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National politics trump local at Town Meeting

Observer photo by Al Frey Barbara Greene brings a motion before the assembly to have the Town of Williston support a requirement for potential presidential candidates to produce an income tax return before being placed on the ballot.
Observer photo by Al Frey
Barbara Greene brings a motion before the assembly to have the Town of Williston support a requirement for potential presidential candidates to produce an income tax return before being placed on the ballot.

By Jess Wisloski

Observer staff

Frustration over the presidential race of last November bubbled over into Town Meeting this March, and even altered the destiny and outcome of Williston’s annual meeting, held to discuss issues of importance to community members.

Town Meeting, which was held at Williston Central School on Monday at 7 p.m., is not where the final approval of the municipal or school budget takes place; instead it’s typically an informational meeting where the budgets for both are presented and discussed in preparation for voting day, which was Tuesday, March 7 this year.

However, the 179 registered attendees of this year’s Town Meeting wound up using voice vote to both overrule the call made by a moderator, and to approve a motion that came from the audience regarding national election policies on Monday night.  (Voice vote, which used to be how the budget was passed, was replaced with Australian ballot voting in 2003).

“That was probably the most interesting Town Meeting we’ve had in many years. I was pretty impressed with it myself,” said Deb Beckett, the town clerk.

Selectboard Chair Terry Macaig agreed. “Up until the other business, it was routine and very quick, then we got to other business,” he said, when Barbara Greene, a local resident and artist, made a motion to ultimately support legislation Macaig is involved with in his role as a state representative in the Vermont House.

What Greene proposed was for the town of Williston to support legislation that’s making the rounds in both state and federal government that would require presidential hopefuls to file their tax returns in order for their names to appear on primary or general election ballots.

Greene was inspired by a Jericho group called Revive Democracy, and with other Williston residents hatched the plan locally to present the motion. “It was very much a group effort,” she said. Seven other towns passed the proposal around the state, Vermont Digger reported, including Jericho, Richmond and Bolton. Charlotte voted to support a U.S. House investigation into impeaching President Donald Trump.

“I’ve been concerned about the current climate and felt that it was really important for candidates for president to release tax returns, to put them on an equal footing with each other and with us as taxpayers and voters,” Greene told the Observer.

The moderator, Tony Lamb, ruled the motion out of order, Greene said, because he stated that it was not germane to the town of Williston.

But she persisted, and appealed the moderator’s ruling, “based on the fact that [Rep.] Terry Macaig …and Debbie Ingram, as our State Senator, both had introduced bills requiring disclosure by presidential candidates of their tax returns,” and the fact that Williston relies on federal funding for infrastructure and roads.

While some voters agreed with Lamb, a motion to overrule his decision passed, and Greene’s proposal was further probed.

In the end, her motion passed, but not before an extended discussion from supporters and detractors of the idea. A division vote, in which each voter is counted by standing up, was required for both the moderator’s overrule and the passed motion.

“I was delighted to have the discussion,” said Greene. “One of the things that pleased me, I actually said, I felt privileged…to stand and be part of what was so much a reality of a democratic process. And that was so evident with people able to express their views in a polite and civil manner, and to vote on issues that are important to our community.”

Budgets passed

On Tuesday, voting day, 14 percent of voters turned out at the polls to participate in the Australian ballot portion of the voting process — which included electing two   Selectboard members and passing the town municipal budget of $10.6 million and the newly merged Champlain Valley School District’s first annual budget, proposed at $75.1 million.

For the town budget, 74 percent, or 748 voters out of 1,007, approved the municipal budget. Across the five towns in the new unified district, 66 percent approved the school budget proposed, for a combined 3,493 votes out of 5,275 total. On other school measures, 77 percent of voters approved of authorizing the allocation of $1.88 million from the district’s current fund balance as revenue to this year’s operating budget, and assigning the remaining $1.76 million as revenue for future budgets. Sixty-five percent of voters also approved the purchase of three school buses.

New selectboard member

Jeff Fehrs, an 18-year incumbent and the deputy chair of the Selectboard, was re-elected on Tuesday for a three-year seat, beating out Orland Bru at the polls. Replacing board member Debbie Ingram, who stepped down, will be newcomer Theresa Zittritsch, or Terri, who campaigned with a large focus on the stormwater issues that have impacted 19 neighborhoods in the community.

Upon finding out she won at the polls, she looked stricken. “I didn’t expect it. I didn’t really think I could win,” she said to David Cranmer, her opponent, as he shook her hand.

In a prepared statement, she told the Observer Tuesday night, “I’m grateful and honored for the opportunity to serve Willistonians as a Selectboard member. I ran on the issues of elected representation and the inequity of the town stormwater plan, and from the comments I’ve received throughout the day, I believe these are the issues that convinced Williston residents to vote for me. I want to thank the voters, and all those that supported me,” she said, and named her partner Chris, among others.

Stormwater was discussed at the end of Town Meeting, and took up the final hour of the night, wrapping it up at 10:30 p.m. Some new concerns came up, including the question of areas with expired permits, and where they stood as far as using town assistance, Macaig said, an issue he is now considering. A stormwater funding decision will be made in the coming months, he said, noting, “not everybody’s going to be happy on the decision we make.”

“We’ll have a new member on the board and we anticipate some great debates,” he added.

Election results

Elected

First Constable

Michale Sinopoli

1003

Champlain Water District Rep.

Liz Royer

1009

Elected Library Trustees 5-year term

Brian Goodwin

1046

Barbara Mieder

1034

Town Lister, 3-year term

Linda Levitt

1010

WSD School Director – 2 year term (or until dissolved)

Kevin Mara

1010

Two vacant School Director seats for CVUHS and WSD

Town Treasurer, 3-year term

Deborah Beckett

1097

Town Clerk 3-year term

Deborah Beckett

1087

Contested races

Selectperson 3-year term

Jeff Fehrs

743 – W

Orlando Bru

422

Selectperson 2-year term

Theresa Zittritsch

605 – W

David Cranmer

546