The Brattleboro Selectboard began discussing a repeal of a 2011 Town Charter change to stop counting local write-in votes unless the write-in candidate had declared an intention to serve.
The board heard a semi-annual update from the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance, approved of paving, police cars, body cameras for police officers, and disc golf improvements. Snow sports at Living Memorial Park will continue, we have a new road in town, and new members were appointed to committees.
Opening remarks included birthday greetings to Patrick Moreland, the Assistant Town Manager.
“He just showed us his AARP card,” said Kate O’Connor. “Next week he’ll bring his free tote bag.”
Brandie Starr and Police Chief Mike Fitzgerald noted the success of the community cookout to launch Project CARE.
Downtown Brattleboro Alliance Semi-Annual Update
Stephanie Bonin of the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance (DBA) came to the selectboard with financial statements and a slide show to update board members on the organization’s current affairs.
Bonin reminded the board of the pillars of being a downtown organization: organization, promotion, design, and economic development.
She said new staffing was paying off, which is giving them extra time to spend on social media. She also said in an effort to reach a wide audience, a community calendar had been shared. “Everyone is seeing the same calendar on multiple sites,” she said.
Parking has been a major focus, and Bonin said they created a super hero character called “Parking Hero” who saves people at meters by feeding the meters and paying for their parking.
She said she was pleased with the organization’s events and cooperative advertising among members.
DBA has given some small grants to Echo restaurant, the Southern Vermont Career Center, and BrattRock. They’ve also given money for facade improvements for Malisun, Boomerang, Ruggles & Hunt, Yalla, Jasmine Bakery, and Cara Wolf Jewelry.
New programs and events are planned for the near future – a project called Brattleboro Live, a bike parking parklet, an outdoor tourism map, printed materials at the Welcome Center and an Ambassadors program.
“We have a need for more visitors to come to town,” Bonin said, adding that one question is “what is our town going to look like to attract people to come here?”
She said there was new energy coming to the board, and they were looking to add members.
“Fantastic,” said Brandie Starr. She said she appreciated everything being done.
David Schoales said that there was “constant buzz ongoing in town.”
Tim Wessel said he saw an uptick in diners during restaurant week, but also had a one little thing that was bothering him.
“The Parking Hero bugged me a bit,” he explained. “It’s a great concept, but it bugs me because I was addicted to comic books, and heros always have villains. In this case, the Town is the villain.”
“I didn’t think of that,” said Bonin. “We did meet with the Town before we did it.”
The real heros, said Wessel, are those who pay for parking and pay their fines if they get tickets. “I first wanted to create an anti-hero, but… it’s just one little thing that bugs me.”
Living Memorial Park Snow Sports Contract
Living Memorial Park Snow Sports has been given a five-year renewal of their contract to operate and maintain the ski tow and hill at the park.
Recreation & Parks Director Carol Lolatte said the organization has been doing this since 1994, and doing it well. They handle the day to day operations and the Town takes care of insurance.
A fantastic arrangement,” said Wessel.
Vermont Building Communities Grant – Disc Golf Improvements
Brattleboro’s Rotary Clubs are partnering with the Recreation & Parks department to apply for a grant. If approved by the Vermont Department of Buildings & Grounds, Brattleboro will receive $9,000 to help improve the disc golf facilities at Living Memorial Park.
Lolatte said the Town and the Rotarians successfully created a 13-hole course in 2016. Its low cost and high popularity led to the idea of expanding the course to a full 18 holes, and now all that remains is to purchase some tee pads, benches, shelter improvements and signs for a nature walk.
“I didn’t know we had one,” said Kate O’Connor.
“They have a tournament every year,” said Lolatte. “It’s a way to use the hill during summer months.”
“I loved the social media campaign,” said Starr. “Well done!”
“I haven’t been out there yet,” said Wessel. “It’s good to expand and upgrade.”
The Brattleboro Selectboard approved of the grant application. The grant requires a 1:1 match, which will come in the form of other grants.
Hinesburg Road Grants
The Brattleboro Selectboard accepted two grants for improvements to Hinesburg Road. The first is $78,400 from the Vermont Agency of Transportation to overlay new pavement on Hinesburg Road. This requires a 20% local match ($15,680), which comes from capital funds.
The second was a $175,000 grant to pay for the hydraulic study, engineering, and replacement of a box culvert. This, too, requires a match but on 10% ($17,500), which will also come from already-budgeted capital funds.
2018 Capital Paving Project
What will $189,644.95 buy you? If you are the Brattleboro DPW, this amount covers the cost of summer paving for 2018.
Director of Public Works Steve Barrett said roads to be paved include Hinesburg Road, Green Meadow, Jenny Lane, Glen Street and Maple Street. “Those are the lucky recipients of the road paving,” he announced.
