Resignations reshape Dorset Select, Planning Boards

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DORSET >> When the Dorset Select Board meets next Tuesday to reorganize following Town Meeting and the elections of public officers, only one of its members will be a holdover from the previous group of town officials.

A former select board member, John "Jack" Stannard defeated incumbent Michael Connors for a 3-year seat by a 384-355 margin. Three other candidates contested for two 1-year terms, and the top two vote-getters there were Henry Chandler, an incumbent member of the board, who pulled in 527 votes, and newcomer Megan Thörn, who captured 409, beating out third-place finisher Dan Frost, who took 340 votes.

But immediately following the election, the board chairman, Chris Brooks, submitted a letter of resignation to the other members of the board. Brooks had just been re-elected last year and was serving a 3-year term scheduled to end in 2018. He had been on the board for about 12 years and chairman for the past six, he said in a phone interview.

Brooks said his decision to step down was driven by a need to focus on an impending expansion of his business, Vermont Wood Pellet Co., which currently has one plant in Clarendon but is planning to open a second facility in the Northeast Kingdom.

"The upcoming year will be a stressful year," he said. "I figured it was better to alleviate the stress," adding he wasn't sure he would have been able to do as good of a job on the select board as he would have felt obligated to do.

Looking ahead, Brooks saw three big items facing the board: Finishing work on a joint public safety study underway with Manchester which in Dorset will mean resolving the issue of two fire districts in the town; moving forward on the recently completed NEDS study on economic development, also a joint undertaking with Manchester; and resuming work on planning and zoning ordinances which both the select and planning boards have been working on for the past several years. A proposal to overhaul the zoning codes met with defeat in a town referendum last May.

Michael Oltedahl, another member of the Select Board, who was serving a 3-year term scheduled to end in 2017, said his reasons for resigning were health related. He had been planning to step down prior to Town Meeting, but had not had the opportunity.

"I am not stepping away from public office and currently looking into a position with the Center For Restorative Justice," he stated in an email sent to The Journal.

Megan Thörn said that while loss of the two members and their experience was disappointing, both Chandler and Stannard had prior experience on the board and that all three would "step up to the plate," she said.

"Obviously it's not ideal to have everyone step away pretty much who had knowledge of what's happening, but Rob Gaiotti is a fantastic town manager, and I think it's all going to be fine in the end," she said.

The current Select Board will have to appoint new members to both boards, or they could hold a special election for the Select Board seats, said Gaiotti, the town manager. The two select board appointees would serve until Town Meeting next March and then run for a three year seat ending in 2020 and a three year seat ending in 2018.

A public notice for the openings and appointment applications are available on the Town's website or at the Town Office.

All this is likely to be an agenda item for discussion when the board meets next Tuesday, March 15.

In addition to the two select board resignations, three vacancies have also emerged on the town's Planning Commission. Dan Pinsonault, the planning board's chairman, along with Dave Lawrence and Howard Coolidge have stepped down. Pinsonault's term had another year to run, with Lawrence's term up in 2018 and Coolidge's in 2019.

Referring to the lengthy period of time invested by both boards in crafting new zoning ordinances which led to several contentious public meetings last year before the town vote last May sent things back to the drawing board, Pinsonault said he was concerned the planning board would have difficulty finding common ground with the select board; "we'd be spinning our wheels and not being able to accomplish anything," he added.

"As far as the planning commission goes we can't do anything without a select board that will support our agenda," he said. "I think what you're going to see, and I hope I'm wrong, is that a lot of the work that a lot of the selectmen have tried to do and build on, I think all of that will be washed away."

Coolidge echoed Pinsonault's concerns about anticipating an inability of the planning board (before the three resignations) to be on the same page with the select board that is taking office after Town Meeting, saying he foresaw themselves "beating their heads against a wall," if they remained on the Planning Board.

His vision of nudging the town forward to be more welcoming to small businesses was one that no longer seemed to be shared by a majority of the residents, and efforts to "get something going to better Dorset" always seemed to lead to conflict, and he was tired of it, he said.

Dave Lawrence, the owner of Rising Sun Maintenance, a property management business on Route 30, said he was also busy with his company, and he thought it was simply a good time to step away from the planning board.

The new Select Board will be looking to fill all the vacancies starting next week, Jack Stannard said, adding that it might be possible to use the upcoming state primary election in August, or the general election in November, as convenient dates to piggy-back a Select Board election on to, rather than going through the expense of a special election.

When an election date is set, someone interested in serving on the board would need to obtain 20 signatures to get on the town's ballot.

Meanwhile, the Select Board will rise to the challenge, he said.

"The only problem with having just three members is that two of us will gang up on Henry (Chandler) and make him chairman," Stannard said with a chuckle.

Other voting results in last week's Town Meeting voting are as follows: School Director - 2 year term, Vickie Haskins-576 votes; 3-year term, Jennifer Allen-601; Moderator-1 year term, Kevin O'Toole-683; First Constable 1-year term, Ryan Mattieson 609;Town agent 1-year term, Kevin O'Toole 669; Lister 1-year term, Peter Trifari 561.

In other voting, the town budget passed 638-74; the school district budget passed 555-132; and a 5 year exemption from property taxes for the Wilson House was approved 545-183.


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