Vote for Laberge
Please support Judy Laberge for a seat on the Hinesburg Selectboard. Her recent statement in The Citizen that she is “willing to listen to your thoughts and concerns, as all voices in Hinesburg deserve to be heard” speaks to what many feel is a needed change of attitude on the Selectboard. Over the last several years we changed to the DRB format for permit review, freeing the Planning Commission to make dramatic changes to our Zoning Regulations, all with the promise of a simpler, clearer, and speedier review process and development that better suits the community needs. What we got is anything but. The town is not served when three board members can ignore the majority voice in favor of a “citizens for responsible whatever” group who seem intent on undercutting the will of the people. We are a more divided community over seemingly endless issues. I look forward to Judy Laberge providing that new attitude and conducting all the towns business in an open and transparent manner at legally warned board meetings and there alone.
George Bedard, Hinesburg
Re-elect Andrea Morgante
I am writing in support of re-electing Andrea Morgante to the two year term position on the Hinesburg Selectboard. Andrea has been on the Selectboard since 1992, and her untiring advocacy and incredible number of positive accomplishments in those 23 years have been invaluable to our community. She is not any less involved or engaged now than she ever was. She continues to wear many hats (official and unofficial) as she serves our town, and you will see her at just about every community event, whether Green Up Day, the Harvest Festival or important community meetings, often taking on a leadership role. There is so much I could write in support of Andrea, but to keep my letter short, I will just focus on her experience and expertise on the Selectboard.
There are many challenges facing Hinesburg, and it is important to have someone like Andrea with her direct experience and vast knowledge on the Selectboard as it continues the debate and discussion on how the Town moves forward in a positive direction. As any good business person knows, there is a high cost to employee turnover, and now is not the time to have a learning curve on the board. Andrea knows the budget, the issues, and the process, and has been involved at the Selectboard level longer than any other member. This is a tremendous asset.
If you believe experience is important, and also believe citizen involvement, a vibrant village center, rural character and landscape, water quality, and walkability are as important to Hinesburg as I do and as Andrea Morgante does, please join me in voting for Andrea on March 3. This is an important opportunity to elect one of the most highly qualified persons in our community.
Carl Bohlen, Hinesburg
Support for Spell and Spear
It is with great enthusiasm that I write this in support of Jacob Spell’s quest to become a member of the Charlotte Selectboard. I have known Jacob for 20 years and know him to be a person of great personal character and a man who will serve all Charlotters well. His capacity to listen to differing points of view and his ability to carefully analyze complex issues will be a great asset at a time when the divisive tone in Town Hall needs a change. I will be supporting the always friendly and informed Carrie Spear as well.
Jim Dickerson, Charlotte
Morgante for Selectboard since 1992
I’m voting for Andrea Morgante. I’m voting for her leadership, business expertise, vision, and especially her knowledge and stance on stormwater and rural development issues. The list of what she’s accomplished as a Selectboard member since 1992 is exhaustive in variety and scope, everything from major conservation efforts, to proactively approaching the Cheese Factory re-development (Hello local food companies and HPH!), to installing the lovely plantings and community stone wall outside the Town Hall. She advocates for the careful study of issues. She seeks and values community input. She’s a terrific person that cares so much about this town, present and future. I’m happy to have her as my local-est of representatives, and will vote for her again on Tuesday, March 3.
Karen Cornish, Hinesburg
Opportunity for diversity
Our growing and changing community faces many issues beyond environmental and conservation. We need to consider the entire community, including taxes, traffic, businesses, and services. I ask for your support of Judy Laberge for Hinesburg Selectboard. She is a local business owner and parent who is in touch and involved in today’s world. It’s time for change. Your vote on March 3 can make a difference!
Veronica Estey, Hinesburg
Spear for Charlotte Selectboard
The residents of Charlotte will have a unique opportunity in the upcoming elections this spring to select a truly apolitical candidate to the Charlotte Selectboard, one who is only interested in serving the community. This person’s candidacy is not based on a whimsical desire to hold public office or to otherwise occupy idle time, but rather was reached only after long and careful deliberation, as it will require the sacrifice of personal and family time from the arduous schedule of a small business owner, wife and mother.
