Board accepts safety review proposal

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Editor's Note: This story was updated on Sept. 17, 2020, at 11:40 p.m. to correct Select Board member Brandie Starr's place of employment.

BRATTLEBORO — Without a lot of discussion, the Brattleboro Select Board settled on two local professionals to facilitate a community safety review that is meant to look at the the future of policing in the town.

Select Board Chairman Tim Wessel polled the board and all members agreed that the selection of the community safety review proposal from Emily Megas-Russell and Shea Witzberger made the most sense and would be most effective. The board voted 5-0 to accept the proposal.

"They're familiar faces, they're familiar names," said Brandie Starr, who's been on the board since 2018 and currently works at United Way of Windham County doing marketing and outreach. "When we are trying to bring in people who might feel a little skittish or uncomfortable into a process, having names and faces that they could see around town at any point is a good thing."

Board member Daniel Quipp said he has worked with Megas-Russell and Witzberger in the past and he believes in their skills and abilities.

"I also believe in their ability to connect with people in our community and bring their voices that would not ordinarily find it easy to get into that process," said Quipp.

He noted that their proposal was comprehensive, achievable and designed to be inclusive. Which is not a surprise, said Quipp, because they helped the town create the request for proposal.

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Megas-Russell is a licensed and trained clinical social worker/psychotherapist who also does consultancy work for organizations. Witzberger holds a Graduate Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Marlboro Graduate Center. She has been working in social services for nearly two decades.

Before voting to accept the proposal, the board learned that the town received five proposals with price tags ranging from $10,000 to $175,000. The proposal accepted provides for up to $40,000 for the process, with $23,800 going to Megas-Russell and Witzberger.

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The board also approved a nine-member committee to work with the facilitators, and will offer the committee members up to $750 as a stipend. Wessel balked at offering so much money, worried it might set a precedent for other, as of now, unpaid committee positions. Wessel, who said he was more comfortable with $200 or $250, voted no. The motion notes that committee members can accept all, none or a portion of the stipend.

The board approved another $8,000 if Megas-Russel and Witzberger decide to pull in some help. One of the proposals the board received was from John Ungerleider, who teaches peace, conflict, global issues, and restorative practices at Vermont Law School and is a professor of Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation at the School for International Training.

Ungerleider offered to help design an online portal for people who want to get involved. He also suggested bringing in to the process leaders from the area's nonprofits as well as town and state officials. Ungerleider said having an online presence will bring in even more people "who might not feel comfortable in a public process." Megas-Russell told the board they have been talking with Ungerleider about his offer to help.

After the board accepted the proposal, Witzberger thanked the board for its confidence.

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She said their goal is to include in the process as many people as possible, especially those who can't usually get involved because they just can't afford to work for free.

"We charged less per facilitator because we wanted to be able to give committee members who are impacted some actual substantial compensation to be able to show up," said Witzberger.

The board still has to appoint people to the committee. Board member Ian Goodnow mentioned the town had received 26 applications from interested people."It also needs a very centered approach to the needs of Brattleboro," said Wessel. While the other proposals were terrific proposals, he said, they were not right for Brattleboro. The process has to include as many people as possible, he said, and the best people to do that are people who already have knowledge about the town and are connected to the community.

When the review is complete and presented to the town, it will be up to the Select Board to decide if and how to implement any recommendations contained in the report, noted Wessel.

In other business, the board, acting as Water and Sewer Commissioners, approved a $31,211.14 expenditure for 3,800 feet of pipe and various fittings along the Pleasant Valley Water Treatment Waste Process Line Project and $15,200 for engineering services related to the Wastewater Treatment Plant Tank Cover Project. The board also signed off on the Planning Department's application for a $22,000 2021 Municipal Planning Grant from the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development to pay for a consultant to develop a Housing Action Plan for the town. The board accepted $480 from the Vermont Conservation Commission to install an interpretive trail loop on the Riverstone Preserve on the West River Trail. Another application the board signed off on was Brattleboro Housing Partnership's request from the state for nearly $43,000 in reimbursements for COVID-19 related expenses. The board also agreed to purchase 70,000 gallons of heating oil at $1.259 per gallon from Barrows & Fisher Oil and to spend $43,250 for the replacement of the salt shed at the Department of Public Works. The board also set aside $37,500 for the installation of a block foundation upon which the new salt shed will be installed.

Bob Audette can be contacted at raudette@reformer.com.


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