With challenges ahead, board elects new officers

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BRATTLEBORO — The Select Board has welcomed a new member and changed up its officers during a most trying time.

Select Board Chairman Tim Wessel told the Reformer there's "so many implications" with the coronavirus. He was elected chairman at a special board meeting Monday. He has served on the board since 2017 and was vice chairman last year.

Wessel nominated Elizabeth McLoughlin to be vice chairwoman of the board. McLoughlin nominated newcomer Ian Goodnow to take over as clerk of the board, a position she held for the last year during her first term on the board. She also nominated Wessel for chairman.

All three officers were elected in 4-0 votes. Board member Daniel Quipp did not attend the meeting.

Before the election of officers, Select Board Chairwoman Brandie Starr said she wouldn't be seeking one of the positions.

David Schoales had resigned last week so that Goodnow could be appointed. Terms for newly elected

Select Board members begin on the first Monday following the adjournment of annual Representative Town Meeting, according to the town charter, but that would have delayed Goodnow's start indefinitely since the board decided earlier to postpone that meeting out of coronavirus-related concern.

Starr said Schoales will be putting all of his attention now into the Windham Southeast School District board, which elected him as chairman earlier this month. She acknowledged Schoales' service on the Select Board, which began in 2013 and ended after he lost an election to McLoughlin this month.

Starr said social distancing was being practiced at the meeting. Board members were sitting further away from one another than usual and the town manager sat in a chair where audience members typically sit.

'We will go forward'

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Immediate concerns of Wessel's have to do with staying on top of coronavirus developments while keeping town staff safe and essential town services running. In an interview, he said a lot of town staff members are

dedicating their energy to keeping people safe.

Another major focus will be on getting Representative Town Meeting completed. The annual meeting, where the budget is considered and other decisions are made, was postponed.

The town also is looking at how to hold Select Board meetings remotely but still comply with Vermont's Open Meeting Law. Wessel said teleconference tools to host the meetings exist but there still needs to be a physical site for people who don't have access to the tools.

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McLoughlin described the coronavirus as "all consuming at this point, both now and for many months to come."

"There will be many decisions to make on behalf of Brattleboro," she told the Reformer in an email response. "I am confident that the current Select Board is composed of thoughtful, smart and caring people who will work together and with town staff to consider all our needs as we go forward, and we will go forward."

Before the virus began taking center stage, other issues and projects were deemed priorities.

"A big thing for me and a lot of the board is seeing the skatepark get started," Wessel said, recalling that one of the first things he did as a board member was reopen conversations about making a municipal contribution toward the project.

A warned article for annual Representative Town Meeting in 2018 included a $20,000 allocation for the skatepark. But Town Meeting members felt generous and bumped that up to $60,000.

Last week, the Select Board approved a bid for construction. The project is expected to cost about $281,935 and start in the spring or summer.

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"That's going to be super great to see happening," Wessel said. "And I think it's really wonderful for people to have something like that going in because it's a sign that we're fully invested in the future for the town and for the residents."

Wessel also is supportive of Groundworks Collaborative expanding its footprint on South Main Street, where its Drop-In Center is based and its Seasonal Overflow Shelter will be located. He called the project "really important."

Last week, the board approved a $100,000 grant for Groundworks from program income, which comes from a revolving loan fund that disperses money that originated as Vermont Community Development Block Grants. Two previous contributions to the project from the same source were approved by the board, bringing the total of the three to $250,000.

Before the coronavirus came along, discussions about an upgrade to the water treatment plan were anticipated.

"It's going to be big — a big chunk of change," Wessel said, adding that it remains to be seen whether that project might need to be delayed.

He also is keeping an eye on a project to replace the bridge to Hinsdale, N.H., and the expansion of Brattleboro Museum & Art Center.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays

at cmays@reformer.com

and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.


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