Thursday June 13, 2013

KEITH WHITCOMB JR.

Staff Writer

POWNAL -- With two members of the Select Board voicing their support Tuesday for Nelson Brownell to be appointed zoning administrator, it appears that after being rejected by the board twice, Brownell will get the job.

Brownell is currently the interim zoning administrator (ZA) and has been nominated to the three-year position by the Planning Commission twice now, but the board has rejected the nominations. After the last time, the board requested a special meeting with the commission which was held Tuesday.

At the meeting, board Chairman Stephen Kauppi said Brownell has had the ZA position for the better part of the past 20 years and the board felt a "fresh set of eyes" might yield better results, as it feels people in positions of power for a long time become comfortable in those positions.

Commission Chairman Michael Slattery asked the board if there were specific reasons for it not wanting Brownell as ZA. "Through the years we’ve had people come in, who have generally been a citizen of Pownal, who didn’t get what they want for one reason or another, and they would complain to this planning commission of Nelson not enforcing certain things," said Slattery. "When I would ask for specifics there were always unable to come up with them. I would direct them to the bylaws and say, let’s have a look at the bylaws. Lets see if it was the bylaws that Nelson was held back by, or if it was not even a bylaw or a subdivision matter. Most times it wasn’t."

He said the commission has had extensive dealings with Brownell and has not seen the issues the board has raised about him.

Kauppi said Brownell had a couple of meetings with the town attorney, Peter Holden, without the board’s blessing. "Which interrupted a land deal, which postponed it. I’ve very bitter about that. It’s over the water now, it’s a done deal," he said.

Kauppi said he had worked on the deal for over five years. In an interview Wednesday with the Banner, he elaborated that the deal involved securing a right-of-way from Michael and Crystal Armstrong across their property which would have granted the town legal access to 800 acres of town-owned forest land behind the former Pownal Tanning Company. He said Brownell sent mixed signals to Holden, which delayed the deal’s closing, and it has since fallen through.

Brownell was a member of the board at the time the deal was being negotiated and had been the chairman for a number of years. Kauppi said this was not a ZA matter but an example of a person being too used to their official position.

Kauppi said Brownell’s knowledge and experience with zoning bylaws and ZA position are a clear plus, however he cited a property on Route 7 that has two driveways when it should only have one, as an example of what he felt was a mistake.

He added that some bylaw infractions have not been followed up on enough, and said too much leeway had been given to property owners that repeatedly violate them.

Slattery said the commission is in the process of rewriting the town plan, which is must update every five years and informs the bylaws. "This town plan needs a great overhaul, this isn’t one where we’re just going to dust it up. We’re going to march this out to the public, there’s going to be a lot of changes," he said. "His knowledge in that area, in counseling us as zoning administrator, is invaluable right now, to us. And aside from the fact that you could be 100 percent right, we don’t share your view on his lack of enforcement or making mistakes, or getting too comfortable. He’s a tremendous asset to us."

Slattery said the nomination and appointing procedure is treated as a formality in other towns and he found it, "for lack of a better word, slightly disrespectful" for the board to reject the commission’s nominee.

"If we send up a known ax murderer or something like that, I could see you guys saying ‘Guys, what are you thinking about here?’ But this isn’t a bad guy. He does a good job," Slattery said.

Kauppi also expressed issues about how the commission has selected ZAs in the past. Three years ago was the first time the commission had advertised for the position, and he criticized the commission interviewing each candidate in open session with each other present. Kauppi said while he did not attend that meeting, he would have walked out of it had he been there because of that.

Board members Ronald Bisson and Rich Ryder said they supported Brownell for the position, given the commission’s unanimous endorsement of him. Ryder said dragging the issue out was harming the town. The meeting ended with Slattery saying the commission will meet Tuesday and send a nomination to the board, which meets every Thursday.

In an interview Thursday, both Slattery and Kauppi said it’s likely Brownell will be nominated and appointed to the ZA position.

There was some debate over when Brownell’s term would actually start, be it from the day he was appointed as interim ZA, or whenever he is appointed to the job fully.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.