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Resignation narrowly averted, Fritz decides to stay on Selectboard

NEWFANE—Newfane recently lost, and regained, a Selectboard member within the span of about an hour.

Board member Rosalind Fritz announced her resignation at the June 1 meeting. She read a letter to the board explaining why.

It all began with the Arch Bridge.

During the May 18 board meeting, Jennifer Fitch and Carolyn Carlson, project managers with the Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT), presented studies and data supporting replacing the crumbling one-lane historic bridge with a two-lane model.

At the meeting, Fitch encouraged the public to contact her with questions.

Fritz did just that, and “to be better informed,” she said, she asked Fitch a number of questions pertaining to cost and safety.

Fritz shared her findings with her fellow board members via email, and, as she said during her resignation speech, “instead of receiving respect or appreciation” for the work she did, “I was chastised and told to stop.

“I was told I couldn’t represent the board as an individual,” she said. She said she assured her fellow board members she was not doing that, and cited passages in the Selectboard’s handbook supporting her research.

The response she said she received from the other board members was “I kept getting referred to the Selectboard handbook” —€• specifically the passage about not representing the board as an individual.

“There is something other than a true respect for others’ opinions on this board,” Fritz said, explaining that she was resigning because she does not feel she has anything to contribute, and has no effective role.

“I hope this will be a wake-up call for the board. I hope the real issues that the town faces are dealt with fairly and with an informed public, and a board who will take into consideration their concerns and opinions,” Fritz said as she read her resignation letter to the board.

All board members quickly expressed surprise and sadness, except for Marion Dowling who was not present at the meeting.

Board member Carol Hatcher said she was “heartbroken,” and she “really needed [Fritz] to be part of this board."

“It’s a disappointment to see you leave,” board member Michael Fitzpatrick said to Fritz, adding, “I think you did a hell of a job."

Selectboard Chair Todd Lawley concurred, praising Fritz for her work, and he asked her to stay.

He also offered a mea culpa.

Lawley said he felt “a lot of that was directed at me,” because the emails he sent Fritz were “just trying to protect us,” but he realized he “could have thought about it more before writing” what he did.

A discussion ensued between the board, Town Clerk Gloria Cristelli, Administrative Assistant Shannon Meckle, and the audience —€• including Fritz’s husband, Robert — on navigating different personalities and modes of expression, how nuances in meaning can get easily lost in email communications, and the Open Meeting Law.

Of the latter, Hatcher reminded those present, “We’re learning [Open Meeting Law] the hard way, by jumping off the boat into the water.”

With that, Rosalind Fritz got back into the figurative water with the Newfane Selectboard, and rescinded her resignation. The Selectboard noted it had not approved her resignation anyway, so no action was necessary.

Robert Fritz said to the board, “Lesson learned: it’s not about disagreeing. It’s about the respect one needs in dealing with the town. Otherwise, it’s futile.”

He added, “It’s not just about the bridge, but about the way one participates. It’s about tonality."

As Rosalind Fritz left the audience and reclaimed her seat at the Selectboard table, Todd Lawley extended his hand to shake Fritz’s, which she accepted. He apologized to her.

Then, the board resumed their discussion of Fritz’s research on the Arch Bridge.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #309 (Wednesday, June 10, 2015). This story appeared on page B5.

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