Friday April 5, 2013

DUMMERSTON -- Selectboard members may have finally resolved a long-running conflict with the town’s Development Review Board this week.

And that resolution came in two very different ways.

First, the Selectboard appointed a new slate of DRB members that did not include former Chairman Herb Rest, who has clashed publicly with Selectboard members in recent months.

At the same time, though, Selectboard Chairman Zeke Goodband sought to clear the air by saying the DRB deliberates and renders decisions impartially.

"I’ve read more than two dozen Development Review Board decisions, and I can discern no instances of bias or prejudice," Goodband said. "They perform a valuable service to the town for which I am grateful."

There have been tensions between the two boards since a September ruling in which the DRB denied a Schoolhouse Road couple’s request for zoning variances for a fence, a deck and an aboveground pool.

The couple, John and Lori Thibault, appealed to the Vermont Environmental Court. But there have been repercussions in Dummerston, where some Selectboard members argued that the DRB decision was unfair and raised questions about a possible "class" bias.

The dispute led indirectly to then-Selectboard Chairman Lewis White’s brief resignation in February. White since has returned to the Selectboard after he was re-elected at Town Meeting.

Meanwhile, Rest repeatedly has demanded that the Selectboard conduct a thorough evaluation of DRB decisions to demonstrate that there is no bias.

At Wednesday evening’s Selectboard meeting, Goodband read a statement in which he praised the review board’s work.

"They volunteer their time and put great effort into evaluating each case that comes before them. They strive to be fair and consistent in their interpretation of the town’s bylaws and arrive at decisions that will stand up to public scrutiny," Goodband said.

"They do this work with great integrity and dedication, and I have every confidence in them and thank them for their work they do on behalf of the town."

White said his comments about the DRB -- which Rest had transcribed from a televised Selectboard meeting in late January -- had been misconstrued. He said he was reiterating concerns he had heard from residents but was not questioning Rest’s character.

"I thought (DRB members) had done a good job, and I haven’t questioned what they had done," White said. "People, I guess, can listen to what they want to hear on TV, so I guess I have to be more clear when I make my statements."

White did acknowledge that he had made some "mistakes" as Selectboard chairman regarding the Thibault case. He also has gone on record as opposing the Selectboard’s recent decision to enter into mediation with the Thibaults rather than allowing the matter to play out in Environmental Court.

"I’d like to move on from this and get this case taken care of," White said. "And I believe it would have been taken care of if it had just gone through the due process like the Selectboard had originally said."

Both White and Goodband also defended the Selectboard’s right to question the decisions or conduct of any board, appointed official or employee.

"I do feel that the Selectboard has a responsibility to bring up questions of any of the boards in town," Goodband said.

It’s also the Selectboard’s responsibility to appoint members of the town’s boards. And that happened later in Wednesday’s meeting, as four DRB appointments did not include Rest.

Appointed to three-year terms on the review board were Sam Griffis and Hugh Worden. Patty Walior received a two-year term, while Steve Jarosak was named to a one-year alternate term.

Contacted on Thursday, Rest said he had expressed an interest in returning to the DRB providing the board’s differences with the Selectboard could be worked out.

Rest said he enjoyed his time on the review board but noted that some decisions were complex and difficult.

"Overall, my experience was absolutely good," Rest said. "I was very, very pleased with my relationship with everyone on the board."

Rest also noted Goodband’s "positive statement" on Wednesday regarding the DRB’s impartiality.

"That’s basically what I was looking for," Rest said, adding that "I think they responded in a way that they probably should have much earlier."

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.