Selectboard Meeting Notes: Skatepark at LMP, MLK Day Adopted, New Police Chief Named

The Brattleboro Selectboard had several important decisions and announcements at their regular Tuesday meeting. A new Town Manager will soon be hired, a new Police Chief has been sworn in, a skatepark site has been selected,  and Martin Luther King Jr. Day will be henceforth recognized in Brattleboro.

The police will also get new equipment, and Brattleboro is being recognized for energy efficiency achievements. Read on for all the important details, and then some.


Chair David Gartenstein noted a number of insights and observations to kick off the meeting. First was that the paving of roads is complete, but that the painting of lines was not. He urged caution for drivers, as school is back in session.

Gartenstein said that other traffic safety projects (Union Hill, radar detectors, etc.) are in the works.

A recent view of someone working in a lit Brooks House office, he said, was nice to see, and listed the contributions the town of Brattleboro has made in the building’s redevelopment, such as tax stabilization agreements and loans.

Gartenstein said the Town Manager search was moving forward aggressively, with a possible announcement due in the next few weeks.

As for the Police Chief search, Gartenstein said he was pleased to announce that Mike Fitzgerald has been sworn in to serve as Brattleboro’s new Police Chief. There was much applause. He said Fitzgerald’s vision for the town and police was in line with community policing values.

Interim Town manager Patrick Moreland thanked the four committees that assisted in the Police Chief search process, and gave everyone some details about the new Chief. Fitzgerald, he said, was born in Brattleboro in 1961, went to local schools, and served in the Marine Corps for 20 years. Upon his return to Brattleboro, he became a patrol officer, then worked his way up to level of Captain.

Moreland praised the search outcome as “outstanding” and said he looked forward to many good years to come. He also encouraged citizens to ask the new Chief about his vision for the department.

For Selectboard committee reports and comments, Kate O’Connor said that downtown merchants were happy with the decision, and that Fitzgerald has already attended merchant meetings regarding downtown issues.

John Allen encourage people to drive slowly, as schools are open.

David Schoales said that the town and schools have both purchased radar speed signs, and that button activated crossings might happen in the near future near some schools.

Public Participation

Former Brattleboro Police Chief Richard Guthrie congratulated the board on a wise choice for Police Chief. He also said he can remember helping a young Fitzgerald cross streets on the way to school, as well as hiring him as a patrol officer. He urged Fitzgerald to “carry on!”

Brattleboro Energy Committee member Lester Humphreys presented the board with a recently won “Best Overall Energy Committee Award.”

Energy Coordinator Paul Cameron presented the board with a Vermont Home Energy Challenge award for weatherizing 41 local homes.

Hazard Mitigation Plan

Tuesday night the Brattleboro Selectboard approved a new Brattleboro Hazard Mitigation Plan, developed by Planning Services, with help from our Police and Fire Departments, and Department of Public Works.

Hazard mitigation is defined as “any action taken to reduce or eliminate long-term risk to human life and property from natural hazards.”

The reason for the new plan is that FEMA deemed our 2009 plan as being unacceptable, as it was simply part of a recently approved regional plan, and FEMA now wants each town to have its own stand-alone plan.

The new plan helps Brattleboro comply with state requirements as well. Vermont’s Emergency Relief and Assistance program requires a town-specific hazard mitigation plan as well as adoption of road and bridge standards, participation in the National Flood Insurance Program, and adoption of an Emergency Operations plan., to qualify towns for added assistance in large disasters.

Planning Services Director Rod Francis told the board that adopting such a plan will reduce Brattleboro’s exposure for a large-scale emergency to under 5%. Seventy percent comes from FEMA, and up to 17% follows from the state. If you have a plan, that is.

“We want to qualify for the maximum amount of reimbursement,” he said.

The new plan had been reviewed and approved by the Planning Commission and the Windham Regional Commission.

Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Accepted

The Brattleboro Police will be purchasing new bullet proof vests using a 50% matching grant from the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The grant contributes $1863.95 toward the cost of the six new, National Institute of Justice compliant vests.

Brattleboro’s new Police Chief Mike Fitzgerald said the department rotates the replacement of vests. “They last about five years.”

The balance of the cost is paid for by taxpayers through the Capital Fund.

In actuality, the grant came in a little under half the cost ($3894/2 = 1947), so the town will pick up the difference of about $83.

