KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
SHAFTSBURY -- Public meetings in town have had a tendency to become overheated, according to a group of residents who have formed an organization they hope will lead to more calm discussions of town affairs.
Citizens Advocating Responsibility and Equality in Shaftsbury (CARES) put forward a resolution to the Select Board at its July 16 meeting, calling, essentially, for things to be kept civil at meetings. Board Chairman Lon McClintock said he would try to get the resolution on the board's agenda at least by September.
Art Whitman, owner of Whitman's Feed Store, said the group plans to have its members attend various meetings and remind people of the resolution -- should the board adopt it -- if and when the discussion becomes heated to the point people feel intimidated. He said the group does not intend to support any issue, but it was the discussions surrounding a proposed commercial composting facility last year that provided the initiative to form CARES.
TAM Inc., a waste hauling service based in town, had proposed a composting facility on Route 7, which drew a large public backlash. A composting moratorium was passed and the Planning Commission was directed to draft specific bylaws concerning composting in town. TAM has since withdrawn its application and is exploring an opportunity in Bennington.
Meetings regarding the composting facility had a tendency to become passionate, especially Development Review Board meetings. The Select Board, when it came time to reappoint the DRB's chairwoman, Phyllis Porio, opted not to, citing a desire to restore the public's confidence in the DRB and saying it had received a number of complaints about how the meetings had been run.
Porio told the board during her reappointment interview that she had tried to handle meetings as best she could, but indicated it had been difficult given the high level of emotions at some meetings.
Porio is a member of the CARES group, according to an email sent by Jennifer Viereck, the town's former zoning administrator, who is now an alternate on the DRB. Viereck is a member of CARES, as is Trevor Mance, owner of TAM.
Whitman said the group is concerned it will be viewed as a faction, but hopes it won't, and welcomes anyone who believes in civil discourse. He said members have agreed that if they do wish to share an opinion on a certain topic, they will make it clear that the opinion is from them and not the group.
Viereck, in an interview, said CARES will not take a position on issues, and will focus only on trying to make sure everyone feels they can express an opinion at meetings, whatever that opinion may be. She said that while the hope is the group won't end up being viewed as political faction, it's a possibility.
According to Viereck, the group has a website, CAREShaftsbury.org, which will also promote "fun-filled community activities."