KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
SHAFTSBURY -- The Select Board further expressed its views on a resolution promoting civility offered by a citizen’s group in the wake of a year of contentious and heated public meetings.
About an hour and 45 minutes of a four-hour meeting Monday was devoted to the resolution offered in August by Citizens Advocating Responsibility and Equality in Shaftsbury (CARES).
At the end of the discussion, board Chairman Lon McClintock asked board member Karen Mellinger to draft a document based on the discussion and the board would decide at a later meeting on how to act. He said three options had emerged from the talk. One is drafting something that would apply to the public, another would focus on public officials, and a third option would be to do nothing.
Art Whitman, a local business owner who has represented CARES at meetings, has said the intent of the resolution is to keep public discourse civil when people become upset or emotional. He said that at meetings over the past year, since TAM Inc. proposed a composting facility off Route 7 -- which was scrapped in Shaftsbury and now focuses on Bennington -- people have felt intimidated by others at meetings. The resolution would offer a point of order that anyone could refer to when someone at a meeting gets out of hand, he said.
Board member Carl Korman said he did not favor the resolution because it would be akin to passing a resolution in favor of apple pie. He said he believes the resolution states how people should behave and that passing it would not be effective.
McClintock said some sort of document would not be entirely ineffective but that he was leaning toward something that would focus on town officials. He said sometimes it’s helpful for a group to reaffirm its values, and said he has spoken to a professor at Bennington College who teaches conflict resolution techniques. He suggested making training sessions with such a person optional for public officials who have the power to make a situation at a meeting better or worse depending on how they act.
Other board members echoed a desire to have the focus of a document be on public officials as they feared something that would apply to the public becoming a form of censorship. They received a number of letters from the public saying as much.
Whitman said he didn’t feel anything in the revised resolution he brought that evening allowed for censorship and expressed dismay that the board had not acted on it. McClintock said it is an issue the board has taken seriously given the amount of time devoted to its discussion.
Board member Billy Obenauer, prior to the discussion, said he had completed a report on a July 11 Development Review Board meeting which he said seems to continue to be referenced in discussions pertaining to civility.
The meeting centered around the zoning administrator’s determination that the Chocolate Barn on Route 7A did not need a permit to sell ice cream as it didn’t qualify as a change of use. A resident, Michael Gardner, appealed that decision saying it does as it would change the character of the neighborhood.
Gardner’s right to appeal was challenged by the barn’s owners through their attorneys who said Gardner lives too far from the business to be affected by it and did not have standing as an interested party.
Obenauer said the recording features former DRB Chairwoman Phyllis Porio speaking, seemingly critical of the Chocolate Barn owners having hired attorneys to defend themselves against the appeal and for not having gotten a permit.
Obenauer said he was at the meeting in person, and while it cannot be heard on the recording, Michael Foley makes a rude noise when Porio speaks, prompting her to say something back to him before continuing. At point the crowd began to heckle her, prompting DRB member Dave Mance to chastise the crowd calling its behavior "disgusting" and accusing the hecklers of taking the town down "the road to hell."
Obenauer said he felt it was important the board hear those portions of the meeting before it acted. He said the crowd was wrong to have heckled Porio, but her statements were not germane to the issue and should not have been allowed to continue. He said Mance had requested permission to speak, but his words were also inflammatory.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr