Tensions find way to voters, board

Dispute between water commissioner, director of public works leads to petition

  • Water Commission Chair Tom Schultz writes notes during a Select Board meeting Monday.
  • Tom Schultz, far right, takes notes as Department of Public Works Director Steve Elliott speaks with the Select  Board.

WILTON — Two town officials are sparring via proposed warrant articles this year. Water Commissioner Tom Schultz is the author of a petition article to make the director of public works an elected position. Meanwhile, during its Monday meeting, Director of Public Works Steve Elliott asked the Select Board to consider putting forward an article that would bring the Water Commission under the purview of the town.

Elliott told the board he felt the petition article referring to his position was targeted at him directly. “I feel this is no more than Mr. Schultz and I butting heads over town affairs and his attempt to make my life difficult,” he told the Select Board. He noted that no other positions are singled out, such as the police chief or the ambulance chief for the article. “It only attacks one,” he said.

Schultz was present at the meeting, but did not speak. He declined to comment on the issue when contacted Wednesday.

Select Board member Dan Donovan noted that he’s aware that there have been tensions between Elliott and Schultz in the past.

“I’m sensitive to the fact that there are personality differences between you and Mr. Schultz, which I do find a bit troubling,” he said.

There are issues with both integrating the Water Commission into the town and electing the director of public works, said Select Board members. Because Schultz’s article is a petition that was submitted to the town, it must appear on the warrant, said Select Board Chair Dan Donovan. But he noted that the Select Board will not be recommending it. The largest problem he sees with the article, said Donovan, is that it is not specific to the qualifications that a director of public works is required to have. When you have an elected position, he said, you don’t know that qualified pool of candidates you’re going to receive. The director of public works needs certain skills and qualifications to be able to do the job, such as operating heavy equipment and a license to operate the Recycling Center.

Eliminating the Water Commission would also not be as simple as requiring a majority vote of the town, noted Select Board member and Water Commissioner Bill Condra. Because the Water Commission was chartered by the state of New Hampshire in 1905, it would take a vote of the state Legislature to abolish it, he explained.

Elliott said that he was in favor of the commissioners being a part of the process, but felt that the town and Select Board should have ultimate authority over issues such as setting the budget.

However, noted Donovan, that does not mean that the town cannot look into their legal options when it comes to making the Water Commission a town entity.

“My personal feeling is there is some merit to it,” he said.

Select Board member Rick Swanson agreed, saying that the move might yield some efficiencies, considering the areas the town and the Water Commission already overlap.

There are several processes of the Water Commission which goes through the town. The billing is done through the town, for example, and the Water Commissioner is on the town’s insurance plan. The town pays for insurance on the reservoir dams and has participated in their repair, as well.

Condra said that several years ago, the idea of bringing the Water Commission under the town was also discussed, and at that time he was in favor of the idea, because of the conflict within the Commission, recalling that often Water Commission meetings would dissolve into “scream fests.” Elliott said one of the motivating factors in bringing the Water Commission under the town was the instability of the board, which has had 10 different commissioners in the last handful of years.

The board agreed to look into the issue of integrating the Water Commission, but declined to present an article that would put the issue on the warrant.

Elliott has put his name on the ballot for the upcoming elections to fill the open position on the Water Commission, running against current incumbent Frank Edelblut. He will also be up against Schultz in the race for Sewer Commissioner.

The Select Board meets on Mondays at 6:30 p.m. in the Town Hall. The Water Commission meets the third Thursday of the month in the Town Hall Court Room.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.

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