It’s not an argument between us.”

Ms. Dolgin again asked for clarification.

Ms. Shattuck said, “Just keep talking — you’re burying yourself.  You’re not a lawyer — you think you are, but you’re not.”

A number of those present expressed their approval of Ms. Shattuck’s remark with applause.

Ms. Dolgin told Ms. Shattuck and Ms. Jenne that her minutes would show them as casting votes against Ms. Morin.

A chorus of protest arose from Ms. Shattuck, Ms. Jenne and many of those who gathered to observe the meeting.

Some appealed to Mr. Smith to prevent Ms. Dolgin from using the minutes in such a fashion.  Ms. Farrand-Lewis said that Ms. Dolgin should be required to write exactly what had been said at the meeting without inserting her opinions.

Mr. Smith ruled that Ms. Dolgin could write whatever she wanted, but that minutes would be reviewed and voted on at the next meeting.

Mr. Smith then cast his vote for appointing Ms. Morin interim clerk and treasurer, creating a majority in favor.

Mr. Gendreau then moved to adjourn the meeting.  A chorus of protest was heard from members of the public who demanded to be heard.

“We have an opportunity to speak according to open meeting law,” Ms. Farrand-Lewis said.  “We have the right.”

“We had discussion Monday night,” Mr. Smith responded, saying that the October 4 session was a continuation of the same meeting.

“In government the ultimate boss is the public.  You have the onus of responsibility to respond to the public,” Ms. Farrand-Lewis said.

“Your concerns will be addressed with the secretary of state in the morning,” Mr. Smith said.

“No, they won’t, they’ll be addressed with the Attorney General, because there was a violation of the open meeting law,” Ms. Farrand-Lewis shot back.

“We’ll discuss that and make sure everything is done correctly,” Mr. Smith said.

“What a kangaroo court you hold, Mr. Smith,” Ms. Farrand-Lewis replied.

As Mr. Smith called for a vote on the motion to adjourn, Ms. Farrand-Lewis said, “What a laughing stock.  You people are disgusting.”

That her opinion was not shared by all in attendance was shown by the round of applause given the board at the end of the meeting.

There were enough people who shared Ms. Farrand-Lewis’ views to ensure that the parking lot of the Derby municipal building was the scene of heated discussion long after the meeting’s end.

contact Joseph Gresser at [email protected]

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