VDEMHS VCOMM Grant Accepted

Brattleboro accepted and appropriated $131,196.57 from the Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security for new communications equipment for the Police Department. The police will now be able to upgrade from older analog devices to a newer digital voting repeater communication system, and will be able to utilize the same tower equipment as the fire department.

This will round-out a multi-departmental communications upgrade project that has been years in progress.

Some of the purchase includes GTR8000 base radios, GCM 8000 Comparators, Astro software, dipole antennae, ethernet switches, and spare parts.

David Gartenstein thanked the Harris Hill Ski Jump association for loan of the hill for locations of temporary equipment.

VT Home Energy Challenge Grant Accepted

Efficiency Vermont joined the list of entities giving Brattleboro money Tuesday evening when the Selectboard accepted a $10,000 grant to be used to transition 39 decorative street lights to LEDs, insulate pipes at the Department of Public Works, replace lighting equipment in the Municipal Center, and install programmable thermostats at the water treatment plant.

The money is a result of Brattleboro winning the Home Energy Challenge, a statewide initiative to increase energy efficiency in homes and apartments, and can be used for municipal or school projects.

Paul Cameron, Brattleboro’s Town Energy Coordinator, explained the potential savings that comes along with doing these projects. In addition to reductions in fuel and electricity use, the grant should pay for itself in dollar savings within two years, he said.

David Gartenstein asked about progress on the energy efficiency fund approved at Representative Town Meeting. Cameron said the committee had been discussing it and hoped to have something to present to the selectboard in the near future.

FY16 Budget Schedule Discussion

As you might guess, it takes many meetings to come up with a town budget that will be approved by Representative Town Meeting members in March.  Typically 7-9 meetings have been needed for budget preparation in the past few years.

Interim Town manager Patrick Moreland explained to the board that the typical process was for the selectboard to set budget goals, town staff to draft a preliminary response in budget form, and then have meetings to work out details. He said that board goals and suggestions would be appreciated.

In a recent memo to the board, Moreland said that some combination of four outcomes is likely:

1. a reduction in services

2. a reduction in staff

3. a less-than-acceptable capital budgeting

4. a tax increase

Moreland said service reductions are unpopular with voters, and staff cuts are difficult to achieve. He also noted that the coming Pay As You Throw could reduce costs in the General Fund in FY16.

Donna Macomber and John Allen hoped to set board goals early, to get a jump on the budget process. David Schoales asked for a list of debts that would be retiring.

Schoales also asked if they could look at budgets by program. That is, how much do specific services cost the town, such as removing snow or running a softball program?

Moreland suggested he sit and talk with Finance Director John O’Connor about the limits of the accounting software, and how he often calculates special numbers for the board without using it at all. “There are a wide range of ways to interpret what you are asking,” he added.

Schoales said that knowing the numbers could guide their budget discussions. 

John Allen wondered how he would look at numbers, since winters vary widely and costs can vary as well. “Looking for an average? Seems like a lot of work.”

Gartenstein said he was in favor at looking at budgets by program that are tied to fee for services, such as recreation programs. He wasn’t so keen on calculating costs of snow removal.

The board will set their FY16 budget goals before or at their next regular meeting.

Brattleboro Staff Evaluation Process

Brattleboro’s Interim Town Manager and staff go through regular job evaluations. Tuesday night, Interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland told the board the process for evaluating his staff.

Department heads set the standard for performance, which is reviewed by the Town Manager. There are annual staff evaluations use forms approved by the Town Manager during a process that generally takes about six weeks.

Part of the process is an employee self evaluation, which Moreland called “perhaps the most useful feature.” Supervisors meet with employees confidentially, and employees may comment on their supervisor’s report. Department heads review supervisors work, and the Town Manager reviews everything.

Moreland says no standard format exists for evaluating a Brattleboro Town Manager, but that the staff evaluation process is codified in employee handbooks and collective bargaining agreements.

David Schoales summarized the two approaches he found toward evaluating Town Managers. One he called qualitative, which allows for comments on performance. The other was quantitative and centered more on scoring a job performance.

The board liked the comments approach, and Donna Macomber encouraged inclusion of a self-evaluation as well.

The board will use this information to guide upcoming evaluations.

