Select Board, not Elwell, at fault
Editor of the Reformer:
Recent letters to the Reformer have complained of the undemocratic process promoting Police-Fire Project (PFP). One by Joe Green seemed to blame Town Manager Peter Elwell unfairly. Mr. Green asked how the Select Board had won approval for new PFP measures without the people's approval or knowledge. Vermont statutes provide good transparency and petition rights. The response from Town Manager Elwell was correct in that many aspects of the process were open to the public. The Select Board even prepared a survey to gather public input on the PFP issue.
Unfortunately, the survey was invalid because the town meeting members, not the public, were the primary respondents. An expert at the Castleton Polling Institute evaluating the survey said, "... it cannot be called public opinion with any degree of confidence." Though Town Manager Elwell warned the Select Board that the survey was not valid, the Select Board presented the survey results to the Representative Town Meeting in order to influence their vote. So, to answer to Mr. Green's question: We believe the Select Board used a bogus survey to influence the vote. The RTM dutifully followed a survey of its own opinions.
Board member Kate O'Connor in particular has advocated for public input, yet the board has never allowed the public to vote on it. The board only allows public votes when it is forced by law. The board has twice denied petitions for public votes on PFP.
The board censors important information that would influence the public or RTM to vote against the PFP. In 2014 the board declared that the bond money absolutely had to be spent on the project and could not be redirected for other purposes. They did this even though they had been informed that the director of the Vermont Municipal Bond Bank said that the bond money can be redirected. He wrote, "... summary is correct that the voters of Brattleboro would have to approve the change of a previously authorized project/bond to be used for another capital project."
Brattleboro's bond counsel also confirmed that the funds already borrowed can be redirected with an official vote: "The general statute provides that the electorate may authorize the expenditure of the proceeds or portion thereof for any purpose or purposes for which bonds may be issued.." The board censored this information and other PFP discussion at meetings.
Through these actions, the board hoodwinked people into believing that the money would be lost if not spent as the board was advocating. The truth is, bond money already borrowed can pay off other capital expenses and relieve our tax burden. What's done by legislation can be undone by legislation.
A recent investigation by Brattleboro Common Sense unearthed other disconcerting discrepancies between the public face of the Police-Fire Project and insider documentation. Contact us (BrattleboroCommonSense.org, P.O. Box 6424, Brattleboro 05301) for copies of these documents if you care about justifiable public debt and efficient use of public resources.
Brattleboro Common Sense, May 27