Wednesday May 8, 2013

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Senior Staff Writer

WOODFORD -- The Vermont House has passed a town charter for Woodford that will allow voters to recall elected officials they are unhappy with.

The charter, which requires the Legislature's approval and now heads to the Senate, was approved by the House May 2. The Woodford Select Board approved the charter in November.

The town has never had a charter. The quest to create one was prompted by an ongoing dispute between Town Clerk and and former Treasurer Ron Higgins and the Select Board. Communication problems between the two sides led to problems forming a budget last spring, delays in setting a tax rate and other disruptions to town business.

"We need something for the town of Woodford to try and have some clear and concise direction of what elected officials are supposed to be doing," Woodford Select Board Chairman Ryan Thurber said.

The Select Board and some of the town's residents investigated last year whether it was possible to remove Higgins from his position. But doing so could not be done without a governing charter. Without a charter, Woodford must follow specific state statutes that govern municipalities, which do not allow elected officials to be removed from their positions.

Thurber said the charter sought by the town is to help all elected officials and is not an attempt to target Higgins.

"The intentions of the charter weren't specifically for one individual or one position," he said. "It could easily be construed that way, without a doubt, but that's not the case."

The charter saw only minor changes through amendments in the House.

"We had an attorney look at it before it went up there then we had the legislature's attorney look at it," he said.

Higgins said he is not happy the town is seeking a charter, but declined to elaborate.

"My opinion is very negative so I'd be better not to comment," he said.

Woodford Rep. Bill Botzow, D-Pownal, introduced the charter legislation on behalf of the town. He said town officials and community members worked hard to create the charter and setup the type of municipal government they wanted.

"It's a bill that the community worked hard on and they are the best ones to continue to do further work," Botzow said. "I'm proud of the community for stepping up to self governance."

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com, or follow on Twitter: @nealgoswami