Carrie Spear’s candidacy represents a refreshing alternative to today’s political landscape, where it is increasingly “red versus blue” or “the haves against the have-nots,” and represents a desire to continue the long history of service to the Town of Charlotte by the Spear family.
Whether it is organizing a tractor parade, providing a warming shelter for the school bus students, providing a remote drop box for library book returns or offering Notary services, her primary motivational force has always been a relentless desire to better serve the community at large. To Carrie, a “black and white” issue is more likely to have four legs and give milk as opposed to any underlying political agenda.
These attributes will make her an outstanding addition to the current Selectboard and will better enable the board to meet the challenges that the town will face in the future. It is for these reasons I urge the residents of Charlotte to support her candidacy.
Robert Giknis, Charlotte
Kudos to Jr. Lewis and crew
I wanted to send out a huge thank you to Junior Lewis and his crew for keeping our roadways safe this season. There can’t be too many of you and Mother Nature has kept you busy. Between you all and our amazing neighbor/driveway plower extraordinaire, Gary Small, we’ve had no problems navigating the white turf. Please know your hard work is greatly appreciated.
Tracy Harris, Charlotte
CVU turf field bond explained
I have been following the vigorous discussions regarding the upcoming March ballot, and would like to remind voters of the CVU articles they will also be considering. The CVU board is asking for your support for the budget, which is down year to year (1.9 percent) with a net education spending increase below 2 percent despite an increased student count. In addition, the board is asking the community to support a significantly reduced athletic field improvement bond.
The article will ask voters to approve a bond of up to $700,000 to renovate the school’s athletic fields. This is the second time that the CVU School Board has brought this matter to the community. In November 2013, a $1.5M bond for two artificial turf fields to address persistent problems with our poorly drained playing fields was narrowly defeated. The CVU board solicited community feedback and heard two consistent concerns from the community. The first concern was about the incremental value of the cost of the artificial turf solution versus other solutions. The second concern involved the health and environment impacts of the crumb rubber infill material used in most artificial turf installation today.
After receiving community input, the board created a second athletic fields committee and sent them back to the drawing board to verify the need, establish our project goals, take a fresh look at the range of solutions available, and prepare estimates of capital, maintenance, and life-cycle costs. Ultimately, while the board determined for a second time that an artificial turf solution best meets project goals, concern remained about whether the additional cost of the artificial turf solution was worth the added value, particularly in our current fiscal climate.
In the article presented to voters this March, the board feels it has resolved our internal debate as well as addressed both of the concerns from the community. At $700,000, the amount of the proposed bond is significantly less than the previous bond proposal. With this funding, the board intends to move forward with a single artificial turf solution. The balance of funding needed to cover the costs of an artificial turf field would need to be obtained by the board from other sources, most likely involving community fundraising. Should fundraising efforts be unsuccessful, the bond funds could be used to complete two natural grass turf renovations, which have been estimated to cost $350,000 each and which served as the basis for establishing a minimum bond request. Should funding for the artificial turf solution become available, the board is committed to using an organic infill material in place of the crumb rubber infill to address the second concern expressed to the board.
The impact of this bond to homeowners is $4.75 for a $250,000 home and $7.60 for a $400,000 home, annually.
For more information about the CVU bond, please review our Frequently Asked Questions document, which can be found on both the CVU and CSSU website home pages. You can also attend our Annual Budget Meeting, which will be held on Monday, March 2 at 5pm in Room 140/142 at CVU.
Susan Grasso, CVU School Board Chair
Experience, energy, and passion
Andrea Morgante has my continued support in her bid for re-election to the Hinesburg Selectboard.
Andrea’s abilities have been recognized by many over the years, including receiving the “Art Gibb Award for Individual Leadership” from the Vermont Natural Resources Council in 2014. Quoting from The Citizen’s Sept. 11, 2014 issue, “the selection committee…looks for candidates …whose ‘leadership, vision, and courage has brought about positive and lasting change in the way their community or our state integrates growth and conservation.’”
Andrea embodies all those qualities: leadership, vision and courage. That is why I will be voting to re-elect her to the Hinesburg Selectboard. She has the experience, energy, passion and leadership to meet, with creative ideas, the challenges and opportunities facing Hinesburg.
