Pownal select board holds off on bid for town agent position

Board holds first meetings since Town Administrator Michael Walker was placed on administrative leave

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POWNAL — The Select Board voted to hold off on filling the long-vacant town agent position during the second of back-to-back special meetings on Tuesday, the board's first since Town Administrator Michael Walker was placed on indefinite administrative leave.

After an at-times heated discussion, the board voted 3-2 in favor of postponing Rebecca Dragon's request to be appointed town agent. She had applied for the post in a letter to the board.

Board member Marlena Pellon said she had not heard about Dragon's request, and complained that the board had been "blindsided."

"When did this come up for discussion?" she asked.

Chairman Bryan Harris said he thought the entire board had received the email, and that's why he asked for the topic to be placed on the agenda.

After looking over a communication Dragon wrote about what she believes the scope and boundaries of the position to be, based on Vermont law, Pellon said her interpretation is the job looked very similar to what the town administrator does.

Dragon disagreed. "These duties are not town administrator duties," she said. "A town agent would have no supervisory action over staff — they wouldn't have reason to speak with town staff."

According to the town website, the town agent's duty "consists merely of assisting when litigation is in progress, at the request of the selectboard," and the position is not generally a very active one. The position is elected and unpaid.

Dragon said she is a former internal auditor for the town, and told the board that she is more than capable of performing the job in a "thorough and competent" way.

"Again, this is not a legal position," she said. "There is no practicing of law."

As the position is elected, she would only be appointed until the next town election, she said after the meeting.

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She said she was just expressing her "passionate desire" to be appointed to the position.

Pellon also expressed concern that the position was only posted on the town website, and not other places like the firehouse. "I work with lawyers, and I work in compliance every day," she said. "Equal applications of the rules, please."

"This has been open for years, if not decades," board member Bob Jarvis said. "There's no reason why we don't move forward and just appoint. I can't believe that we're even talking about putting this off. It just seems silly."

Elizabeth Rowe, the vice chairwoman of the board, said there's someone in the community who wants to step forward and help.

"I don't understand why we just stop everything in our tracks," she said.

Dragon said the town agent does everything at the request of the board. "I could not act on my own recognizance," she said. "There's no independent agency for the town agent. I don't do a single thing unless you ask me to do it."

Because of this, Jarvis argued that there's "no risk" in appointing Dragon.

Pellon said the board should be allowed to do its own research and discuss at a future meeting.

"I totally disagree," Rowe responded. "It was never a conflict. It does not seem fair to me to again, put something on hold, and just keep dragging it out."

Harry Percey Jr., Harris and Pellon voted in favor of the motion to take the information Dragon provided under consideration and discuss it at a later date. Jarvis and Rowe voted no.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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