Pownal Select Board appoints town agent

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POWNAL — The Select Board voted Thursday to appoint Rebecca Dragon to the position of town agent, filling a position that has been vacant for years.

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.

The board appeared to take a vote twice on Dragon's appointment. At the first vote, Bob Jarvis, Vice Chairwoman Elizabeth Rowe and Clerk Harry Percey Jr. voted in favor; Marlena Pellon against, and Chairman Bryan Harris said he was "undecided."

Later in the discussion, Harris requested that the board "finish" the vote, and he polled each board member. Jarvis, Percey, Rowe and Harris voted in favor; Pellon abstained.

Before the board voted, Pellon voiced concern about posting of the position.

"I just want to mention a few things that I found," she said. "Again, I'm going to reference the state law that prohibits the select board from appointing without properly notifying the public of a vacancy."

In addition, she said, comments have been made that there hasn't been interest in the role before, but in 2018, there were 16 write-ins for the position, and in 2019, there were 19.

"I'm not [saying] that the role of town agent [should] not be filled," she said. "There are certain roles in town government, municipal government, that we are bound by law to appoint to, or to fill. Town agent is mandated to be filled. So we've actually been operating I guess invalidly for a number of years, because it's a mandated position that should have been filled all along."

Dragon said she had been in communication with the secretary of state, and he told her that write-in votes are not considered interest in the position.

"You could write in Bill Clinton," she said. "But Bill Clinton didn't ask to be appointed to the role. A write-in is not proof of interest."

She said Pellon is correct that the town agent position must be filled.

"There is an open vacancy for this position," she said. "You are required to appoint it when there's someone who comes forward, and I'm asking for appointment."

Post eyed for repeal

Pellon said she has also corresponded with state Sen. Dick Sears, who said the Senate is set to take up a bill in its upcoming session that would repeal the role of town agent. That bill is expected to pass without issue, she said.Pellon also brought up that the town has other vacant roles, like constable. Vacant roles must be legally posted 10 days after the vacancy is identified in both the town clerk's office and two other public places, she said.

Harris asked what they should do if vacant positions are posted and nobody applies.

"I'm waiting for a response on that," Pellon said. "Because that was my question."

"Because we had all these posted before," Harris said.

"We have people that are stepping forward that are in our community, and this has been vacant for years," said Rowe of the town agent position. "And now it's a big deal? It's just ridiculous, Marlena."

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Previous vote

At its last regular meeting, the board voted 3-2 to postpone appointing someone to the town agent position, after hearing from Dragon about her interest in the position. At that meeting, Pellon said she had not heard about Dragon's request, and complained that the board had been "blindsided."

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."

In response to an audience member's statement, Rowe agreed at Thursday's meeting that the town agent position is posted on the town website, and the position has been vacant for years.

"It's not considered posted," Pellon said.

"To you," Rowe replied.

"It's not the law of Marlena Pellon," Pellon said. "I am saying state statute."

"But it's like a technicality, that you just start picking," Rowe replied.

Percey said he felt the position should be posted properly.

Audience members also spoke about posting the position.

"Things are always posted in this town," said Fred Miller. "We had two public meetings about a new town hall. Twenty people at the most showed up. It's just wasting time."

Audience member Angie Rawling asked the board if the town agent position has to be re-posted within a certain time, as it is posted every year at election time. Pellon said no.

"So as far as I'm concerned, it's been done vote on it," she said.

Pellon said there is already a precedent in the matter. Two years ago, she said, someone submitted a letter of interest for the vacant lister position, and that person could not be appointed immediately, as it had not been properly posted.

"I just want to say that this is ridiculous," Jarvis said. "We should have voted [Dragon] in last time. I've never seen any resistance to somebody showing interest in a vacant position."

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


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