Mitchell Sand & Gravel of Winchester, NH will do the work.
Body Worn Cameras
Brattleboro Police were given the go-ahead by the selectboard to begin a five-year contract for body worn cameras (BWC). Officers engaged in law enforcement activities will be wearing them, and Axon, a company in Scottsdale, AZ, will supply and maintain them.
$39,801 is the price for the hardware.
Police Chief Mike Fitzgerald said they began looking at cameras in 2014, and camera programs have come a long way since then.
He told the board that having them will provide benefits. Cameras will increase transparency, improve police services, enhance community relations, improve evidence collection and prosecutions, and enhance officer performance improvement tools.
The department has been testing camera companies and products in July of 2017, taking a close look at durability, battery charging, chain of custody, video and audio quality, ease of use, and other criteria.
The products and service from Axon were deemed superior.
File storage will be supplied by Axon’s evidence.com – a cloud storage system that is backed up to multiple off-site locations. It’s fully searchable, will auto-delete in accordance to police policies, has software to make “redactions” such as blurring a child’s face, and allows links to be shared by the department if they so choose.
The Police asked that an optional Technical Assurance Plan (TAP) is added in. This allows for product replacements, spare cameras, and free technical support. The Chief liked these options to help keep the departmental budget steady and predictable, without worry of replacement costs, and also to keep current with the latest cameras.
The TAP comes at a cost of $24,395 over five years, bringing the total cost of the camera program to $64,196.
Brattleboro will have a total of twenty cameras, and will add more to be sure each officer has their own camera system. That way, explained Captain Mark Carignan, at the end of a shift, an officer can put their camera into a charger that also uploads and classifies all video from the day. This will save staff time of looking through multiple camera’s footage to find a particular item, he said.
The Chief said the cameras would be on when officers were taking law enforcement action. “If they are just walking around and talking,” he said,”no they won’t be on.”
He said they didn’t have an official policy for using them yet, but had many examples to draw from, and the Town Attorney would look over the final policy before it gets adopted.
“It makes sense to have the upgrades and service,” said Starr.
Wessel asked if officiers wanted the cameras, and about privacy concerns. “People might not want private situations to get out there.”
Chief Fitzgerald said that staff wanted the cameras, and were already used to cruiser cams. “It’s hard to argue when looking at something on the screen.”
He said he agreed about privacy. “That’s why the redaction program is so important, and consultation with the lawyer,” he said. “A domestic situation is personal, and we have to be aware of that.”
Police Cruiser and Command Vehicle Purchase
As called for in the FY19 Capital Budget, the Police Department can order some new vehicles. Specifically, they will be buying two police cruisers at $28,912 each, and one “major incident command vehicle” at a cost of $36,824. Formula Ford will supply them.
After buying the vehicles, they’ll need to be outfitted with the proper police equipment, lights, and painting to be a part of Brattleboro’s fleet. This will cost extra.
The cruisers will be 2019 Ford Explorer Interceptors with a 5 year/60,000 mile drivetrain warranty.
The command vehicle will be a 2019 Chevrolet Tahoe, with the same warranty as the cruisers.
Total cost for the vehicles is $94,684, but the actual price will be lower depending on the value fo three trade in vehicles.
Wessel noted that the command vehicle was an SUV. “For our winters? More practical?”
The Chief said yes, and that they offered more room for the in-car equipment. “It meets the need well.”
Name Private Road
Colonial Drive is the new name of the private drive that provides access from Putney Road to the Colonial Motel, wrapping back an behind the hotel rooms and ending near the pool area.
The name change request doesn’t come from anyone in Brattleboro. The Vermont E911 Board in Montpelier wanted it named — for safety. The Colonial Motel buildings will now be in compliance with E911 standards, and each business will now have its own unique address.
Enjoy your stay!
Election Write-In Procedures
“This is a Tim Wessel thing,” said Kate O’Connor, by way of introduction.
Wessel explained why the item was on the agenda.
He said that the Town Charter was changed in 2011 to require write-in candidates to declare their intention of being a candidate. “To me, it feels like the procedure goes against the spirit of write-ins, period.”
Wessel said the spirit of writing in should not be obstructed by this requirement.
“When it comes to absentee ballots and early voting, you don’t really know if your desired candidate will follow procedures, so you might vote for someone who isn’t ‘qualified’ on Election Day.”
Wessel said it was an unnecessary restriction of democracy. “It seems like this is for convenience.” He called it an “odd restriction for a write-in,” adding that democracy was messy and there shouldn’t be any restriction.
Putting it into a broader context he said that nationally and internationally there are restrictions placed on voting. “I don’t like the optics of some rights possibly being infringed in our elections.”
He asked for it to be repealed.
