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Civility reigns in Rockingham

Amid little controversy, voters approve playground, rescue vehicle and turn down HCRS funding

ROCKINGHAM—“We came in as friends, and Robert’s Rules Of Order offers 19 pages on civility. Let’s leave as friends.”

And with those words, Moderator Michael Harty began the 2015 Annual Town Meeting on Monday night.

Harty invited state Reps. Carolyn Partridge and Matthew Trieber, who were in attendance, to come up and speak to their constituents, but they politely declined, instead encouraging audience members to approach them during breaks.

After, Harty gave his introduction and described the structure and rules of the evening’s proceedings, including how long each speaker can, and should, hold the floor.

“The limits of Robert’s Rules of Order, and the limits of sanity, amount to five minutes per person.”

He also noted, “It can get complicated as we get into Robert’s, but hopefully we’ll be fine.”

And what followed was a brief meeting, almost completely devoid of contention and redundancy.

After the reading of an article that asked the voters to approve raising and appropriating $5,012,175 to “pay the indebtedness of the town, repair and maintain highways, and pay all other general and regular expenses of the town” for fiscal year 2015, including raising $4,241,140 through taxes, Harty expressed incredulity at the lack of dialogue.

“Oh, come on, there must be,” he said.

That prompted some activity, an amendment to the article to account for “an error in calculation,” and finally, approval with only one dissenting vote.

The article seeking approval for library funding was achieved in spite of two attendees voting “no.”

New rescue vehicle, new playground

Townspeople unanimously approved the purchase of a new one-ton rescue vehicle for the Bellows Falls Fire Department.

Municipal Manager Chip Stearns reported that “this is a replacement vehicle for highway rescues.”

Ryan Stoodley of the Recreation Department amended an article seeking funding for a new playground, doubling the requested funding to $20,000.

The vote was close, but, as Harty said, “the ‘ayes’ have it.”

The larger amount will allow for a handicapped-accessible facility that will serve a wider variety of ages.

Stoodley noted the availability of matching grants for construction costs.

HCRS funds fail after CEO windfall

Ten social service organizations seeking funding from the town will divide $73,103 among them. Springfield Supported Housing can rely on $2,500 for the year. Parks Place Community Center will receive $4,000.

Health Care and Rehabilitation Services, Inc., was the subject of the evening’s only failed article.

The agency’s request of $2,700 “for the support of outpatient mental health and substance abuse services” to town residents was denied.

Discussion was sparse, with Robin Story alone questioning “why HCRS is shaking down towns, even for small amounts” when the organization had recently been found “lavishing outgoing CEOs with huge severance packages.”

In recent weeks, in the wake of the agency’s $650,000 compensation package to its outgoing CEO, Judith Hayward, HCRS has faced mounting criticism from its employees and elected officials alike.

Although Selectboard member Thomas MacPhee assured townspeople that Hayward’s successor, George Karabakakis, “doesn’t make nearly the amount of the old CEO,” and the vote was close, the motion failed.

School budget passes

All articles in the School District Meeting were unanimously approved with no discussion.

The school budget, seeking almost $10.7 million, was up for approval by Australian ballot during Tuesday’s town election.

The final approval, on whether the school district will pay its district officers compensation, prompted Harty to comment: “Congratulations. You can cover babysitting costs.”

Silent Knight

MacPhee dedicated the evening’s meeting, and a plaque, to Dennis Knight of the town’s highway department.

Knight has worked with the town since 1977, when he began his duties by “cutting brush and logs in the Village Forest,” says the Annual Report.

As Knight received his award, MacPhee noted that “Dennis decided not to say anything.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #295 (Wednesday, March 4, 2015). This story appeared on page E1.

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