Kristy McLeod, Hinesburg
Judy Laberge for Hinesburg Selectboard
If you are looking for process improvement to the future needs of Hinesburg, please join me in supporting Judy Laberge for Hinesburg Selectboard.
A yes vote for Judy Laberge is a yes vote for a strong healthy community.
John Lyman, Hinesburg
Flip to page 139
On page 139 of the Town Report is a letter from the Town’s independent professional auditor. This letter states the Town’s internal controls over financial reporting contain material weaknesses and significant deficiencies. The letter states “a material weakness is a deficiency or combination of deficiencies in internal control, such that there is a reasonable possibility that a material misstatement of the Town of Charlotte, Vermont’s financial statements will not be prevented….” These specified weaknesses are elaborated on the next six pages. I urge you to read these findings and to read the previous four audit reports within the Town Reports, three of which also include material weaknesses. I work in finance and understand the difficulties of segregation of duties in a small organization. I also understand that it is the responsibility of the controller or treasurer of any organization’s finance department to identify such areas of weakness and do something about it. I think the Town needs to understand the poor quality of financial controls we are receiving from the Town Treasurer’s office.
On page 138 of the Town Report are the Town’s responses to the weaknesses cited. Several responses indicate hiring a bookkeeper to perform or review specific functions. Again, as a taxpayer, why should I have to pay more for services we should have been receiving all along?
In the long run, I believe the Town Treasurer should not be an elected official.
Ed Sulva, Charlotte
Breadth of perspective
I’m writing to encourage you to vote for Andrea Morgante for Selectboard. I believe she has a breadth of perspective as a small business owner, rural landowner, and village resident.
I believe Andrea is someone who has the best current and future interest of our town in mind. She is a selfless community servant. From organizing Green-Up Day activities to selling balloons for the 4th of July, helping organize the fall festival to pressing cider at an Hinesburg Community School open house, anytime there is a community event, Andrea seems to be involved.
On the Selectboard, I believe Andrea explores the issues in depth. She asks questions and encourages input in an effort to find solutions that best balance the town’s social, economic, and environmental concerns.
James Donegan, Hinesburg
Support Jason Pidgeon for Charlotte Auditor
As a member of the Charlotte community for the past ~ 6 years, I am excited at the prospect of playing a larger role in our community. I have three children attending Charlotte Central School (CCS), and have spent many days as a coach on the playing fields and on the courts of CCS. However, it would be a privilege to serve the community in another capacity – Town Auditor.
I was raised in Shelburne, and never found a reason to leave this great state. I attended Rice Memorial High School (‘96) and continued my education at The University of Vermont to receive a B.S. in Business Administration (‘00). My professional background for the past 14 years has been in banking, requiring attention to detail, the ability to analyze financial information, and monitoring of financial trends. In addition, I also have an understanding of general accounting principles.
Please consider me on voting day.
Jason Pidgeon, Charlotte
Support for Andrea Morgante
I would like to express my support for Andrea Mortgante for the two-year Hinesburg Selectboard position. I’ve known Andrea for 30 years and it would be hard for me to find another “Hinesburger” who has had more positive impact on our community. While Andrea and I don’t always agree on every issue, I appreciate her honest and respectful approach and her selfless dedication to our town.
I’ve been fortunate to see Andrea from the perspective of serving with her on the Selectboard. Andrea reminds the board to keep Selectboard decisions open and accessible. She strives to provide information to all citizens to ensure their voices are heard. Andrea’s actions on the board demonstrate her commitment to democracy in a small community.
Finally, Andrea actively lives the spirit of volunteerism that makes Hinesburg so special. Whether it is putting in countless hours to help secure a grant for storm water controls, tackling the strategic work of town planning for our community’s future, or baking a couple of apple pies for a Chicken Pie Supper, Andrea is a true servant to our Town.
I hope you will join me in honoring Andrea’s example of service to our beloved Hinesburg and practice small-town democracy by voting on March 3. If you value the dedication of Andrea’s work for Hinesburg over the last 30 years, you’ll join me by casting your vote to support her continued legacy of service.
Phil Pouech, Hinesburg Selectboard Member
Jacob Spell for Charlotte Selectboard
I’m writing to endorse my brother, Jacob Spell, for a two year term on the Charlotte Selectboard. I have known Jacob to be thoughtful and wise over the years, contemplating before reacting. Having had a ten year career in U.S. territorial politics, Jacob has a unique understanding for working together to form consensus and solve issues in local politics. He has developed strong fundraising skills and budgetary responsibility. Having worked in multi-cultural environments abroad, I believe Jacob is a strong candidate with a trained mind for bridging ideological boundaries.
Adam Spell, Charlotte
Carrie Spear for Charlotte Selectboard
After living in Charlotte for 22 years, operating Spear’s Corner Store for 14, and serving as a Justice of the Peace for 10, I’ve learned a lot about our town from all of you. My husband Michael’s family has been in Charlotte for nearly 200 years, and members of the family have served the town in different capacities for almost as long. I want to continue that legacy.
Committed to this town and her citizens.
Practiced at listening thoughtfully to differing opinions.
Involved in community organizations.
Founder of the annual East Charlotte Tractor Parade.
These experiences, in addition to years of discussion with many of the town elders, has taught me that whenever people come together with a common goal, anything is possible.
I would appreciate your vote for Charlotte Selectboard on March 3.
Carrie Spear, Charlotte
Phil Pouech for Selectboard
I am again asking for your vote in the upcoming election for Hinesburg’s 3-year Selectboard position. I feel honored to have served for the last 3 years and am looking forward to serving a second term. I am amazed how quickly these 3 years have passed, along with how many challenges and issues have been raised and/or addressed. Despite the late night meetings and difficult issues, I’ve enjoyed this opportunity. When I originally asked for your vote 3 years ago. I promised to work hard, listen to all sides of the issues and carefully consider my decisions in relation to what is in the best interest of all residents, and that is what I have done.
I have worked hard alongside fellow board members and town employees to balance necessary town services against our tax burdens. I have taken the lead on budget development for two years and chaired the Town Administrator search committee. I believe that I have listened carefully to all voices and made an honest effort to understand every side of each issue. I’ve been willing to find compromise on divisive issues and I’ve surprised myself when, after listening carefully to different perspectives, I’ve found my opinion swayed. I admit those times have been some of my most satisfying moments on the board.
When I’ve made a decision I feel it has been based on what you the voters want rather than what I think is best. When it is time for the board to vote, I always say why I am voting a certain way. This allows others to challenge my views and clearly state a counter position. I believe that is how our board arrives at the best decisions.
I am humbled by the support I’ve received over the last 3-year and look forward to continuing my work on the Selectboard. If you chose to vote for me, I promise to work with the same level of commitment that I have in my first term. Make your voice heard and vote on March 3.
Phil Pouech, Hinesburg
Andrea Morgante: dedicated to Hinesburg
Hinesburg has been the fortunate beneficiary of the intelligence, fair mindedness and vision of Andrea Morgante’s service on the Hinesburg Selectboard.
Andrea’s knowledge of the history of Hinesburg is invaluable as is her energy dedicated to making Hinesburg a comfortable and affordable village we can be proud to call home.
Thank you for casting your vote for Andrea Morgante.
Johanna White, Hinesburg
Spear an asset for Charlotte Selectboard
I would like to express my support for Carrie Spear for the Charlotte Selectboard. As a local convenient storeowner, Carrie hears residents’ concerns on a daily basis. She has proven that she can get things done, being founder and chief organizer of the East Charlotte tractor parade, now in its 15th year. With her business experience and organizational talents, Carrie would be a valuable asset to the Selectboard, bringing fresh energy and ideas. Furthermore, she would be the only female voice on an otherwise all male board. The choice is clear: vote Carrie Spear
Claudia Mucklow, Charlotte
Re-elect Andrea Morgante
I am writing to strongly encourage voters in Hinesburg to get out and vote on Town Meeting Day and re-elect Andrea Morgante for Selectboard. I have known Andrea for over 30 years. I first met Andrea when she came up over the hill to visit our sugar house. She asked what she could do to help out. And for the last 30 plus years she has continued to come out every sugaring season to lend a hand. She has made herself a vital part of the crew that allows us to continue this age-old tradition on our land.
