SHAFTSBURY -- The Shaftsbury Select Board has taken action to ensure the safety of its board members after a heated exchange between a resident and the planning commission last week.
Steve Washburn Sr., of Shaftsbury, was in attendance at the April 8 meeting to discuss the zoning of a portion of his property, which had been classified as Forest and Recreational. Washburn felt the zoning decision, which, according to selectboard chairman Tim Scoggins, had been made decades ago, had put unneccesary restrictions on his rights as a property owner.
Bill Pennebaker, a member of the planning commission, said the commission agreed with Washburn's position. "The was no reason given that we could discover [to not change the zoning]," said Pennebaker. The board voted to change the zoning of the portion of Washburn's property to Rural Residential 200, as he had requested. "I really can't say what set the gentleman off," said Pennebaker.
Washburn continued to engage the board after they voted to close the meeting, said Scoggins, who, along with the rest of the select board, listened to an audio recording of the meeting at an emergency meeting on Thursday. It was at this point that Washburn became extremely irate, said Scoggins, and told the planning commission that, as Scoggins paraphrased it, "The revolution is coming, and there's going to be guns, and instead of school shootings there's going to be political shootings."
Washburn also referenced the August 2013 shooting in Saylorsburg, Penn., in which resident Rockne Newell opened fire at a meeting of town supervisors, killing three people and wounding several more. According to police, Newell had been involved in an ongoing dispute with town officials involving the condemnation of his property. According to witnesses and an audio recording, Newell had shouted "You [expletive] bastards, you took my [expletive] land!" as he was firing. Newell pleaded not guilty to charges that included three counts of homicide, six counts of attempted homicide, two counts of aggravated assault, and one count of reckless endangerment. Prosecutors in the case are seeking the death penalty.
Scoggins said the select board has sent Washburn a letter admonishing his behavior, and submitted the audio recording of the planning commission meeting to the state police, who are investigating the incident.
"We're taking it seriously," said Scoggins, who noted that law enforcement would now be present at all Shaftsbury board and commission meetings, at least for the foreseeable future, in order to ensure the safety of board members.
Pennebaker said he believes the select board is erring on the side of caution with their decision. In his 10 years on the planning commission, Pennebaker said that he had only ever seen one similar incident. That incident, he said, also involved Washburn. "It's really hard to predict what might happen in a situation like this," he said.
"The incident at the planning commission meeting on April 8, in which an irate citizen made reference to the mass murder of a town board in Pennsylvania, was disturbing to everyone connected to Cole Hall," said Scoggins in a statement, "But, even short of that unfortunate reference, name calling and profanity in public meetings is not acceptable and won't be tolerated. Passion is fine, as long as it is focused on the issues and not at people. Civility and order are required for town government to function."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB