Rockingham board refuses to discuss 'personnel issue'


ROCKINGHAM >> A personnel matter was brought up by a village trustee at Tuesday's Select Board meeting, and the chairman responded by saying the question was "inappropriate."

During the public comments portion of Tuesday's meeting, Village Trustee Colin James asked Lamont "Monte" Barnett, chairman of the Rockingham Select Board, where $1,200 went in investigating the municipal manager, Willis "Chip" Stearns.

James told the Reformer that he sees the payroll and where both boards are spending money and saw this through a line item.

During the phone interview with the Reformer, James said his reason for asking about the $1,200 was because he wanted to know if the board as an entity authorized this or if it was solely the chairman. James noted that while it is a personnel mater, it is public knowledge of how money is spent and there has been "some talk" that the town manager was under investigation by the town attorney.

"I'm just curious why they would be investigating the town manager. Both boards have done an evaluation on him for the fiscal year and I'm just curious as to why they would do that," James said. "I think Chip is doing a great job, I don't see any issues arising with him with his job performance. Why would they want to check up on him?"

James said he will likely follow up about this matter with the municipal manager.

"You know it's inappropriate for you to come in here and ask that," said Barnett, at the Tuesday meeting.

James then asked why it would be inappropriate and Barnett responded that it is a personnel issue.

"I'm just wondering who authorized it," said James at the meeting.

Barnett returned James' question with a question, asking how James would know this type of information, to which he responded "I've heard," but Barnett dug deeper and asked, "from who?"

"You don't want to get into it, so we're done," said James.

Barnett asked if there were any further questions and the attendees remained silent. The Select Board moved on to the municipal manager's report.

In a phone interview on Friday, Barnett said that everything he could say was said at Tuesday's meeting as it is a personnel matter.

"Colin is an elected official and he knows it's not appropriate to talk about personnel issues in public," said Barnett. "Anyone who works in the office should not discuss private personnel issues personally."

When Barnett was asked if the Select Board was investigating the town manager he said he could not say more than that they were discussing a personnel matter. When asked who authorized this expense that was used to discuss personnel he said, "Any town expenses have to be authorized by the board." When asked did the Select Board authorize this one he said, "The board authorized this one as they do all expenses."

Other Business

During other public comments portion of the meeting, resident Christine Cole asked about a property next to hers at 12 Burch Street in Rockingham. Stearns said the item would be discussed during executive session. When board members came out of executive session they authorized the sale of 12 Burch Street to Cole for $11,000.

• There was some discussion around a request for the Select Board to enter into a 20- to 25-year lease agreement with Green Lantern to build a solar array at the Route 103 Gravel Pit. Green Lantern is a for-profit company that according its website, "provides turn-key solar development and financing for 'Power Purchase Partners.'" Ralph Meima from Green Lantern said his firm would like to build a 500 kilowatt net meter solar array on four to five acres at the gravel pit on route 103. He said the town would not be responsible for any operations or maintenance and there would be annual lease revenue for the town, as well tax revenue to the town and state.

Select Board member Peter Golec mentioned that this was proposed to a previous board and it was not accepted because officials wanted to use the land for industrial development.

Stefan Golec asked about the financial incentives to the town. Meima explained that as a land owner the town would be able to lease to a developer, who would pay for the solar property tax. Meima guessed that town tax revenue would be $2,500 to $3,500 per year and revenue from leasing the land could range from $7,000 to $8,000 per year.

The Select Board authorized Stearns to negotiate an Option to Lease agreement with Green Lantern for the proposed solar array at the Route 103 Gravel Pit.

• Another proposal was brought to the Select Board, but this time from Youth Services. Executive Director Russell Bradbury-Carlin asked the board to sign the Certification of Local Government Approval for a grant that would be used for transitional housing for 16- to 22-year-olds and 18- to 24-year-olds at 4-6 Barker Street in Bellows Falls. The youth involved in this program must complete 25 hours of productive work each week, which may involve productive employment, education as well as finding permanent housing. Youth Development Director Lauren Higbee noted that the average stay is two to four moths and they are not permitted to stay past six months, hence the "transitional" aspect of the service. Barnett signed the certification on behalf of the board.

• The Select Board and municipal manager went back and forth about the purchase of fire apparatus and ended up not going forward with the purchase. The lowest price came from E-One for $278,537 for Rockingham and $255,079 for Saxtons River. Rockingham Fire Chief Denis Jeffrey also noted that the cost of a cab and chassis would be increasing July 1. One Select Board member suggested this be sent to the Joint Fire Committee for discussion and recommendation, but Stearns felt that was unnecessary.

"So as we sit here presently we have four members of what would be the fire committee sitting here," said Stearns. "And what action if any is the fire committee actually going to do relative to fire apparatus when the chiefs and their departments have spec (apparatus specifications) and got pricing already and the fire committee is going to stamp it or say no?" said Stearns.

Barnett noted they have gone through this procedure more than once and it has changed each time, not following the policy in place since 1995. He assured that the town would have until July 1, which allows for "plenty of time" to make the purchase.

"I mean this is more than half a million dollar worth of purchase; nobody in Saxtons River government has even been contacted that I know of," said Barnett.

After discussion it was decided to send this to the Joint Fire Committee for a recommendation.

• In his report Stearns stated that 269 letters have been sent in the tax sale process by the Town Agent for delinquent accounts. Stearns said if anyone receives one of these letters they should contact the Town Office by June 24 or their property will continue in the tax sale process.

• Stearns also brought up the Bridge Street bridge repair. The newest estimate for the project has come in at $318,000 and the board recently authorized the transfer of $50,000 from the unexpended funds from the Averill's Bridge in Saxtons River. The board agreed to move forward with the project with the state.

Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275.


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