Thursday February 14, 2013

DUMMERSTON -- Technically, Lewis White still is chairman of Dummerston's Selectboard.

That's because his four colleagues on the board decided Wednesday that they would not accept White's resignation letter, which had been submitted after a conflict-of-interest dispute at a meeting last week.

That board's rejection is a formality, as White is not expected to return to the governing body in the few weeks remaining before his term expires.

But officials contend their vote was a matter of principle, saying they don't believe there is any reason that the five-year veteran of the Selectboard should have felt compelled to step down.

"If we accept the resignation on these terms, we lower the bar of what constitutes a conflict of interest so far that no one will be able to serve," Selectboard member Tom Bodett said.

Last week's developments came after months of disagreement about a ruling by the town's Development Review Board. The applicants, a Schoolhouse Road couple seeking approval for a fence, deck and pool, have appealed the board's rejection of their application.

The DRB's decision had prompted criticism from some Selectboard members, who declined to defend the matter in Environmental Court.

At a Feb. 6 Selectboard meeting, the dispute led to a heated discussion that included one resident questioning White's ties to the highway department. He is a cousin to Road Foreman Lee Chamberlin.

White defended his record, and other town officials have done the same. Nonetheless, he said he would resign to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

"I believe if the townspeople feel this way, then it is in the best interest of the town that I resign from the board," White wrote in a three-paragraph letter delivered to the town office on Tuesday.

He said his resignation would be effective retroactively to Feb. 7.

"I have enjoyed my time as a Selectboard member," White wrote. "I have enjoyed working with the townspeople and other members of the board over the years."

The four remaining Selectboard members -- Bodett, Bill Holiday, Zeke Goodband and Steve Glabach -- penned a letter to the Reformer in support of their chairman.

They wrote that White had "bent over backward" to stay neutral on highway-related matters.

"We have witnessed White's work with the Selectboard and consider his effort above reproach," the four wrote. "He is fair, dedicated, and industrious for the benefit of everyone in Dummerston."

At a special meeting Wednesday, Bodett said he believed the board's objection also should be part of the public record. The rest of the Selectboard agreed, with Holiday saying he had not heard from "a single person" who thought White should resign.

The board voted 4-0 to reject White's letter. Nonetheless, officials also took steps to prepare for his anticipated absence this month.

Goodband, who is vice chairman, was authorized to sign financial documents next week. And Glabach was appointed as the Selectboard's liaison to the highway department.

The board also postponed its next regular meeting until Feb. 27.

Still unclear is what will happen if White is re-elected at Town Meeting. While there are two candidates for a three-year Selectboard term, White is the only listed candidate for a two-year term.

White has said he is not sure whether he would return to the board. If he is elected and doesn't want the seat, he would have to resign again.

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