Holidays Observed – Martin Luther King Jr. Day

At the last juncture of MLK Day discussions, the board asked for numbers. They wanted to know how much a holiday costs, how Brattleboro compares holiday-wise with others around the state and nation, and what options they might have to choose from.

According to Interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland, the cost of a single day of Brattleboro payroll is $24,290.88.

The actual out-of-pocket cost for a new holiday, however, depends on the weather. He informed the board that on a “nice” winter day, it could add about $890 to have on call staff in the DPW and staff at the skating rink. If it were a major snow event with all of the DPW’s Highway Division were called into service, it could add nearly $9,240.

Moreland’s suggestions were to increase the number of holidays observed by one day, substitute MLK Day for another holiday or 2 part day holidays, or substitute MLK Day for one of the two floating holidays.

All board members wanted to recognize Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, but they differed on how to best do it. David Schoales and Donna Macomber liked the symbolism of swapping Columbus Day out and adopting MLK Day instead. John Allen thought swapping for Columbus Day would be best, as the schools did it that way. Kate O’Connor like the idea of swapping a floating (personal) day for the holiday and leaving others as is.

This all led to David Gartenstein making a motion to swap Columbus Day out and adopt MLK Day in its place. But it was not to be.

Jan Anderson noted that Columbus Day was an excellent time of year for autumn colors and that she always had guests, spending money in town, visiting on that day.

Donna Macomber countered with the idea of simply adding a new holiday, regardless of cost. The board balked at adding anything to the budget strains.

Instead, O’Connor suggested they adopt MLK Day and swap out one of the two employee floating holidays.

This the board could agree on, and it was adopted.

Happy belated biirthday, Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Skatepark Site Selection

“ I don’t recall another issue with such acrimony, lack of respect, and disdain for one another…” So began David Gartenstein’s comments on the skatepark site selection process.

He said the board was being asked to make town property available and support long term maintenance of the project, and that it has been hard to find consensus.

He said he loves downtown and thinks Elm Street and Upper Living Memorial Park are excellent locations, but “people on the committee don’t like those sites.” He said it was important, regardless of what others think, that the concerns of neighbors be considered as to the impact on their quality of life. He said he was willing to vote for lower Living Memorial Park, or the upper area as a backup.

Kate O’Connor said the site visits helped. She didn’t like Elm Street due to too many cars. She said she supported the upper and lower, senior area, of Living Memorial Park.

“This horse is dead,” said John Allen. “We’ve beaten it year after year.” He said ten years ago he supported the Living Memorial Park location and he remains impressed by the location today. He added that BASIC had been through the wringer and the town owed it to them to find a spot and make it happen. He promised another motion later in the meeting.

David Schoales said that the senior area of Living Memorial Park would be more expensive than other sites, and wanted to reserve the option of potentially using the upper Living Memorial Park location as well. He suggested the selectboard look for a way to help the project financially or in-kind.

“You are bursting my bubble, buddy,” said Allen.

Donna Macomber said that for the safety of the children, Living Memorial Park is where the skatepark belongs. She said she understood noise concerns, “but community living necessitates give and take.”

With that, John Allen made a motion to allow BASIC to pursue a skatepark at the lower eastern corner of Living Memorial Park known as the Theresa Blumgart? senior picnic area.

BASIC’s Jeff Clark asked if his the board had any limits in mind, and Gartenstein said that if they find that location too expensive they can always ask to reconsider the upper area of the park.

Former Brattleboro resident Christian Avard said that he drives his kids all over New England to visit skateparks. I’ve spent so much on gas.” He said it could have gone to better use, but “we don’t have a park in Brattleboro.”

Avard said his boys experience joy when mastering new tricks. “This park will be for families and kids, not just teens” he told the board. “It’s gonna be good. I’m going to be there constantly seeing that kids are having fun.”

Les Montgomery urged the board “for sanity’s sake” to be clear on the ultimate site and not to leave any doubt. “Really define it.”

Jane Sonntag, a resident of the Brookside area of town said that the senior area was a better choice than near the playground. She apologized for things getting heated on the playground during site visits.

Fric Spruyt hoped that ReSite folks will help fund work on the new park.

Kathy Andrew, also of Brookside, said that nobody wants a skatepark next to them. She said she liked the idea of redeveloping the Elm Street parking lot best, as savings from the lack of studies and permits could be used to add features to the park. She noted skaters were already downtown.

