Senate passes charter changes (4/23/09)

Bill alters zoning administrator rules

April 23, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

A bill allowing Williston to change its charter passed last week after being temporarily lost in the legislative shuffle.

H. 31 shifts the zoning administrator from an appointed position to a hired employee and requires solid waste processors to have written agreements with the town.

The legislation, sponsored by Williston Reps. Terry Macaig and Jim McCullough, was quickly approved in the House and was forwarded to the Senate Government Operations Committee.

The bill was approved by the committee but then remained inactive for a couple of weeks. Macaig said he noticed it wasn’t on the calendar for a vote by the full Senate.

Macaig asked a clerk to look the bill up and “lo and behold there it was,” he said, overlooked and not yet scheduled for a vote. The full Senate finally passed the bill last Friday.

Legal problems surrounding a former zoning administrator prompted the town to seek changes to rules governing the position. D.K. Johnston was charged in January 2008 with stalking after a real estate agent accused him of sending her harassing e-mails, faxes and written messages, some laced with profanity.

Johnston later resigned under an agreement that forbids negative references from the town.

Under state law, a zoning administrator is nominated by the Planning Commission and appointed by the Selectboard to a three-year term. Trying to fire Johnston before his term ended would have triggered a lengthy process, including public hearings and potential litigation. The charter change gives the town manager authority to hire and fire the zoning administrator.

The other charter change involves a single word in state statutes that regulates agreements between municipalities and solid waste processors. The law states that solid waste facilities “may” enter into contracts that provide payments to towns. The charter change says that solid waste processors “shall” enter into a contract.

Town Manager Rick McGuire asked for the revision, saying it would give Williston more clout in future negotiations with solid waste companies that do business in Williston.

As of Monday, the charter change bill was awaiting Gov. Jim Douglas’s signature, said spokeswoman Dennise Casey. She said legal staff routinely reviews all legislation before the governor signs it.

Casey said she expects Douglas to sign the bill. State law requires the governor to act on legislation within five business days of its passage by the Legislature.