Residents surprised, dismayed by action

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POWNAL — Community members contacted Monday expressed dismay about the decision to place Town Administrator Michael Walker on administrative leave.

"I was actually at an event on Sunday and somebody mentioned to me that that had happened," said Pownal resident Rose-Marie Pelletier.

She said she didn't know any specific information about the Select Board decision, but added, "I know since [Walker] was hired, there were people that have been opposed to the position, making life difficult for him," Pelletier said. "My personal interactions with him have been very positive, from the time he took office."

"I am kind of honestly at a loss why this is happening," said Shannon Barsotti, another resident. She said she doesn't know why Walker was put on leave but is aware of animosity in the town office.

A couple weeks ago, she said, her husband went to the town offices to pay a tax bill, and some of the people working there were writing down negative comments about the town administrator, and they asked him if he wanted to join in.

"He thought that was very unprofessional and disturbing," Barsotti said. "That definitely alerted us to animosity in the town office."

She said her husband actually asked the staff he was interacting with if they had sought out mediation, "because he was very disturbed that there was that kind of rebellion."

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Barsotti also said that in her experiences working with Walker, he has been "very professional, from the get-go, and I am very much in support of him."

She said she's surprised by the administrative leave, having had "only had positive experiences" working with Walker.

Barsotti worked with Walker when she was a member of the town Planning Commission, along with her work with Discover Pownal.

"I'm disappointed, to say the least," she said.

Another town resident, Shannon McLenithan, said Monday, "While I don't know the reasoning for the decision, I feel like this position was set up to fail from day one, based on the structure of the role and the lack of support."

She added, "I worked with Michael through the Economic Development Committee and felt like for the first time Pownal had a voice at the table for so many important conversations. I hope whatever the succession plan is that our voice doesn't get lost. With many partnerships forming all over the region in the name of prosperity and growth, the administrator role, as I understand it, is critical to Pownal's future."

McLenithan said she's afraid that "if we don't have good strong leadership pushing us and developing us, we won't be able to move Pownal forward. If we don't encourage this type of leadership, we're going to be doing the same thing getting the same results. From all that I have seen and heard from Pownal citizens and families in Pownal, especially in my roles as Economic Development chair and a parent of children in the Pownal school system, Pownal people want to be excited for their future. Pownal and its citizens will have to decide if they want to be part of progress, part of change or if they're comfortable where we are."


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