Charter review committee OK's online commenting
The committee, meeting Wednesday afternoon, also considered changes in a chapter covering town office-holders, debating whether the town treasurer and/or other posts should be appointed rather than elected.
The seven-member group, appointed by the Select Board to recommend on possible changes to the 26-page government charter, discussed making the treasurer's and the town clerk's position appointed before deciding in favor of both remaining elected posts.
Daniel Malmborg said he had concerns about the treasurer's job, in that there apparently are no requirements a person needs to be qualified to handle town finances. He noted that the town of Coventry went through a lengthy and difficult process to remove an elected clerk-treasurer and delinquent tax collector, during whose terms as much as $1.4 million in town funds is estimated by auditors to be unaccounted for.
While saying Bennington has been fortunate in having good candidates run for those posts, committee Co-Chair Sean-Marie Oller and Michael Keane asked how the town might ensure that everyone elected treasurer is qualified to handle town finances.
The consensus was that there is no requirement a resident must meet before running for one of the offices, although Oller said she would like to learn more from the state or from committee consultant James Barlow on whether requirements might be added through language in the charter.
P. Lynn Green said the ultimate remedy for Bennington could be in the charter's recall provision for town officials or through regular elections.
Town Manager Stuart Hurd, who is not a member of the group but attends the weekly meetings, said it should be noted that "Bennington is not Coventry."
Hurd said the town has regular financial audits performed by independent professional firms, whereas some smaller towns have relied on elected auditors who also do not have to meet any requirement for their position.
The Bennington town treasurer is Joan Pinsonneault, and the town clerk is Cassandra Barbeau.
The committee also decided to eliminate language calling for the annual appointment of a town constable. Hurd said none have been appointed in many years and are not likely to in the foreseeable future, as, unlike smaller Vermont towns, Bennington has a police force.
He said another provision in the charter also allows the Select Board to add constable or other appointed positions as needed.
And the committee revised language concerning the appointed part-time listers, reducing the number of listers to no more than three from no more than five.
Members also discussed whether listers are needed since Bennington has a full-time town assessor, deciding that property owners grieving their tax bill might feel they will receive a better hearing at the town level if the decision is up to more than one person.
Committee member Robert Ebert, who serves as one of the part-time listers, said there currently are only two appointed listers. He said tax assessment appeals are heard at the town level by the part-time listers and Assessor John Antognioni, and that decisions are afterward reached by consensus "99 percent of the time."
The other town lister is Carol Holm.
Online commenting feature
Town Human Resources and Contracts Administrator Michele Johnson said that, after some last-minute adjustments, the commenting feature will be activated on the Charter Review Committee's page on the town's website — located at http://benningtonvt.org/meetings/charter-review-committee.
The committee approved a comments box that asks for feedback from the public, including comments and suggestions, about possible charter amendments. The comments will be distributed to town staff members and then to the committee members, with the staff setting aside any comments that might be considered inappropriate to be reviewed by the committee.
The intent is to post online the comments with the hope of fostering discussion of what residents would like to see in the charter.
Oller and Co-Chair Robert Plunkett also will give a presentation at the Select Board meeting on Monday, Aug. 28, of what the committee has been discussing during its weekly meetings, held Wednesdays at the town offices conference room, from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Residents also are encouraged to attend those meetings to offer comments.
Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont and VTDigger.org. @BB_therrien on Twitter.
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