BENNINGTON — Two school board members, chairman Nelson Brownell and alternate Bennington representative Gene Rowley engaged in several heated exchanges at Wednesday's regular meeting of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union board.
The first exchange occurred during a motion to authorize superintendent Jim Culkeen to approve nominations in the interim hiring period until the August board meeting. This motion was later amended to the chairperson and vice-chairperson of the board, at Culkeen's request, as this has been the procedure in the past. The board will have final approval of the hirings at their August meeting. After the motion had been made and seconded, Rowley raised his hand to ask a question about the matter.
"You're not a board member," said Brownell, "You're an alternate."
The SVSU board is made up of representatives of the member districts. They each appoint of their own members to serve as representatives to the SVSU board (except for North Bennington, who only has one) and an alternate, to represent the district if one of their other members cannot attend. Both of Bennington's representatives, George Sleeman and Ken Swierad, were at the meeting.
"I still should be allowed to have a question," said Rowley.
"Under public comments," replied Brownell, "If there's something that you wish your board member to address, please do."
Rowley asked Sleeman to come meet with him for a moment, saying, "George, come here, we're just going to tie up the meeting." On the video recording of the meeting by Catamount Access Television, Rowley can be heard making a vulgar remark about Brownell.
"Be prepared," said Brownell as they walked away.
"I think BSD can handle the concern he has concerning nominations," said Sleeman upon returning, "He would also like a ruling, on if alternates can make comments at board meetings. Nelson said that would be addressed under "Other," on the agenda.
"A legislative body is elected by the people, and they make decisions, and vote, and debate amongst themselves," Brownell said later, addressing Sleeman's question, "Once you start having people from outside, that don't vote, start to do that discussion after the fact, we're not doing our job. That's what we're here for, to make those decisions." Rowley demanded a legal opinion, and Brownell said that they could look into it at the August meeting.
Minutes after the meeting was officially adjourned, but the board was still gathered, Rowley made another remark about Brownell, causing Pownal representative Angie Rawling to call him "very unprofessional."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.