POWNAL — Addressing errors on hundreds of mailed annual town reports has led to cancellation of the Pownal March 2 election, which will have to be rewarned.
Meeting in emergency session Tuesday night, the board heard that approximately 1,100 mailed reports were returned by the post office and had to be remailed with corrected address labels attached.
The legal problem, said board liaison Rebecca Dragon, is that the state requires reports to be delivered to voters 10 days prior to an election. An unusually large number of returned reports was first noticed on Thursday, and the scope of the problem understood by Friday, officials said. But that did not allow enough time to get them to voters with corrected addresses.
Dragon said she consulted the Secretary of State’s Office, town attorney Robert Fisher and the Vermont League of Cities and Towns on the situation and all concurred.
Select Board Vice Chairman Michael Gardner said about a third of town voters were affected by the mistake, which he said was one made at the town level, not a post office error.
“We are clearly in violation of this statute,” he said.
After a lengthy discussion about how the problem occurred and related issues, the board voted to reschedule the annual election and a separate ballot on a town office project bond for March 30, with a floor meeting on March 29 at 7 p.m.
Such a change is simpler this year, Dragon said, because the Legislature has allowed communities flexibility in scheduling annual meetings and elections because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There will be a significant cost, however, officials said, for legal notices during the rewarning, printing of new ballots and for holding a second election. A rough estimate was that the error will cost the town at least $6,000, although Town Clerk Julie Weber said the final cost won’t be known until after the voting.
David Adams, who said he prepared the mailing addresses based on the clerk’s voter check list and has overseen town report preparation in the past, said he has been unable to determine exactly how aspects of mailing addresses failed to come together into complete addresses as expected.
He said the work was done on his computer but added, “I have no explanation. I haven’t been able to detect a pattern.”
Adams, who as an elected town auditor had prepared town reports in the past, said he was hired this year as an independent contractor by the Select Board to work with town office staff on the report. His hiring followed elimination of the elected town auditor positions in March 2020 election through a ballot question placed by the Select Board.
A petition-driven ballot question is on the town ballot this year seeking a re-instatement of the three auditor positions.
Weber said the bond question — seeking $600,000 toward a new town office project – will require three new legal ads as part of the warning process. She said an election must be warned between 40 and 30 days prior to the vote.
The Select Board also will have to hold a hearing on the bond questions prior to the election date.
This story will be updated.