(Host) Many towns are busy preparing for Town Meeting Day by holding budget workshops and weighing ballot initiatives. But planning in the town of Barton is complicated by the vacancies on the select board. VPR’s Kirk Carapezza explains.
(Carapezza) Barton’s Select Board has three members, so two need to be present for a quorum.
But the board can’t get a quorum anymore because two of three selectmen resigned abruptly last month – one for professional reasons, the other saying it was personal.
State statute says if a town has no select board members, the Secretary of State can call a special election. But Barton still has one selectman.
(Davies) "The statute is silent as to what specifically happens in the event there is only one remaining select board member."
(Carapezza) That’s Bill Davies, the longtime town attorney in Barton. He represents more than 20 towns and has been practicing municipal law for 40 years.
Davies has seen a lot over his career, but he’s never seen a quandary like the one his Orleans County town is now facing.
(Davies) "I am unaware of this situation ever having occurred previously in the state of Vermont."
(Carapezza) Davies says the town has taken the position that it effectively doesn’t have a select board since there’s only one member. He consulted with Secretary of State Jim Condos. And Davies says the conclusion is that Barton will have to resolve the issue.
(Davies) "Our office and he agreed that the secretary did not have the authority to call the election."
(Carapezza) For his part, Secretary Condos thinks that a legislative fix would be appropriate.
(Condos) "Hopefully someone brings it to the attention of the Legislature because this section of the statute is poorly drafted as it doesn’t make clear guidance as to who would call the election. We’re making a presumption here."
(Carapezza) Condos says the statute does require a special election to be held, but it doesn’t say who gets to call the election in this particular situation.
(Condos) "Looking at the totality of the statute and the language, the remaining select person must have the authority for the election."
(Carapezza) That selectman has called the special election for Tuesday.
Amid the confusion in Barton, there is a silver lining: the situation has generated a lot of interest and citizen participation. Four people are running for one of the open seats. And three people are vying for the other seat, even though that term expires just a few weeks after Town Meeting Day in March.
For VPR News, I’m Kirk Carapezza.