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Question about Selectboard pay might head to court

VERNON—When Michael Courtemanche appeared before the Selectboard at their July 5 regular meeting, he stood on the opposite side of the table from where he had sat barely a year earlier when he was a member of the Board.

Soon, Courtemanche may find himself sitting on the opposite side of a courtroom from his former colleagues.

According to his statements at the July 5 meeting, after resigning from the Selectboard last November, Courtemanche was approached by Board Chair Christiane Howe, who asked him to return a portion of his $2,000-per-year salary.

When Courtemanche refused to return the money to the Board, they sued him.

“I have a comment about the lawsuit the town is bringing against me,” Courtemanche said during the open public comments section of the Board meeting. He said he was there to present statements he was giving the court, and he wanted to make them in open session and have his comments entered into the public record.

“I disagree that I owe the plaintiffs the full amount claimed in the complaint and I request a court hearing,” Courtemanche said.

“I dispute the claim because two other Selectboard members received a full-year’s compensation as well for only working a partial year during the 2015-2016 cycle, and they have not been asked to repay any of their compensation, according to documentation presented by Cindy Turnley, town treasurer,” Courtemanche said.

He said that in a prior conversation with Howe, he asked why Josh Unruh and Sandra Harris, who had been appointed to the Board midway through the term year, weren’t asked to pay back any part of their $2,000 salary. “She had no answer,” Courtemanche said of Howe.

In his statement to the Board, Courtemanche asserted Unruh and Harris shouldn’t be involved in any discussion about the suit, citing conflict of interest.

Courtemanche told Board members he asks to be treated the same — either he doesn’t pay, or they all pay.

Although Title 24, chapters 932 and 933, of state statute allows Town Meeting and either the auditors or the Selectboard to set compensation, “the law says nothing” about how much of a year a Board member must serve before earning the entire year’s salary, Vermont Secretary of State General Counsel and Director of Municipal Assistance Jenny Prosser told The Commons.

Prosser noted she hadn’t heard of this question coming up before and, should this case get adjudicated, it might establish precedent.

When contacted for general information about the issue — with no mention of the Vernon dispute — Abby Friedman, director of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns’ Municipal Assistance Center, said she couldn’t comment.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #367 (Wednesday, July 27, 2016). This story appeared on page D1.

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