Heath is in crisis – fiscal, emotional, and ethical. Heath is a small town with no industrial base. We are flirting with the tax levy limit but have limited tools to work with. While cutting costs is our only solution, few offer any constructive ideas.
A little background is needed here. In the past when a vote affecting the town was taken, whether or not residents agreed, they accepted the decision and moved on. When the residents voted down the purchase of the Mackey property on Main Street for a new library and additional Town Office space, the proponents of the proposal accepted the decision and moved on. When the battle over closing the Heath school ended, those deeply disappointed accepted it and moved on. Not so when the residents voted not to sell a 3 million dollar building for $250,000 to a venture capitalist with lots of promises and no business plan.
Those that did not accept the vote launched a campaign of misinformation, conspiracy theory, and defamation, accusing the Select Board of dishonesty and underhanded behavior. How is this done? It’s done by taking something out of context, telling only part of the story, and by insinuation.
A prime example is Mike Smith’s My Turn in the Recorder. Here are some more complete facts:
Downsize not being brought to town meeting:
Changes in personnel positions or job descriptions are not brought to Town Meeting, they are under the authority of the Select Board. What is brought to ATM is any unbudgeted increase in salary. To add foreman responsibilities to the mechanic position description meant reevaluation and regrading of the position. In Nov. when Brian made the statement about bringing this to ATM, he was referring to the fact that the salary increase had to be budgeted and that had to be done at ATM. As it turned out by the time the position change was actually made, it was determined that there would be enough funds in the highway salary account to give the employee a slight increase in wage, although the increase did not bring the wage to the new classification paygrade. The reason for the available funds is that there was a two-week gap between when a former employee retired, and the new employee began to work for the town.
All the current employees, when they were first hired, did not have all the required licenses, but were hired with the understanding that these licenses would be obtained as soon as possible. The employee in question did have his hoister’s license prior to being hired in Heath, but had not renewed it since it was not required for his previous employment. He is on the COVID backlogged list to take the test and regain this license as soon as possible. He does have his CDL, and his certification for adjusting air brakes. I don't have the exact number of years experience working with heavy equipment yet, but will add it when I do.
Job not posted:
Neither of the skilled laborers applied for the original mechanic position job when it was open and posted. The job change was not advertised because it was not a new position. It was additional duties added to an existing position. Shortly thereafter, there was additional responsibility added to all the highway positions. These types of changes and adjustments by the Select Board have been going on regularly in the three years I have been attending.
I came into the Town 20 years ago without any foreknowledge of the history and no predetermined mind set. I met many wonderful, kindhearted, helpful people in the Town of the Friendly Wave. I was then shocked by the behavior that followed that school building vote—the anger and bitterness displayed, the shunning of former longtime friends, the personal attacks on the Select Board members, the misleading articles in the Recorder. This behavior turned normal disagreement over a Town vote into a Town schism. To determine what was fact and what was not, I started attending Heath Select Board meetings regularly and have been attending them for three years. I wanted to find out firsthand how our Town was being run. Listening and learning I started writing Select Board notes in hopes of giving folks an sense of the meetings and decisions made.
Questions I asked myself from time to time: How do you stop the march towards the tax levy limit—by putting bandages on 100-year-old buildings when what they need is major surgery? How do you keep people safe during two years of COVID? Would I have the courage to make the hard choices such as downsizing the highway department? I don’t know the people on the Select Board or Finance Committee on a personal level with one exception, but they are my heroes. It takes courage to do the unpopular knowing that the disappointed are waiting to tear you down.
The Select Board members are hardworking, dedicated, and cognizant of their fiduciary responsibility. Are they working in the best interest of the Heath community of resilient and warm-hearted people that elected them? Hell, yes!
I continue to have faith that those of us who want what is best for the whole town will not be misled by misinformation, but will be sure to check the complete facts before coming to any decision on how to respond and act.
I will be happy to speak with anyone on these topics. You are welcome to call or email to get the other side of the story If I don't have all the answers, I will get them. 337-4078, email@example.com.