Andy Davis said he appreciated the talk of this being a public project, as land and maintenance are involved. He liked the Elm street location as part of the development of the arts campus. “Skateboarding is an art form.” Integrating it into Living Memorial Park was also a good choice in his view. “Either site could unite people. I want to know where to send a check.”

The board voted unanimously in favor of the lower Living Memorial Park location to be investigated for possible use as Brattleboro’s skatepark.

After the vote, John Allen made a motion to contribute $20,000 to the project to help cover permit and design costs, but didn’t have any good ideas on where to get the money. In the end, the board voted to ask Town Meeting Representatives for $20,000 out of the undesignated reserve fund.

“We put BASIC through the wringer and we need to show them some support,” said Allen.

Kate O’Connor said she preferred to wait and look at this request in the context of all other FY16 budget issues.

Moreland warned the board that surprise emergency costs, such as Municipal Center repairs, crop up unexpectedly.

Gartenstein said he was reluctant to use funds for discretionary recreation activities rather than life and safety issues at the Police and Fire facilities.

Allen said they could find the money. “It’s a small amount.”

Schoales said $20,000 for children and health activities was different han $14 million building projects, but the board did have to make severe cuts last year after their initial budget was rejected.

Gartenstein moved to put it on the agenda for Representative Town Meeting, It passed by a vote of 4-1, Kate O’Connor against as she said above, because she wanted to consider this in a greater context.

Macomber siad there was nothing stopping Selectboard members from writing personal checks.

Jeff Clark said checks to BASIC can be sent care of the Recreation & Parks department, Brattleboro, VT, 05301

Comments | 10

  • A Question about cents and per cents

    Chris: I thought that the $20,000 was to pay for a study to see what the costs of developing this site would be, not for the actual design and permits. Did I misunderstand?

    I think this is an excellent location choice. All the videos I’ve seen of parks that were “successful” show a much greater distance between the park and the nearby residences than exists at Crowell. This seems like a logical choice that will work for everyone.

    • Right.

      Your interpretation is closer, I think. They didn’t say specifically, but it sounded as if there were costs to determine if the park could go there – initial work before the actual park design process.

      Mostly it was John Allen and David Schoales wanting to make a gesture of support, in some way, toward the skateboarder community after putting them through “the wringer” as Allen put it. Putting it on the agenda for RTM is a nice gesture without much weight to it.

      I think private fundraising will be the more successful route, regardless. Quicker, less debate, potentially more funds.

      And yes, to KAlden below. Quite a night of Jedi-like decision making on a large scale.

  • Whoa. I'm a little stunned

    Whoa. I’m a little stunned that some actual, concrete decisions were made. I hope the skate park site works out- it’s time to get started making this project a reality. This leaves me feeling a tiny bit hopeful for our town.
    Great reporting as usual.

    • Humor

      “Concrete decision on skatepark” would have been a good headline. They did make a decision potentially involving concrete.

  • Good news that a decision was

    Good news that a decision was finally made. I will forever view the open, largely unused, field at Crowell Park with a sense of wonder and awe, however. Particularly when thinking of “community give and take” in the name of youth along with the many recommendations made in the Whitley Skatepark development guide.

    • Kudos to Zippy

      Barry Adams (Zippy) you took a lot of heat, and you were the lightning rod for a lot of anger over your efforts to protect Crowell Park.

      Crowell Park was an important place for my wife and son when he was a small child. We are delighted that it will continue to be an island of serenity. It seems to me that the current selectboard is making a sincere effort to study the facts, and to come to a sound decision, based less on aggressive advocacy, and more on what makes sense.

      You may never get the credit you deserve, but at least today I want you to have this recognition.

      • Kudos!


      • Feet of clay

        Thank you very much, SK-B. Another unfortunate lesson about speaking truth to “power” and the degree of concerted effort believed necessary to try and silence those who do it.

  • I was wrong

    I previously wrote that the skate park was probably going to be placed in the Elm Street Parking lot, because there were no neighbors to complain about it being located there.

    Not only did I not have a crystal ball, but I wrongly assumed the worst of the town government and its members.

    My apologies to all concerned.

  • I like the choice

    Good choice on the Police Chief, in my view. The little time I’ve spent with now-Chief Fitzgerald was positive (via a hiring committee a few years back).

    May the Town Manager choice be equally impressive!

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