This just speaks to the kind of person that Andrea is. She steps forward and lends a hand. The number of projects that she has spearheaded in town or just generously volunteered her time for are too numerous to list here. Her impact on what Hinesburg will become in the future has been immense. I am so completely grateful to her for her vision and tenacity in understanding what Hinesburg needs to hold on to as well as what Hinesburg needs to change. We need this kind of leadership in town now more than ever.
In addition to knowing Andrea as a friend and neighbor, I also had the opportunity to serve with her on the Selectboard for six years. Andrea is thoughtful, respectful, detail-oriented, and is willing to ask the hard questions that need asking in this grueling job. There are some in town who seem to believe that anything short of rubber stamping any and all development and/or business proposals hurts our town. I believe, quite the contrary that good public policy requires that we think carefully about the kind of town we want to live in in the years to come. I trust Andrea to take a reasoned and balanced approach in these deliberations.
Andrea’s knowledge and history in this town helps give her a perspective that is hard to match. Please join me in voting to re-elect Andrea Morgante to the Hinesburg Selectboard.
Harold Russell, Hinesburg
Support Jacob Spell for Charlotte Selectboard
Having lived in Charlotte for the past 28 years and experiencing the results of the decisions the town has taken on a host of issues, I think it is time to bring some new blood to the decision making process.
I want to express my support for Jacob Spell for the two-year Selectboard position in the March election.
I have known Jacob since he moved to Charlotte from St. Thomas with his wife, Virginia, and their two school aged children. We have had numerous conversations and I believe Jacob brings a fresh input, common sense, and balanced approach to the many issues facing Charlotte going forward. Please join me and my family in supporting Jacob this election.
John Hauenstein, Proprietor of Early Preservations, Charlotte
Support for Judy Laberge
“Nothing is complicated – people make it so.” I would like to help uncomplicated the board processes by having someone with fresh ideas sitting on the Hinesburg Selectboard. Eighteen years on a board is way too long. I intend to bring up the matter of term limits for board members for discussion. I am giving Judy Laberge my support because I think she fills the bill. She is able to analyze a situation and act on it promptly.
Please support Judy Laberge for a seat on the Hinesburg Selectboard with your vote!
David Lyman, Hinesburg
Charles Russell for Selectboard
Being a member of the Selectboard is a difficult and often thankless job. I admire Charles Russell for serving on the Charlotte Selectboard for the past 15 years. He is a true public servant, and I am supporting him for another three-year term. I worked with him on the board for a few years and found him to be a thoughtful member who listened to everyone’s opinions, added his own, and helped to come up with sound decisions. It is quite amazing how much work is done by the town’s elected officials, and much of it is not obvious to the general public. Charles has the personality to deal with all kinds of people and issues and the experience in the job that is so necessary to know how the town has functioned over the years. It takes a good two years to learn the job of the Selectboard, and Charles is the only member who has served longer than that. I hope you will do what is best for Charlotte and join me in voting for Charles for another three years.
Debbie Ramsdell, Charlotte
Morgante for Selectboard
Andrea Morgante builds consensus by finding the common ground and compatible goals in an increasingly divided world. She’s proven herself numerous times working tirelessly and productively with people of all political leanings to create so many things we in Hinesburg now take for granted: our initial recycling program, the LaPlatte Headwaters Town Forest, the water quality monitoring for Lewis Creek and the Laplatte, and many of the sidewalks in the village. Andrea brings out the best in everyone she deals with and has done more than anyone else to make Hinesburg the vibrant community that it is. Please vote for Andre Morgante to keep her on the Hinesburg Selectboard.
Pat Mainer, Hinesburg
MacKinnon for school board
As a member of the Hinesburg School Board, I have had the privilege of working with administrators, faculty, staff, other board members, and the community on advancing goals of public education. Because I believe I can continue to serve the community with all the commitment required for this work, I would like to ask the voters of Hinesburg to re-elect me to another term.
