Land deal off, board member resigns

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HALIFAX — A controversial land deal was called off.

"This has been going on for eight months and after last week, Peggy and I did a lot of discussing and we're not going to extend the deadline of July 15 for the purchase of our property," Brad Rafus said at a special Select Board meeting held outside the town garage Friday, referring to his wife Peggy Rafus. "So there's no way that it can be done by the 15th. And if the Select Board wants to have a special town meeting and negotiate another contract, we might be open to that but as of this point forward, the contract after two weeks will be void."

Rafus, town road commissioner, also resigned his position as one of three Select Board members at the meeting. He cited threats against his family and seeing people driving down his driveway shining lights into his home.

"My family, my grandkids are more important than doing this job," he said. "People are actually ridiculous. So good luck and take care."

Select Board Chairman Lewis Sumner and Select Board Vice Chairman Mitchell Green voted not to have a special town meeting for the community to vote on moving forward with the purchase of the Rafus property, a former gravel pit that was proposed to be used by the town for the same purpose. A petition with 75 signatures of residents prompting Friday's discussion sought to have a community-wide vote on the purchase.

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Community members have expressed concerns about transparency. Although Rafus has recused himself from related matters, the approximately $100,000 purchase was included under the gravel line item in the town budget and did not come up at annual Town Meeting in March.

Sumner said board members are not thinking about buying the property at another time. He acknowledged that the board would be unable to get engineering work and an opinion on whether state permitting would be needed in time for the July 15 deadline. He said a contract with Stevens & Associates for surveying will be cancelled.

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Chris Parkins of Halifax described having questions about the project but being "really dismayed" by what Rafus experienced.

"I think that's horrible that you've been threatened. I think it's horrible that you have people riding down your driveway," Parkins said. "I want to tell everybody it's not OK."

Parkins called for residents to deal with their differences in a civil way.

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Before Rafus spoke, community members urged the board to reschedule the meeting after raising concerns about hosting a meeting in person during the coronavirus pandemic. Paul Blais, meeting moderator who checked in with the Vermont Secretary of State's Office and Vermont League of Cities and Towns before the meeting, said a law passed to address governmental meetings during the pandemic does not require remote options if a designated location is posted on the meeting agenda.

"It's almost a moot point whether the law requires it," Linda Lyon of Halifax said. "Because we know we have people who are at higher risk for greater health consequences should they contract COVID."

Lyon told the board it is "really imperative" for the town to provide remote access to meetings so residents do not have to choose between participating and the health of themselves or neighbors.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.


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