Friday April 19, 2013

ANDREW McKEEVER

Manchester Journal

SUNDERLAND -- The former chairman of the town’s Select Board, who remained a member of the board following his ouster from the leadership position last December, has resigned and left the board.

Joseph Boutin, who was first elected to the select board in 2011, and was in the third year of a 3-year term, submitted a letter of resignation to the board on April 8. His resignation was formally accepted by a unanimous vote of the other four remaining members of the select board during their meeting Monday, April 15.

The board will now post a notice of the vacancy on both the town’s website as well as the Front Porch Forum, an online discussion and news group website. The person who ends up occupying the seat will serve out the remainder of Boutin’s term, and the seat will be up for grabs during March Town Meeting next year.

Boutin’s one-sentence letter announcing his resignation from the board and all board committees he was serving on was read at the meeting by Board Chairman Mark Hyde and accepted without any comment.

The board then resumed its meeting and moved on to other business. In a telephone interview conducted April 16, Boutin elaborated on his reasons for stepping down from the board, saying that he felt his views on issues were no longer being given a fair hearing by the other members of the board.

"It became obvious they didn’t want my input in any area, particularly in my area of expertise, which is building construction," he said. "They were shutting me out with anything I could offer and .... it seemed like a waste of my time to try to strive for the vision that I have."

One of the areas of controversy that marked Boutin’s time on the board was the construction of a town office building for Sunderland.

Boutin was a critic of a plan to finance the construction of the new facility by including the remaining cost of the structure into the town’s overall budget in 2011. That year he ran and won a seat on the select board, but has remained a skeptic on some of the approaches that have been taken with regard to the new building.

Last month, during town meeting, voters in Sunderland authorized a $351,000 bond proposal to finance the construction of the town office. The town had been salting away money in small increments for the better part of two decades, and has about $159,000 saved up towards the construction of the town office, which is reckoned to cost about $511,000.

The 20-year bond is currently being processed through the state’s bond bank. Final approval is expected later this summer, but some preliminary engineering work is already underway at the site of the new office on Sunderland Hill Road near the town’s municipal garage.

Last December, Boutin was ousted from his chairmanship post when he voiced his concerns about the town’s apparent difficulties with regard to getting the word out about various issues confronting the municipality through letters to the editors of both The Journal and the Bennington Banner. These issues included the plans for the design of the new town hall, but also other areas such as the rebuilding of the Kelly Stand, a federal roadway that connects Sunderland with Wardsboro on the other side of the Green Mountain range that was badly damaged during Tropical Storm Irene.

The road has been closed since the August 2011 storm, but renovation work is planned for this summer.

Other board members were not pleased, however, when Boutin expressed those opinions without discussing them first with them, arguing that as the board’s chairman, he needed to consider that his views would be interpreted as those of the select board as a whole.

Boutin was also removed from the post of emergency coordinator for the town at the Dec. 17 meeting where he was voted out as chairman and replaced by Mark Hyde.

On Tuesday, Boutin said he wanted to include as many people as possible in town government, but didn’t think other members of the board were "interested in that."

He also disagreed with the way the board was managing the town hall project, he said.

"They were dealing with things like they were putting out a fire, instead of a broader approach," he said Tuesday.

As a self-employed master carpenter and someone who had managed large commercial projects, he felt he had some expertise to offer the town in this area, but didn’t feel that knowledge was being put to good use, he said.

Hyde, the board’s chairman, said in response to an e-mail seeking reaction to Boutin’s resignation that "Joe was a valued member of the board and his contributions will be missed."

In other business, the board reviewed plans for the reconstruction of the Kelly Stand and also heard an engineering update on some site work underway at the location for the town hall. The board’s next meeting will be held May 6, at 7 p.m. The board holds its meetings at the Sunderland Elementary School.