Vernon Town Meeting, Monday night (Mike Faher/Reformer)
Vernon Town Meeting, Monday night (Mike Faher/Reformer)

VERNON -- Can you hear us now?

That's a question on the minds of Vernon officials after they received a complaint about a lack of accommodations for the hearing-impaired at Town Meeting, which was held at Vernon Elementary.

Discussion of the issue also highlighted concerns about the audibility of regular Selectboard meetings at the town office. Officials pledged to make an improvement at both venues.

"We should have something available for anybody who has a hearing problem. So we will take care of it," Selectboard Chairwoman Patty O'Donnell said. "It's just an issue that's never come up before."

A tense, three-night Town Meeting in Vernon earlier this month was made a little more difficult by a buggy sound system featuring microphones that worked intermittently.

"We do have a new system coming. We had actually already ordered it before Town Meeting, but it didn't all come in before Town Meeting," O'Donnell said.

But she added that "there are people (for whom) maybe a new sound system isn't going to be enough."

Extensive discussion of the issue on Monday led to some audience members saying they often cannot hear the Selectboard -- whether in person or on broadcasts of the board's recorded meetings.

The Selectboard asked town attorney Richard Coutant about the town's obligations under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. Coutant said the disabled are entitled to a "reasonable accommodation" so that they can participate in a public meeting.

"What's a reasonable accommodation depends on the facts and circumstances of every request and includes consideration of expense. Something that was going to cost tens of thousands of dollars might not be considered reasonable. Fixing the (public address) system so it works consistently probably is a reasonable accommodation," Coutant said.

He added that, "If someone who's a voter cannot participate or can't hear without some kind of individual system that amplifies what's being said, then I think the town needs to look into the cost and the efficiency of that kind of equipment to be made available."

Selectboard Vice Chairwoman Chris Howe volunteered to look into the cost and feasibility of purchasing equipment for the hearing-impaired.

And for those who are deaf, O'Donnell said officials would check on the availability of sign-language interpreters if officials are notified in advance that such an accommodation is needed for a meeting.

In other Selectboard business:

-- The board signed a one-year contract with Big Hearted Books Inc. to keep a book-recycling bin at the town garage. The agreement came in spite of concerns that such bins may become dumping areas when the town switches to a "pay as you throw" trash-collection program later this year.

"That's my only concern -- anything that's put there will be a Dumpster," O'Donnell said. "But certainly, this gives people another option for what to do with their used books if they don't want to give them to the library or if the library doesn't necessarily want them."

Big Hearted Books, based in Massachusetts, collects and redistributes used books.

-- The Selectboard approved an annual letter of agreement for emergency management with Entergy, owner of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

-- Board members also made a series of reappointments including Todd Capen, fire chief; Mary Beth Hebert, police chief; David Walker, road commissioner; and Seth Deyo, recreation director.

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