Mayor, O'Connor issue highlight town, school meetings

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BENNINGTON — A ballot measure asking voters to adopt a mayoral form of government and the decision to not renew the contract of an elementary school assistant principal dominated the town's annual town and school meetings Monday.

Voters will decide on ballot questions during today's election. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Bennington voters can cast ballots at the River Street fire facility. North Bennington residents will vote at village trustees office/train station on Depot Street.

It's a three-way race for two three-year seats on the Select Board. Incumbents Donald Campbell and Jim Carroll are seeking re-election. Campbell, acting vice-chairman, seeks a second term and Carroll, a third term. They're being challenged by newcomer William H. Stewart.

Only three rose to speak during the town's floor meeting regarding a ballot item that would initiate a binding charter change calling for a "strong mayor" with "the power to veto any action of the Select Board." It appears by a petition by resident Mike Bethel.

A mayoral form of government "is not all it's cracked up to be," said Charles Kozlowski.

"A mayor is first and foremost a politician, not a local advocate, not the friend of business, labor, progress, environment, or good government," he said. A mayor is "simply a politician, always interested in the next election... constantly favoring one faction to another, only to get elected. "

Abby Shapiro criticized a provision in the article that would give a mayor veto power over the Select Board. She called the article "a half-baked vision that's been crafted by one person to be legally binding."

"We're going to be stuck with this if this passes. And there's no guarantee its not going to raise taxes...we don't know any details," she said.

Dan Conoly said a mayor would bring accountability. He referenced Town Manager Stuart Hurd's announcement in January that he had approved the start of construction of a municipal salt shed before an expected wetlands work permit was received from the state. The Department of Environmental Conservation is investigating.

"What I don't see here is when those decisions are made are anyone being held accountable," he said.

Several rose to speak during the Bennington School District floor meeting. Board members for that district voted last month not to renew O'Connor's contract at the end of the school year.

Morgan Flynn, senior class president at MAU, said he had 430 signatures from residents calling for his contract to be renewed, as well as signatures of over 150 signatures from MAU students. Flynn presented the signatures to Chairman Chris Murphy.

O'Connor spoke from the floor.

"I think if [board members], got to know [me], they would have made a better decision..... I'm dedicated to that building. You never gave me a chance. i don't want this animosity. I want this to all be over. I want to do my job."

Voters Tuesday will be asked to approve a $12.893 million municipal budget. The spending plan for the 2019 fiscal year that begins July 1 is up 3.5 percent over the current year.

Thirteen agencies appearing on the ballot are seeking a total of $130,100. They include the Bennington County Coalition for the Homeless ($25,000), the Bennington Area Visiting Nurse Association ($21,600), Sunrise Family Resource Center ($15,000), Bennington Project Independence ($11,000), and the Tutorial Center ($10,000). Eight other agencies seek $7,500 or less. The requests are level with what voters approved last year.

Ed Damon can be reached at edamon@benningtonbanner.com, at @edamon_banner on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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