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Controversial Selectboard report grabs town meeting limelight

Ashfield OKs purchase of new road grader

  • Recorder/David Rainville<br/>Ashfield Selectboard member Thomas Carter addresses Saturday's annual town meeting.

    Recorder/David Rainville
    Ashfield Selectboard member Thomas Carter addresses Saturday's annual town meeting.

  • Recorder/David Rainville<br/>David Gold, of Ashfield, speaks out against the section of the annual town report submitted by Selectboard member Thomas Carter, at the annual town meeting Saturday.

    Recorder/David Rainville
    David Gold, of Ashfield, speaks out against the section of the annual town report submitted by Selectboard member Thomas Carter, at the annual town meeting Saturday.

  • Recorder/David Rainville<br/>Ashfield Selectboard member Thomas Carter addresses Saturday's annual town meeting.
  • Recorder/David Rainville<br/>David Gold, of Ashfield, speaks out against the section of the annual town report submitted by Selectboard member Thomas Carter, at the annual town meeting Saturday.

ASHFIELD — Town meeting voters approved the use of $285,000 for a new road grader.

The grader will replace a 1985 model that the town has had since 1987. Voters at Saturday’s annual meeting approved $55,000 of available cash, $80,000 in appropriations and a loan of up to $150,000 for the piece of equipment. The purchase will be financed for a three-year term.

A ballot question to approve a debt exclusion for the loan passed at Saturday’s annual town election 117-48.

Though the large purchase was approved after some discussion, it was a more routine article that drew the most debate Saturday.

The acceptance of annual reports is usually a customary town meeting article passed with little discussion. Though the reports of the Ashfield’s departments, boards and committees had already been compiled, bound and distributed, a proposed amendment rejecting the Selectboard’s report and part of the Board of Health’s was debated for nearly an hour Saturday morning.

For the past year, the Selectboard had been plagued with personal conflicts and allegations of open meeting law violations that led to the resignation of member Doug Field. When Thomas Carter took over for Field in February, one of his first duties was to pen the Selectboard’s contribution to the 2012 annual town report.

Carter said he was given the task after his fellow board members, Paullette Leukhardt and Ronald Coler, each submitted their own versions, and neither would look at the other’s draft.

Carter didn’t mince his words.

“Since our last annual town meeting, our beautiful community of friends and neighbors has been, at best, bogged down in a state of malaise and at worst, under siege,” wrote Carter. “Accusations of open meeting law violations and other wrong doings helped Ashfield make unwanted and painful headlines.”

He went on to name one of the residents, Suzanne Corbett, who filed a complaint against the town government. Then he detailed the time and financial costs the town has incurred by seeking legal counsel and requisitioning documents to answer those complaints.

The Board of Health’s report also named Corbett, as well as Deb Nicholson and Sherrill Jourdan, as submitters of complaints against the town.

Resident David Gold, who resigned from the Council on Aging last February, wanted that line stricken from the board’s report, and the Selectboard’s report rewritten in its entirety.

Gold proposed this in an amendment, which was met with much debate.

It eventually failed, and the reports stand as printed.

Residents and officials alike took the floor in favor and against the amendment.

“What was written in (the report) is absolutely ridiculous and unfair,” said Ricki Caroll, Finance Committee member. “It’s absurd to put it into a format like this.”

“The report is embarrassing to the town, but it doesn’t make it any less true,” said Carter, in defense of his words. He said it was difficult to address the “chaos and turmoil” that the board has experienced in the last year, but he felt it necessary.

Some thanked him for his annual account.

“There are a lot of things in the report that I don’t like,” said former Selectboard member William Perlman, who resigned in 2010. “But I commend Tom Carter for having the courage to state what happened, and who was responsible.”

Coler agreed that his fellow board member was right to address the town’s problems in the report.

“Though it’s not the report I wrote, I support it, and think it’s well written,” he said. Coler also lauded the town’s officials and volunteers for continuing to serve Ashfield in the wake of the accusations and inner turmoil.

Leukhardt, the third Selectboard member, was in favor of having the board’s report redacted and rewritten.

Budget adjustments

Residents approved two amendments that adjusted the public safety budget.

One eliminated an extra $5,800 of Police Department funds that would have gone toward bringing on another part-time officer to increase shift coverage.

That left money in the public safety budget, and the town decided to increase the fire chief’s stipend after a resident’s amendment. Instead of his usual $3,600, next year, the chief will receive $7,500 for his service.

The Finance Committee proposed an amendment that would have struck about $14,000 from the Mohawk Trail Regional High School budget. The School Committee had initially proposed a $1.88 million budget, but increased it by $14,340 to try to save French class and a peer leadership program, at the last step of the process. Finance Committee members said their issue was not the amount of the request or the programs it would fund, but that the increase came so late in the game, and wanted to send a message by voting in the original, lower amount.

The amendment failed, after several residents, as well as Superintendent Michael Buoniconti, spoke of the two programs’ merits.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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