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With no Town Clerk, who presides?

Selectboard sets Town Meeting procedures

PUTNEY—With Town Clerk Denise Germon’s upcoming resignation, the Selectboard and Interim Town Manager must find someone else to preside over Town Meeting.

Germon has resigned as town clerk and treasurer, effective at midnight on March 5.

Ten hours later, Putney’s Town Meeting begins.

At the Jan. 31 Selectboard meeting, Germon’s attorney, Fletcher Proctor, submitted her resignation letter to town officials.

This announcement ended a months-long stalemate between Germon and the Selectboard. Germon stopped showing up to work at the end of May, but didn’t resign, request medical leave, or communicate directly with town officials.

Vermont statute provides no mechanism for replacing a public official who abandons their post mid-term but doesn’t resign. But, with the passing of Act 27 in early May, voters can decide at Town Meeting to change the terms of the town clerk and treasurer’s offices from elected to appointed.

In early December, Interim Town Manager Chip Stearns notified the Selectboard that Assistant Town Clerk Barbara Taylor received a successful petition to put two articles on the Town Meeting warning. If passed, Articles 3 and 4 will empower the Selectboard to hire — and if necessary, fire — the town clerk and treasurer’s positions.

Townspeople will vote on these articles by Australian Ballot.

But, with no town clerk, who will count those ballots on March 6? And who will report the results to the Secretary of State’s office and the press?

At the Feb. 14 regular Selectboard meeting, Stearns shared the results of research he conducted, including conferring with the town attorney, on which procedures town officials will need to follow on Town Meeting day to ensure the town meets its responsibilities.

Stearns recommended calling a meeting of the Board of Civil Authority — which includes the town’s Justices of the Peace and Selectboard members — at 9 a.m. on Town Meeting day. Stearns will warn this meeting to the public.

“Because at that time, we will not have a town clerk to run the election, so the Board of Civil Authority has to appoint a presiding officer,” he said.

There is no term limit for the presiding officer, Stearns noted, and said, “my suggestion is for 35 days in the event that anything at Town Meeting gets recalled by petition. They could address the petition and deal with organizing an additional vote.”

The presiding officer must be a registered Putney voter, he pointed out.

Because of the unusual circumstances, Stearns said he and staff will make sure there are resources and Internet access at the Board of Civil Authority meeting to help answer questions.

Selectboard Chair Scott Henry added a clarification: The Board of Civil Authority isn’t appointing a new town clerk; they are only appointing someone to preside over elections.

Stearns told the Selectboard they must also post the town clerk and treasurer vacancies, and should also warn a special Selectboard reorganizational meeting for March 7.

“In either case, it doesn’t matter whether Articles 3 or 4 pass or fail,” Stearns said, adding, “the [Selectboard] must make the appointment because we have a vacancy.”

Once election results are in, and the Selectboard has made their appointments at the reorganizational meeting, any notary public can swear in both the elected and appointed officials, Stearns said, and he will make sure the appropriate documents are ready.

“We’ve got to be prepared for whatever may happen, to do our best effort to do the right thing,” Stearns said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #448 (Wednesday, February 28, 2018).

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