I bring to the role experience as a school board director for twenty years as well as my experiences in higher education. Currently, I am the Director of Assessment and Accreditation for the College of Education and Social Services at the University of Vermont, which gives me an extended view of schooling needs for our next generations. As a board member, I have experience with negotiations, policy review and development, facilities planning, leadership planning, curriculum changes, budgeting during times of shrinking the organization, and with efforts to increase collaboration with other school districts in the supervisory union. In addition to the Hinesburg board, I’ve been an active Chittenden South Supervisory Union Board member for most of my tenure, and would like to continue with the work facing our communities.
Immediate challenges facing the board include working with staff, administrators, and board members to conclude staff negotiations, facilities review, and our work to carefully consider the balance between tax burdens and public education goals. In general, our board aims to represent local voices at the table as our schools respond to state requirements related to consolidation of special education services, implementation of Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, expansion of early childhood education in Vermont communities, and implementation of personal learning plans for all students. All this draws our attention, and yet we still must hold onto and celebrate that which is unique in our community.
It has been an honor to serve the community in this way, and I am asking for voters to continue to support my work in representing Hinesburg citizens as a school director for another three-year term.
Colleen T. MacKinnon, Ed. D, Hinesburg
Judy Laberge for Selectboard
Our children should have a choice of whether they would like to live in Hinesburg or somewhere else. Will it be affordable for any of them? This is one of the reasons I chose to seek a seat on the Selectboard. As a mother of four children, I’ve become accomplished at listening to all sides of a story and believe it is crucial to have all the facts before making any decisions. I’m sure many of you can relate to that. It is my policy to research anything that I am going to spend hard earned money on and find the best solution that is fair and affordable.
My husband and I have been in the construction/contracting business for 20 years and we were involved in building one of Vermont’s first star energy efficient homes. Saving money and protecting the environment is a top priority.
If elected, I will listen to all people from the different walks of life, research all the facts and put the best interest of Hinesburg and the environment first before making my decisions.
I believe working together with all the boards and contractors and listening to the needs of the residents is what Hinesburg needs desperately right now to grow a strong and healthy community.
Your consideration and vote will be greatly appreciated.
Judy Laberge, Hinesburg
Andrea Morgante has experience and vision
I believe diversity of views and opinions make for a strong government. Yet for a diverse governing board to be effective members need to believe in compromise, be respectful of each other, and always remember they work for the good of the community at large. Andrea Morgante embodies those skills. She has played an important role on Hinesburg Selectboard, and demonstrated in her tenure: planning skills, compassion, and forward thinking that has made Hinesburg a great community. Andrea’s history of initiating town improvement from sidewalks to water quality (and there are so many more), illustrate her commitment to the long view in the health of our town. I truly believe we are lucky to have a member of our community willing to serve and provide the historical perspective and future vision for Hinesburg. Andrea always welcomes debate, especially over apathy. I strongly encourage my fellow Hinesburg residents to get out and vote.
Beth Sengle, Hinesburg
The voices of young families welcomed
I am happy to support Judy Laberge for a seat on the Hinesburg Selectboard. It’s time that we have more representation from the young adults who have such a great stake in our community for the future. Judy’s goals appeal to all of us for a more efficient town government. Creating a positive local business environment is crucial for their survival. Local government should be working with our business owners, not against them, to ensure their success. Clear and definitive zoning regulations would assist the boards in their processes. Long drawn out processes are costly (to the town and the taxpayers) and are not a solution.
Judy desires to listen to everyone to bring about fairness and cohesiveness for Hinesburg residents. More people may feel it is worthwhile to participate in a productive way.
Your vote is your voice and I urge you to consider Judy for your representative on the Hinesburg Selectboard. You can vote all this week at the Town Clerk’s Office or on March 3.
Barb Lyman, Hinesburg
Andrea Morgante: a Hinesburg treasure
Hinesburg is a wonderful community in which to live, in part because of our numerous volunteers for community service. Of all those volunteers, Andrea Morgante has been one of the most dedicated, and one of those who has had the largest beneficial impact on the Town. During the 36 years she has lived here, she has undertaken numerous projects on behalf of the Town. Andrea has demonstrated a unique ability to bring together people of different political persuasions to assist in projects throughout the Town.
