SUNDERLAND -- The Sunderland Select Board ousted its chairman during its regular meeting Monday, Dec. 17, following a difference of opinion over a letter sent to local newspapers two weeks ago.
Joe Boutin, the incumbent chairman at the start of the meeting, was replaced by Mark Hyde, in a 3-1 vote, following a roughly 15 minute discussion, which occassionally got heated. One board member, Judy Edmunds, abstained.
The controversy began with a letter to the editor that Boutin sent to local newspapers, including the Manchester Journal, about the town's lack of connecting and informing its residents about issues under consideration by the board, such as a proposed construction of a new town hall and renovation work on the Kelly Stand, a dirt road badly damaged during last year's Tropical Storm Irene. In that letter Boutin asked, "Why is it so hard for town officials to inform the residents when major issues are on the table?."
One of the issues Boutin was referring to was the town hall building blueprints, which were approved by the Selectboard and all that remains is a town vote for those blueprints to be finalized and implemented. He said that almost nobody knew that a time for public comment on the issues existed.
The Selectboard was not pleased by the way Boutin handled the situation.
"You [Boutin] submitted to the Bennington Banner an editorial. As a chair you have a representation of the Town and anything done by you is considered to be related to the Town," said Hyde. "I don't think that is how we can function as a Selectboard."
"I felt that there is no need to talk to the rest of the board about my opinions," said Boutin, adding that he felt contention and disagreement was part of the process.
Following the vote, the board moved on and directed its attention towards the town hall project.
Hyde, now the selectboard chairman, took over presiding over the conversation and explained some additions to the town hall project.
The first topic was an addition of a bond liaison to oversee the project and keep everything in check.
"There is a host of information from the accountant and the lawyer and we have plenty of things to do," he said. "I think the board would be well served by having someone knowledgeable about the building such as John Williams to help with this process and act as a guiding light to make sure we hit all our deadlines and make sure this gets in front of the voters."
A motion was approved to accept John Williams as bond liaison. Hyde also explained the additions of a accounting firm and a lawyer to keep everything with the project on track.
"The reason we need an accountant is that, for the bonding, the requirement from the Vermont bonding bank is that we have a accountant compilation with disclosure," said Hyde.
The accountant being looked at is McSoley and McCoy based out of South Burlington. The firm has some experience with projects such as the Sunderland town hall, Hyde said.
The contract for the accounting firm will cost the town somewhere between $3,000 and $5,000 and will not exceed $5,000. The contract can only be approved per a successful bond vote and if the bond vote is not passed the contract is void.
Plans for the proposed town hall have not yet been officially approved, but a possible vote to do could be held sometime next year, Hyde said.
The lawyer that was recommended to the board was Paul Guiliani of McKee, Guiliani and Cleveland based out of Montpelier. Guiliani deals with bond banks often as a member of the National Association of Bond Lawyers. His legal representation will cost approximately $4,000.
The total amount cost of the town hall building is $510,587. Major expenses include the base cost of the new building, $427,000, along with a metal rough upgrade, $16,500, an installation of a well, $10,000, and paving of the full parking lot, $5,800.
A letter will be sent to residents of the Sunderland community with information including cost and finances as well as a front elevation design and floor plans.
The current rate to rent their current town hall is $14,800 per year. Estimated maintenance of the new building will cost only $8,760, which will save some money in the long term.