PUTNEY—With Town Clerk Denise Germon’s resignation at midnight on March 6, it was up to the town’s Board of Civil Authority to appoint someone hours later to preside over Town Meeting.
The BCA, which consists of the town’s justices of the peace, the Selectboard, and the town agent, met in the Fifth Grade room at the Putney Central School at 9 a.m. on March 6 — an hour before Town Meeting was called to order.
Under statute, it is the BCA’s responsibility to name someone to run the elections and count votes during the annual meeting in the absence of a town clerk.
BCA Co-Chair Karen Gustafson pointed out the presence of eight of the town’s 10 justices of the peace and noted all three Selectboard members were there. “I think that’s a wonderful turnout to make a major decision,” she said.
An unusual event
This was an unusual event for Putney’s BCA — or any other in the state.
When Germon stopped showing up to work in May, months after she was elected to a three-year term as town clerk and treasurer, Putney officials were left stranded, and with no clear solution.
According to Vermont Deputy Secretary of State Christopher D. Winters, this is the first time anyone in his office had heard of a town clerk abandoning their post.
At the Jan. 31 Selectboard meeting, Germon’s attorney, Fletcher Proctor, submitted Germon’s letter of resignation to town officials. Germon’s resignation was effective at midnight on March 5.
This was the first indication town officials had of Germon’s intentions of either resigning or returning as town clerk and treasurer.
During Tuesday morning’s BCA meeting, Board members worked together to navigate the best course. They had copies of relevant statutes, but no experience with a situation like this.
At one point, when members of the BCA were trying to comprehend unclear language in the statutes, one official asked Germon’s attorney, Fletcher Proctor, who was in attendance, if he could give an opinion.
“I don’t think you want me advising you,” Proctor replied.
Who will preside?
Debate mostly centered on whether the person the BCA nominated to preside over elections should have a term for just Town Meeting or for up to 35 days afterward, too.
Members of the Selectboard spoke in favor of an extended term, in case any election results were challenged or recalled.
Outgoing Selectboard Chair Scott Henry noted the Selectboard will appoint a town clerk at their March 7 reorganizational meeting, so that would effectively end the term of the person presiding over elections.
Henry also pointed out that the BCA is appointing a person only to oversee elections — they are not appointing a town clerk.
Town Moderator Meg Mott gave her support for a longer term for the elections official, noting there may be unforeseen reasons to close Town Meeting early and continue it another day, such as a fire.
Justice of the Peace Alan Blood asked who decides the presiding officer’s term is over. Interim Town Manager Chip Stearns said, “It’s until the town clerk position is filled."
Selectboard member Josh Laughlin assured BCA members the presiding officer “has no authority over the incoming town clerk. It’s just about elections.”
Multiple members of the BCA said former Town Clerk Anita Coomes agreed to preside over elections, but just for Town Meeting day.
“Anita will know better than anyone what to do today,” said Blood.
Blood then made a motion, seconded by Laughlin, “To appoint Anita Coomes as the presiding officer for the town election of March 6, 2018, for an appointment to expire in 35 days.”
The motion carried.