Editorials and opinions

Barton special election could be problematic

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Dear town clerk and Barton Select Board,

I pen this open letter as I have some strong reservations about the expansion of the Barton Town Select Board and the integrity of the possible election of new select board members.

First, I will just share that I don’t fully understand the need for a five-member select board for a town of our size — particularly in a town where there are three municipalities each with its own legislative body (Barton Town, Orleans Village, and Barton Village) and for full disclosure, I am a Barton Village Trustee.  There are three governing boards with a total of nine elected select board members and village trustees for a population of approximately 2,700 people.  That’s approximately one duly elected select board member or trustee per 300 residents.  There already exists a problem filling existing vacancies in these elected positions.  I fear that adding additional select board members will only exacerbate this and at additional cost to taxpayers. 

Barton Town politics have been a focal point in local papers and statewide news outlets with heated conversations around differences of opinion and accusations related to the quality of governance.  I personally do not understand how an expansion of the board will change this dynamic or increase the quality of governance and, in fact, it may even have a deleterious effect….

The main reason that I write to you all, however, is that I have strong reservations about the possible election of select board members by Australian ballot on October 23.  The select board approved the Warning that included this election at the September 17 select board meeting due to a submitted petition by registered voters to expand the select board and to elect two new select board members.  There currently do not exist vacancies on the select board.  It does not seem proper to warn an election of officers to vacancies that do not yet exist and may not exist — as this will be decided on at the October 22 meeting. 

To warn this election prior to the vote on whether to expand the select board is problematic on several fronts:  Firstly, people who may be interested in filling the possible vacancies may not have organized a local candidate petition since there are not currently vacancies but the mere possibility of vacancies. 

Secondly, if you regard Vermont law that governs local elections by Australian ballot, the required deadline to file a candidate petition for Australian ballot is as such:  “Nominations of the municipal officers shall be by petition.  The petition shall be filed with the municipal clerk, together with the endorsement, if any, of any party or parties in accordance with the provisions of this title, not later than 5:00 p.m. on the sixth Monday preceding the day of the election, which shall be the filing deadline.” (17 VSA §2681https://legislature.vermont.gov/statutes/section/17/055/02681).  Since the possible election is on October 23, the filing deadline for candidate petitions, according to statute, would have been 5:00 p.m. on September 16— the day prior to the select board approving the Warning of a special Town Meeting and election on October 22, and October 23, respectively.  However, it is my understanding that the local candidate petitions circulated by the town clerk’s office indicated a filing deadline of September 30. 

This leads me to believe that the submitted local candidate petitions may not conform to Vermont law — I say this with the caveat that perhaps the town charter allows for a different process — however, there is not a copy of the town charter in Vermont statutes or on the town website, nor could I get a legible copy to inspect at the town clerk’s office when I visited.  So perhaps this is allowable under our charter — but I could not determine this. 

However, if there are no provisions in our town charter, it would seem that the submitted local candidate petitions could be open to contestation and if contested may ultimately be rendered null and void, which then just throws question into the integrity of the ballot and election on October 23. 

It is also problematic as the minutes from the September 17 select board meeting did not include the dates and times of the special Town Meeting and election and inadvertently included a Warning for the special election on October 8.  Additionally, the Warning of the special Town Meeting and election for October 22 and 23 was not posted on the town website until today after I requested it be posted.  This may have inadvertently stymied interest in running for the election.  Given all of these factors, I have reservations about the possible October 23 election.

I would recommend considering if the October 23 election should be canceled until the outcome of the October 22 special Town Meeting is determined.  If the voters approve an expansion of the select board, perhaps set the election date while at the meeting on October 22 and set it far enough out so the filing deadline can be set to confirm to 17 VSA §2681 (if this is the ruling provision) — I believe that this would help foster a more transparent and democratic process that may even cultivate additional interest to participate in our town’s governance.

Respectfully yours,

Tin (Justin) Barton-Caplin

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