Town Manager Peter Elwell said that to repeal it would require a change to the Town Charter, approved by Representative Town Meeting representatives, then state approval. “Would you like to starat down that road?”
Town Clerk Hilary Francis relied on an old memo from previous Town Clerk Annette Cappy giving justifications and reasoning for asking to limit write-in vote counting.
Francis explained that Cappy had said that most write-ins never win. There were additional problems, too. There were sometimes illegible or misspelled non-registered write-ins, and there might be a senior and junior of similar name in a single residence. “How will you know?”
Francis said a write-in candidate in first place but who didn’t want to be elected might prevent another write-in candidate in second place who wanted to be elected from being elected. She said the second place person should have been elected in that case. “It really helps identify voter intent.”
As for early voters not having their votes counted, “I vote on Election day. I want to know who write-ins are, so I choose to wait.” She said write-in candidates can declare their intention easily up until the very last minute. “Just voice your intent to run.”
She said the policy makes sense, it helps with voter intent, and helps get people elected.
Wessel said he didn’t want to argue each point, “but I have counterpoints to all of Annette’s points.” He said instead he’d return to the core argument, that in a voting booth, faced with a ballot with spaces for write-ins, “that’s an invitation to a possibility.”
He said Cappy argued that write-ins rarely win, “but that seems like you don’t have a right to vote for someone who might not win. Who’s to decide who is viable? For me, it feels like an intellectual violation of the idea of the write-in candidate.”
“They can still write-in,” said Francis, “but we don’t have to record or count Mickey Mouse.”
“But if it isn’t an official declared candidate, then their vote literally won’t count. That’s the essence of my issue,” said Wessel.
Brandie Starr said she agreed with Wessel, and invoked the spirit of Vermont town meeting day. “The spirit of democracy is important to me, and this feels restrictive.”
Wessel offered a compromise. “The posting of candidates with declared intent is a wonderful idea, and doesn’t need to go away. Just eliminate the other part. Why require it? You said national and state elections don’t have these requirements.”
“State and federal laws say we have to count write-ins, so we can only do this locally,” said Francis.
“Wessel said that generally elections run well, “but this is weird, and others don’t do it.” He said he would hate for it to become a statewide law.
Starr suggested it be taken out of Brattleboro’s Charter, then reinstated if and only if the state mandates it. “Why not be in line with the rest of the state?”
Wessel reminded everyone that the original vote in favor of the change was 55-33, at the end of a January special meeting. “I’d rather let Representative Town Meeting think this through again.”
“Are we the only town that does this?” asked Kate O’Connor.
Francis didn’t know.
The board then generally agreed to have Town Attorney Fisher look at putting it on the warning for next year’s Representative Town Meeting.
David Schoales suggested taking a poll on Facebook to see what representatives thought about the issue, but was quickly reminded that it would violate open meeting laws. He said he was generally against overruling representative’s previous decisions, and thought other issues were more important. “It’s a non-burning issue for me.” He said he’d prefer it come up as a petition.
Francis had the last word, answering why Brattleboro should do things differently than the rest of the state. “We tend to do things differently. We have Representative Town Meeting. There are lots of things we do differently because we’re Brattleboro.”
Status of Annual Selectboard Goals
Town Manager Elwell reviewed the status of selectboard goals after the first quarter, and in this case about a month and a half.
Not too much to report here. There was an under-attended HUB town meeting, so other meetings are planned. A Municipal Center plan is coming in August. Energy efficiency projects are moving along. Work on diversity and multiculturalism continue.
David Schoales noted that there was also progress being made on other major projects, outside of the goals of the board. He felt there was potential for overload, but Elwell assured him he’d speak up if things were getting out of hand.
Elwell said this and previous boards in Brattleboro have been much better than other government bodies he had worked with in terms of appreciating that potential for overload. “Don’t hold back.”
Before making appointments, board members joked that they might appoint a reporter departing from the room. And then they started the appointin’…
– Thomas Murray and Janet Cramer to the Brattleboro Housing Partnerships Board of Commissioners.
– Gary Stroud to the Cemetery Committee.
– David Whittle to the Development Review Board as an alternate.
– Oscar Heller to the Energy Committee.
– Richard Campbell to the Honor Roll.
– Kathy Urffer to the Planning Commission.
Did Reformer reporter Chris Mays get appointed to be the new Weigher of Coal? I’m not telling.
Police responded to 7 overdoses, two resulting in death.
Police used a TASER and bean bag shotgun to subdue a possibly mentally ill suspect recently.
The new pumper rescue vehicle has arrived and equipment is being installed.
The fire department rescued someone at Commonwealth Dairy who had an arm trapped in a machine. It took almost an hour.
November elections will be held at the American Legion.
248 delinquent tax notices and 230 overdue utility payment notifications sent out in June.