WOODFORD -- Chaos descended on the Woodford Select Board's meeting on Wednesday night, when town treasurer Jim Horrigan unexpectedly resigned, citing chairman Ryan Thurber's "attitude."
Horrigan stood up and handed a sheet of paper, which turned out to be his letter of resignation, to Thurber and Selectman Steven Wright during the "other business" section of the meeting. The third member of the board, Mike Charette, was not in attendance. It was clear from their expressions as they read the letter that Horrigan's decision came as a surprise.
In the letter, Horrigan expressed that Thurber's "attitude makes the town hall environment too difficult [for Horrigan] to be effective," and that his resignation would go into effect as of Feb. 28.
"I, as chairman of the Select Board, am the one tasked with asking the difficult questions that are coming in through both ears," said Thurber in his defense. Horrigan cited recent heated arguments with Thurber, in which Thurber reportedly told him to "cut his umbilical cord with [Town Clerk] Ron Higgins," who had been helping Horrigan with the town finances, which Horrigan viewed as rude and uncalled for.
Thurber and Higgins have long been at odds regarding town finances, dating back at least to a situation that developed in early 2012, when the Select Board accused Higgins, who was then the treasurer as well as the clerk, of acting without authority when he extended the town's line of credit by $50,000 to pay a construction company to improve a bank of the Roaring Branch along a resident's property.
The Select Board had agreed to the project, and authorized Higgins to sign paperwork to get the project going, but had not authorized him to make payments, and "definitely did not authorize the transfer of a line of credit," said Thurber at the time. "If there were any questions pertaining to the motion, it should have been asked by Ron to the board."
In his defense, Higgins is quoted in the Banner as saying, "Ryan Thurber, at a meeting, said to me to work with the people and get the project going. The project needed $50,000 in advance pay to the contractor, to pay the stone work, to pay everything, and then we get the money back from the landowner and from NRCS [National Resources Conservation Service]. I took $50,000, I borrowed $50,000, on a temporary basis, to pay for a project that he told me to do."
According to Thurber, the NRCS was supposed to pay for the work, and the town would see a bill through the state at a later date. Instead, the town was charged an additional $700 in interest because of the additional line of credit. After that incident, the board voted to require any borrowing by the town to be approved by signatures of all three members of the board.
Later that year, Higgins sued the Town of Woodford after the select board asked the sheriff's department to seize his work computer. According to the board, the information on the computer was required to be given to an independent auditor who was performing an audit of the town finances, and that Higgins had not been forthcoming with the required information. Higgins said that he had given the board what it had asked for and that this was just retaliation due to personal problems between himself and Thurber.
Horrigan had been acting as an intermediary between Higgins and the select board. Higgins refuses to come to select board meetings or speak to the members except in writing.
"I will not talk to the board," said Higgins in an earlier interview, "I said to Ryan Thurber, you put it in writing to me and I will answer you in writing so I'm not lied about, you're not getting lied to about me, and what I (say is not) recorded wrong in the minutes." Higgins has said in the past that he will not come before the board unless it has entirely new members, including the board's clerk.
"I've just had it, Ryan," said Horrigan, who accused Thurber of micro-managing.
Wright stood up for Thurber, who Wright said he had had to convince many times not to resign his position, saying, "You're totally wrong, and there's a lot of people in this town that know you're wrong. Without this man [Thurber], this town would just be sitting on its hands. All we're trying to do is run this town."
The most recent flash point in Thurber and Horrigan's relationship had been over the printing of the town report. The select board had voted to use a printer in Bennington to print the report, but Horrigan and Higgins, without the board's approval, used a different printer instead.
"If that's micromanagement, I'm sorry, but we've had some flops. And that's an embarrassment," said Thurber. He then asked Horrigan if he could stay on a few days longer than he had planned, until after the town meeting, to which Horrigan agreed.
Audience member Avis Bruce-Hurley then pointedly asked Thurber if "the plan is to put Jim on the hot seat and embarrass him" at town meeting, at which point Thurber became visibly angry for the first time.
"I respect Jim Horrigan as a man," said Thurber, who went on to say that he took offense to comments like that, and called them, "unacceptable."
With emotions in the room running very high, Wright again addressed those in attendance, "I am going to resign myself. I hope the others don't follow me. Everyone throws their fingers at the select board. I've never seen anything like this, in all the years I've been here. I just don't know what to tell the people in this town anymore."
"The root of all this is finances," said Thurber, "This town's finances are too fishy. Jim has been doing a great job in this, but unfortunately, Jim, if you are resigning, then we have to move forward."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB