'A huge responsibility': Barnett steps down to take side judge job

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ROCKINGHAM — The Rockingham Select Board is accepting letters of interest until Thursday to fill a vacant seat.

Select Board Chairman Lamont Barnett's resignation will go into effect on Monday. Barnett resigned after being appointed to a Windham County Assistant Judge position, also known as a side judge. Judges in Vermont cannot hold any other public offices. Select Board Vice Chairwoman Susan Hammond will serve as interim chairwoman until a new one is chosen.

Barnett served as an assistant judge prior to former assistant judge Paul Kane, who resigned from his position in February after allegations that he mishandled the estate of Catherine Tolaro after her death in 2014. Barnett will be filling Kane's position and handling cases in divorce court, family court, relief of abuse cases and traffic court.

Barnett has served on the Select Board for 16 years and has been chair for nearly 10 of those years. He says he'll miss being able to serve on the Select Board, but is happy to go back to being a judge.

"It's certainly an honor," he said. "I'm looking forward to going back to the position." While Barnett will no longer serve on the Select Board, he's offered them his assistance if they ever need it. He also intends on participating in the town in other ways. He still will serve on the Downtown Board, for instance.

Barnett has been in public service almost his entire working career. At 19 he joined the U.S. Navy. He's also served as the justice of the peace for 20 years and served on the Rockingham Board of Civil Authority.

"When you come from a community that's fallen on hard times and you look around you come to the conclusion that it's a small population of people who make a difference," Barnett said. "Some people step forward and others think someone else will."

He believes his experience on the Select Board will serve him as a judge. "County judges still over see county budgets," he said. "It mirrors job duties on the Select Board sometimes."

He is proud of the work he's done for his community so far. "I've worked for many projects and worked on many budgets," he said. He acknowledged, however, that being on the Select Board is challenging.

"It's a huge responsibility and you have to be wise because that's someone's hard earned money," he said.

There are many issues Barnett would like to see the board address after he leaves. Bridges surrounding Bellows Falls are particularly concerning to him. The Vilas bridge in New Hampshire would take about $7 to $8 million to repair. Barnett said not having it in operation creates a bottleneck on other bridges, and could be dangerous if emergency personnel need to get to Rockingham. It is New Hampshire's responsibility to fix, but, Barnett said, the state does not think the bridge is needed.

"New Hampshire has been negligent on this bridge," he said.

Barnett said that the Town of Rockingham may have to file a lawsuit in federal court to get the bridge fixed. He said they've already hired an attorney to look into filing a suit.

There are two other bridges that go across the canal that Barnett said also need to be fixed. They would cost about $10 million to fix in total. However, he knew money constraints might effect the Select Board's ability to fix the bridges.

"It's always a fine line between infrastructure that needs to be maintained and balancing it against taxes," he said. He worried in particular about the Village of Bellows Falls which has to pay both Rockingham and Bellows Falls taxes. Barnett said that the village is one of the poorest in the state with one of the highest tax rates.

He knows that whoever fills the Select Board vacancy will be mindful of all of these issues. Municipal Manager, Shane O'Keefe said there are already some letters of interest. To be considered for the Select Board position submit a letter of interest to O'Keefe at 7 Square, Bellows Falls or email it to manager@rockbf.org, before Thursday.

Harmony Birch can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext.153. Or you can follow her @birchharmony.


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