NEWFANE—The Selectboard unanimously voted to amend the town’s personnel policy at the Nov. 7 regular Board meeting. This came after the Board tabled the issue during its Oct. 3 and 17 regular meetings.
The amended policy prohibits employees and elected officials, while on town property, from posting political signs, distributing political literature, or attempting to gather signatures on petitions for a town vote.
After receiving complaints from residents about Town Clerk Gloria Cristelli's keeping a petition for the town-offices bond re-vote in her office, members of the Selectboard contacted Town Attorney Richard Carroll for his advice.
Carroll sent his suggestions for changing the personnel policy to Administrative Assistant Shannon Meckle.
During the discussion on the topic at the Nov. 7 meeting, members of the Board and the public debated whether to add further prohibitions to the personnel policy.
Board member Gary Delius suggested adding “verbal acts” as prohibited behaviors, but his colleague Marion Dowling disagreed, calling for the Board to leave the amendments the way Carroll wrote them.
Delius then said he has “knowledge” of town employees and elected officials verbally pressuring residents to vote in a certain way.
There was also talk of extending the prohibition of political speech on town property to everyone, not just town employees and elected officials. After resident Ken Estey asked for clarification and cautioned “against over-reach[ing],” Board Vice-Chairpro Hatcher reminded her colleagues this “hasn’t been a problem up to this point.”
The way it’s written, petitions and signs are prohibited but “a citizen could come in here and be verbally harangued into supporting a particular position,” Delius said. “Whether you want that or not, just be aware that it’s not prohibited.”
Hatcher reminded Board members they can always rewrite the personnel policy if verbal pressuring becomes a problem.
Estey suggested taking “the least-restrictive approach [at] the outset.”
“The attorney worded [the personnel policy amendment] carefully, it’s implied, and if he wanted to add it, he would have,” Board member Marion Dowling said.
“No matter what somebody tells you, you still vote the way you want to vote, right?” said Board member Michael Fitzpatrick.