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Discussion on agenda-setting postponed by Selectboard

BRATTLEBORO—After a heated, and sleep-deprivation-fueled, discussion, Selectboard members last Tuesday voted to table until May 3 a proposal to revise the board’s Rules of Conduct for meetings and hearings.

The discussion came at the end of a more-than-three-hour board meeting that, in turn,came on the heels two very hectic days dealing with the aftermath of the five-alarm Brooks House fire.

Selectboard member David Gartenstein requested the board talk about revising the rules in light of a recent confusion over the agenda-setting process spurred by the Safe & Green letter of concern being kept off the agenda by the chair and vice chair. [See related story this issue.]

In a previous interview, Gartenstein said he wanted the agenda process to have more transparency, specifically where it pertained to notifying all members about which items the chair and vice chair chose to keep off the agenda.

The rules, approved March 2010 by the previous board, state the chair and vice chair set the agenda.

If both members agree the item shouldn’t appear on the agenda, then it stays off. If, however, the two board members disagree on whether an item should go on the meeting agenda, then the item is added to the agenda by default.

The current rules also state, as Town Manager Barbara Sondag reminded members, if the chair and vice chair agree to leave the item off the agenda, “other Board members shall be notified.”

In the meeting, Gartenstein said he wanted the rules revised.

He wanted the whole board to know what items are being considered for the agenda, when the meeting for setting the agenda will take place, and a list of items the chair and vice chair decide to omit from the agenda.

Board member Ken Schneck said notification would help “close the loop.”

Selectboard Chair Dick DeGray said he could understand that Gartenstein, as new a board member, may have experienced confusion about how items do or don’t make it on the agenda.

DeGray added that it was “no problem” to notify board members about omitted agenda items.

“That’s not what happened,” said Gartenstein. “We need transparency.”

DeGray and Vice Chair Christopher Chapman agreed that Chapman did not contest DeGray choosing to leave the Safe & Green’s letter of concerns relating to the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant off the agenda last month.

“I figured we had bigger fish to fry,” said Chapman.

“I’m very transparent,” DeGray told Gartenstein.

“I want to make it emphatically clear there was never a request from another board member other than you, David,” said DeGray.

Gartenstein said that without board members knowing what items are kept off the agenda, the items risked remaining “out of the public discussion.”

Sondag said perhaps the blame was on her for not following through on the Selectboard’s rules.

“I certainly wasn’t trying to trump Chris [Chapman],” said DeGray.

Selectboard Clerk Dora Bouboulis said she’d never received notification about what wasn’t on the agenda. She suggested the Selectboard go on a half-day retreat to discuss goals and standard operating procedures, such as the Rules of Conduct.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #98 (Wednesday, April 27, 2011).

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