Accordingly, I whole-heartedly support the re-election of Andrea as a Selectboard member. During the 22 years she has been on the Selectboard, she has been a voice of reason, carefully considering all sides to issues presented.
Andrea is a Hinesburg treasure. I urge everyone to make certain they vote on Tuesday, March 3, and that they vote for Andrea Morgante as a Selectboard member.
Roger E. Kohn, Hinesburg
Toensing objects to Russell’s conduct
Loyal readers of this publication may recall I wrote a series of letters to the editor last summer documenting out-of-control spending in Charlotte under former-Selectboard Chair (and current member) Charles Russell. These letters summarized my research of town files and finances and were prompted by my concern about the increasing unaffordability of this town’s rising taxes.
In making my argument, I presented data showing the town budget had almost doubled and the town had spent almost $700,000 in legal fees during Russell’s leadership. I also used a Public Records Act Request to reveal the town’s highly questionable involvement in opposing Velco’s tower upgrade along the railroad. This expensive and quixotic legal project involved a matter that directly impacted and benefited Chair Russell’s brother’s property. Not only did Russell fail to recuse himself from this matter, despite a conflict of interest, he also repeatedly voted against citizen requests for a town vote on the anti-Velco spending, forcing our town to waste over $220,000 in legal fees on this project.
Recently, Russell threw his hat in the ring for another three-year term. This unhappy event prompted me to issue another Public Records Act Request, uncovering an abuse of office committed by Russell against his neighbor.
On July 11, 2013, Charlotte’s Zoning Administrator (ZA) issued an opinion to Russell’s neighbor allowing him to produce wine on his property as an accepted agricultural practice. In reliance on this opinion, the neighbor spent almost $100,000 upgrading his barn, purchasing equipment, and moving operations. He even started making wine.
Unfortunately for the neighbor, he accessed his land by using an easement across Chair Russell’s property. For more than two months, during the upgrades and the installation of the winery equipment, however, Russell said nothing. But once all of the purchases were made and all of this significant activity was over, Russell approached his neighbor and, for the first time, objected to him making wine in his barn, claiming it exceeded what the easement allowed. The neighbor offered to work something out and they agreed to discuss a resolution. But instead of seeking to resolve the matter, Russell used his power and influence as Selectboard Chair to get the July 11 opinion reversed.
In a sworn statement (signed after the ZA’s retirement), the ZA admitted that “[r]econsideration of [his July 11 opinion] was sparked by Mr. Russell’s visiting [his] office regarding this use.” The ZA also said he “was uncomfortable about the entire situation” because Russell was his boss. In fact, the ZA testified he had to call “Town Counsel” to intervene to prevent Chair Russell from further interference.
Normally, a citizen who objects to a ZA opinion has to pay $500 to file an appeal to the Zoning Board. By law, this appeal must be filed within 14 days of the issuance of the opinion. Instead, Russell pressurized the ZA, who reported directly to him, to reverse the opinion, which he did.
Keep in mind that had the ZA not complied with Russell’s pressure to reverse his decision, then Russell would have borne the hefty cost of an appeal. Due to the reversal, however, it was the neighbor who was forced to pay to appeal the reversal. But, more significantly, the ZA’s reversal had the effect of reviving what would been a closed matter since the 14-day appeal period had expired.
The Zoning Board ultimately ruled against the neighbor, but only after the town spent almost $7,000 in legal fees defending the revocation of the opinion. Zoning Board decisions, however, have no precedential value and are often reversed by a court, so that ruling is unimportant here.
What is important is the fact that Russell reflexively abused his position by pressurizing a town employee, who reported directly to him, to reverse a decision in a way that benefited him. That reversal not only cleared Russell of the obligation to pay $500 for an appeal, it also put him in a better legal posture (it is always better to have the ZA decision in your favor), and gave him a significant procedural windfall unavailable to common citizens (like his neighbor).
Making matters worse, but perhaps revealing his true purpose all along, Russell approached the neighbor while the appeal was being heard, and offered to allow the winery to operate, but only if the neighbor paid him $30,000 for an expanded easement. In the end, the neighbor could not afford an appeal to the Environmental Court (where he was likely to win) and would not pay Russell his demanded $30,000 tribute. So he packed up his wine making equipment and moved it to Grand Isle.
