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Brattleboro Selectboard revises its rules of conduct

BRATTLEBORO—The Selectboard approved an addition to its Rules of Conduct at its May 3 meeting.

The board had tabled the discussion at its April 19 meeting.

New Selectboard member David Gartenstein called for a revision to rules on agenda-setting. He requested that a revision be made to add language requiring that all Selectboard members receive notice of items considered for inclusion on the agenda.

A previous decision by Chair Dick DeGray and Vice-Chair Christopher Chapman to keep an item off the agenda piqued Gartenstein’s concern that other Selectboard members would remain out of the loop regarding what items do and do not appear before the board.

The Selectboard’s Rules of Conduct state that the Chair and Vice-Chair set the meeting agenda. If the Chair and Vice-Chair agree to not include a particular agenda item, that’s their choice, but the other board members must receive notification of the decision.

If, however, the two disagree about an item’s validity, the item would go on the agenda by default.

According to Selectboard Clerk Dora Bouboulis, this notification step does not regularly happen.

“This becomes very cumbersome,” said DeGray about Gartenstein’s revision.

DeGray said he could support the members receiving notice about items not appearing on the agenda, as the Rules of Conduct already require.

“It’s a pretty fluid interaction when the agenda meeting is going on,” agreed Chapman. “It’s not realistic to hand out a list [prior to the agenda-setting meeting].”

Gartenstein said the discussion at the April 19 meeting lead him to believe that ambiguity existed about what items do or don’t make it to the agenda.

“If it’s not on the agenda, I want to know,” Gartenstein said.

Bouboulis said she liked the transparency of Gartenstein’s revision.

Bouboulis added that she would like notice of all meetings that involve the Chair and Vice-Chair. She felt there were discussions with committees and municipal offices that left the other Selectboard members in the dark.

“I want to know that stuff,” said Bouboulis.

The withheld item that sparked Gartenstein’s revision related to a letter of concerns written by the Safe & Green Campaign, an anti-nuclear group.

Safe & Green is contacting all 20-mile towns and asking the Selectboard sign the letter that they then send to Entergy and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

DeGray told Bob Bady, the group’s Vermont Coordinator, last year that the board would not consider signing Safe & Green’s letter. He recommended Bady try his luck at a town-wide vote. Safe & Green’s non-binding initiative passed at the March elections.

But non-binding initiatives don’t require Selectboards to take action, according to the Secretary of State’s office. The non-binding status allowed DeGray and Chapman to keep the letter off the board’s agenda.

Later, when Gartenstein found out about the Chair and Vice-Chair’s decision, he requested the letter be included in an upcoming meeting agenda.

After some revisions, the board voted to sign Safe & Green’s letter of concerns.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #100 (Wednesday, May 11, 2011).

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