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Select Board opposes Right-to-Know bill calling for 72-hour meeting notice

WILTON — The Select Board of Wilton is taking an official stance against House Bill 1591, which would extend the time requirements for posting public meetings and agendas from 24 hours prior to a meeting to 72.

The decision to oppose the bill was the last in his official capacity for former Select Board Chair Dan Donovan, who then stepped aside, as Selectman-elect Kermit Williams was sworn in by Moderator Bill Keefe.

Select Board member and State Representative Bill Condra brought the issue before the board, and recommended that the board officially oppose the bill. “I think it will be burdensome for small towns like Wilton,” said Condra. “For many boards, this is an arduous mandate.”

Condra noted that the Select Board had recently taken it upon itself to close the agenda by noon on Friday. That policy means the board would be in compliance with the proposed bill. However, Condra noted, that is possible in part because the bulk of the 72 hours passes over the weekend. For boards that hold their meetings later in the week, it may be an unreachable goal to set agendas days in advance, he said.

“I think that we’re doing it the right way,” said Condra, referring to the board’s recent advance noticing of meetings. For other boards, though, the legislation may prove “oppressive,” he added.

Select Board member Rick Swanson said he did not have an issue with opposing the bill as a municipality, but added that he hopes the Select Board continues to hold its personal standard of advising the public of meetings and agendas by noon on Friday.

The proposed HB 1591 was originally a much broader attempt to address Right-to-Know issues, by establishing a Right-to-Know grievance commission, made up of 10 citizens. But the bill has been amended to completely remove the idea of a grievance commission, and now the bill simply lengthens the required time to post both meetings and agendas from 24 hours to 72 hours in advance. The original bill was sponsored by Representatives Kenneth Wyler (R-Kingston) and Emily Sandblade (R-Manchester).

“I would suggest that we contact our State Representative,” said Condra, in a sly nod to the fact that both he and newly elected Select Board member Williams are both state representatives, “and ask that, whatever their personal political feelings, they advise that the town opposes this.”

In an interview Tuesday, Williams said he personally disagreed with the bill as well. For towns that don’t have a paid administrator who can take on the duty, posting agendas 72 hours in advance may be a more difficult task than it sounds, he said. It may also be difficult for citizens who want their issues heard to get on the agenda in a timely manner, he noted. The board can add a clause to hear other business that appears before the board — but Williams said he saw that as a way to avoid posting full and accurate agendas. “I don’t like the idea of laws having that kind of work around,” he said.

Williams added that there is an effort to take a broader look at the Right-to-Know laws by the Legislature, and there will likely be more comprehensive bills coming that address it in the coming year. Those Williams may be able to support, he said. As for HB 1591, he said, “This seems to be onerous, without significant improvement in information for the public.”

Williams acknowledged that he would be willing to carry the board’s opposition to Concord.

Following that discussion, Williams was sworn in, officially ending Donovan’s term as a Select Board member. The board agreed to appoint Condra as the Select Board chair, based on his seniority on the board.

In other Select Board news, the board learned the Department of Public Works is prepared to move on the purchase of several new town vehicles, after funds were approved for a new six-wheel truck as well as a new department pick-up truck.

During Monday’s Select Board meeting, Department of Public Works Director Steve Elliott told the board that while following up on purchasing a new dump, salt and plow truck, he discovered that there is a truck available for $8,000 less than the funds requested. During Town Meeting, voters approved $175,760 for the purchase of a new six-wheeler.

The deal was better in more ways than just financially, Elliott noted, as the truck has extras that the original vehicle the town was looking at does not have, such as heated mirrors and windshields, and more importantly a stainless steel back and undercoating, which will help resist rust and prolong the life of the vehicle.

“So we’re getting more truck for less money,” concluded Swanson. “I don’t see a downside there.”

Elliott said he was also ready to move on a second vehicle approved at Town Meeting. The town approved $37,000 for a new pick-up and plow equipment. Elliott said when he contacted the car dealer about the 2014 Ford F350, which he received a quote on several months ago, the dealer informed him that they had stopped selling 2014 models in February, and only 2015 models were available, and the price would exceed the quote.

Elliott told the board that he went back and forth with the dealer multiple times regarding the price, and the dealer had eventually agreed to sell the town a 2015 model for the original quoted price, with an additional $1,000 off for the inconvenience. Elliott noted that he will purchase the plow equipment separately, after ensuring that the cost would meet the quoted price.

Swanson thanked Elliott for doing his due diligence with the purchases, and the board approved purchase orders for both vehicles.

Elliott also informed the board that he would be using allocated Highway Department funds to give a 41⁄2 percent increase to employees. “It’s the biggest raise they’ve seen, and I think you for that,” he said. Elliott noted that, with the exception of one part-time employee, all town employees would be seeing the same percentage increase.

Condra noted that the previous Select Board had instructed department heads to distribute allocated wage increases at their own discretion, and the board did not offer any objections to the increases.

Swanson said he felt the raises were appropriate to do now, but generally raises should be given after performance reviews. Creating job descriptions and creating a performance review process is something that the town is in the process of creating, explained Condra. Elliott is currently the only department head that has a job description in place.

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