We owe gratitude to those who serve our town. But we need people in office who exercise their power honestly and fairly. Town Meeting day is on Tuesday, March 3 and absentee ballots are available at the town hall now. Please be sure to vote.
Brady C. Toensing, Charlotte
Toensing previously served as Chair of the Charlotte Zoning Board but was not involved in this decision.
A response from Charles Russell
Here is the story of what really happened between my neighbor’s winery plans, the Town and my wife and me.
My neighbor bought the property next to mine, property that included a parcel that didn’t have proper access to road frontage for anything other than the traditional use of the land – as pasture. He tried to use the easement over my driveway to access a different use – in this case for a commercial winery. There was never a request by him for this use. We didn’t even know the winery was in the works until a tractor-trailer got stuck for over an hour in the driveway delivering equipment. I met with the neighbor and we had amicable discussions about this. When presented with the legal argument about why a new easement is needed, he agreed and asked what my wife and I would like for the new easement. Our first proposal was for $25K paid over 5 years and the cost of our legal fees. We offered to spread the costs – recognizing that it was a start up business. We were not against the concept of the winery; we just wanted to ensure that its effect on the neighborhood and on the driveway be mitigated and that we were properly compensated for the value of the easement. We did not receive a counteroffer.
At the same time, I discussed with the Zoning Administrator (ZA) two issues about the winery: 1) why did the town not require that the winery developer get a new easement for this operation when they had required it for the previous owner of the land when she wanted to subdivide the land to build houses and 2) why did he – the ZA – think it was agriculture if they weren’t growing grapes there? The answer to the first question was never explained fully, and the answer to the second question was answered by the State’s Department of Ag representative who informed the ZA that unless there were grapes being grown on the property, it was not considered ag and was therefore not exempt from local permitting. This is why the ZA reversed his previous decision that the winery was exempt.
I did not give up my right to ask questions of the ZA because of my position on the Selectboard and the ZA could have stuck by his first decision forcing me to appeal his ruling. However in this case he realized he had made a mistake and corrected it. Neither he nor I knew how much my neighbors had spent to construct the winery and, from a zoning perspective, the amount is irrelevant.
One of the ironies of this story is that for years I have encouraged the Planning and Zoning office to have as a policy that the ZA post all permits at the end of the driveway where permit work is proposed so that neighbors will know about permits within the 14 day appeal period. As it is right now, you would have to check the wall at the Town Hall every 14 days to know who has applied for a permit. How many of you visit the Town Hall that often? This policy would have kept my neighbor from spending $100K on a project with no permit.
One part of the story left out by Toensing is that on more than one occasion I advised my neighbor that all he needed to do was drop his appeal and reapply for the winery showing his intention to start growing grapes starting the next season. This would make the project clearly exempt as an agricultural operation. There was no need to spend legal fees on an appeal. In fact, during the ZBA hearings, my neighbors actually modified their lease with the parent winery to allow them to grow grapes on the property.
The insinuation that somehow my wife and I were motivated to force money out of our new neighbors is without merit or evidence. We were under no obligation to give away at no cost our property rights because of the failure of our neighbor’s real estate lawyer to inform them of the limitations of the property they were buying. We worked with our new neighbors to try to solve their problem, but they were determined to get their project ruled exempt from regulation.
Toensing continues to misunderstand how limited my power is as one of five Selectboard members. The ZA doesn’t report to me and I didn’t single-handedly spend your tax dollars frivolously as he claims. I am a public servant doing my best.
I met Toensing and Andrew Haigney on the steps of the Brick Store last fall and the three of us had a nice lengthy conversation. I asked Toensing why he as the vice-chair of the Vermont GOP was so interested in getting me off the Selectboard? His answer was simple and understandable. “I want to get all Republicans on the Selectboard, and then the Legislature and Governor and then we can turn Vermont around.” At any cost, I guess.
It is a truism in politics that if you are explaining, you have already lost. Toensing knows this well. That being said, I have confidence in the wisdom of Charlotters to see these scurrilous attacks for what they are.
Charles Russell, Charlotte Selectboard Member