Pownal Select Board to hold interviews on town hall plans


POWNAL — The Select Board has decided to interview the firms that have submitted ideas for a new town hall, furthering a long process that got a jolt of energy with five responses in February to a request for proposals.

The board has set a special meeting April 24 at 6 p.m. to clarify how they'll conduct interviews with the responding firms.

"When you do competitive bidding, you have to follow certain guidelines, so that all bidders are treated fairly," Town Administrator Michael Walker said Friday. "So that no one is at [an] advantage or disadvantage. We need this to be reliable, and have integrity."

He said that the board's decision to conduct interviews is "perfectly reasonable."

"It's a big decision," he said. "I think it's responsible."

At the meeting Thursday, board member Bob Jarvis proposed interviewing the firms, saying he was not comfortable going forward with one of the proposals without talking to the candidates.

The board discussed how to question the respondents, including how specific their questions could be.

Board member Marlena Pellon said the board could ask questions regarding specific submissions, but they would also have to have canned questions, and strictly follow any interview time limits.

Jarvis said he had contacted the Vermont League of Cities & Towns, and, based on that, he said he'd be surprised if the board couldn't ask specific questions about specific proposals.

"It's got to stick to what they submitted," Pellon replied.

"We want to tread carefully, and make sure we're aboveboard on this," said Chairman Bryan Harris.

Michael Slattery, chairman of the Planning Commission, asked the board if the interviewing would be open to the public.

Harris said he thought the questioning would be done in executive session.

On Friday, Walker said he plans to ask the VLCT about the interview process, including what latitude the town would have in asking clarifying questions of the respondents.

Before Thursday's meeting, Walker said that, to his knowledge, there was no set plan for the April 24 meeting.

An agenda for that meeting on the town's website, with a posted date of April 9, has one topic, "Town Office Proposals." No further explanation is listed.

Five firms filed proposals for a new town hall by the Feb. 11 response deadline. All are from Vermont: Dewey & Associates of Londonderry, Goldstone Architecture of Bennington, LineSync Architecture of Wilmington, Kravit Architects of Pawlet and Messina Builders of Pownal, in conjunction with Pauline Guntlow of the Pownal Historical Society.

Energy committee

The board also voted Thursday to establish a town energy committee with three members, in a move to help implement energy efforts outlined in the Town Plan.

"It seems to make sense to have an energy committee, because that is clearly one of the priorities of the state of Vermont," Walker said Friday. "It's clearly something that all of us need to be concerned with."

Walker said he plans to post the vacancies "pretty quick," after he hears back from the VLCT regarding questions about these committees.

The rough plan is for those positions to be posted for two weeks, he said. There are currently no term limits.

Walker said he believes applicants would need to live or work in the town.

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"To be on the energy committee doesn't necessarily mean you need to be an expert in energy," he said. Applicants need to have a desire to support the community, he said.

At the meeting, the board heard from Madison Kremer of the Bennington County Regional Commission about local energy committees and how they work.

They vary in different communities, she said. Some are formalized through the Select Board, while others aren't formal at all. Some have one or two members, and others have several dozen.

The committee would serve to implement the energy section of Pownal's town plan, she said. "It's really up to each town to decide how to interpret energy, because that's very broad," she said.

The Pownal Town Plan, adopted in May 2018, outlines four energy goals: encouraging energy conservation and fossil fuel reduction, reducing the use of fossil fuels for heating and transportation, promoting compact development in the town's three villages and identifying suitable areas for wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectric energy.

The plan recommends developing a town energy committee, headed by an energy coordinator, to ensure energy actions are implemented.

When reached Friday, Slattery said that the committee can still be in place without a coordinator.

"Absolutely," he said. "A coordinator can come from the committee."

Slattery said he would call a coordinator a liaison between state energy efforts and the local municipality.

"The town plan is just a vision, and it's not be taken absolutely literally," he said.

Walker had recommended that the board establish the committee and appoint Bill Barnes and Barbara True-Weber as members.

Jarvis said he thought the proper procedure was to post openings before appointing members of the committee. The board voted to establish the committee, with three vacancies that will be posted.

Board appointments

The board also made many appointments to town positions, and in that process, declined a request by Slattery, chairman of the Planning Commission, to reduce the commission's size from nine to seven.

With fewer people, Slattery told the board, meetings are more efficient and shorter, and fewer people are required for a quorum.

"I would very much like to go back to that," he said, adding that a prior Select Board changed the size from seven members to nine with no explanation.

Board members said they understood Slattery's concerns, but some agreed they didn't want to reduce the commission's size when they had four people interested in joining — True-Weber, Jim Winchester, Ron Bisson and John Bushee Jr.

"We want people to come forward and be a part of the community, and at this point, they are," said Elizabeth Rowe, vice chairwoman of the board.

Pellon said she agreed with Slattery.

The board voted to appoint Bisson, Winchester and True-Weber to the commission.

The vote was unanimous in favor of Winchester. Pellon opposed appointing Bisson, and Rowe and Jarvis opposed appointed True-Weber.

Bisson was an ex-officio member of the board as a member of the Select Board. Both True-Weber and Winchester are re-appointments to the board, Slattery said.

Harris said the board had to post the fourth available position on the planning commission before appointing someone, as the vacancy is a result of Fred Miller's resignation from the commission. The board heard news of that resignation at the meeting.

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


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