My Turn: Heath’s autocracy
By BOB DANE
Published: 9/2/2019 6:50:12 AM
Our tiny town of Heath is being torn apart. The Heath Selectboard is acting in a way that is irresponsible, short-sighted, and detrimental to our community. They are not listening to a large group of citizens who do not agree with their agenda. Our tax rate is going to go through the roof next year. They need to responsibly address our situation and act based on what is best for the entire community.
There is no longer any transparency in our town government. The Selectboard has repeatedly refused to respond to questions and concerns brought up by citizens. The chair Brian DeVries has often acted on his own volition, making decisions without consulting the other board members. The Selectboard needs to look at the bigger picture, not put a band-aid on a gushing wound.
There are many conflicts of interest within this board. Two spouses of Selectboard members led the opposition to sell the former school. The chair of the Selectboard designed the building. He and his wife have a strong emotional attachment to the building. They signed a conflict-of-interest disclosure, but there is still certainly a conflict of interest evident in their behavior. This conflict is having a negative impact on the fiscal and emotional health of the whole town.
A proposal to lease one of the classrooms in the building has been brought forward by residents Larry and Rebecca Sampson for their home preschool coop. The Selectboard chair is forging ahead with this rental without assessing what the impact will be on the operating costs of the building. No studies have been done regarding the regulatory implications of having preschoolers in the building.
The Finance Committee diligently researched and presented spreadsheets with actual costs of operation. The Selectboard repeatedly discounts the Finance Committee’s figures in favor of their own unsubstantiated ones. The Finance Committee is comprised of knowledgeable, dedicated, faithful and impartial citizens.
The rent that the Sampsons have proposed will not cover the increased costs of their presence in the building. In fact their presence will incur increased operating costs that the town will have to cover. The town is being asked to subsidize a private endeavor.
Larry has a serious conflict of interest in this situation. He is on the committee that oversees and leases the building he is proposing to rent. He would be in effect the landlord and the tenant. This is ethically and fiscally irresponsible and unacceptable.
The Seletboard procrastinated for months on setting up a facilities assessment committee, tasked with looking at all the town properties and reporting on their conditions, usage, repair and operation costs. At their last meeting they finally appointed the committee. Seven people, many highly qualified, volunteered for this committee. Only two of them were chosen. The other three were solicited and chosen by the chair of the Selectboard, apparently based on their desire to keep the former school rather than their ability to accurately assess our needs.
These actions and inactions of the Selectboard indicate an ulterior agenda of moving the town offices to the former school. This would decimate the town center and is contrary to the wishes of the majority of Heath citizens.
Two weeks ago at the Selectboard meeting I spoke expressing my dismay at their actions regarding the facilities assessment committee. When I was done I was the object of a rude and derogatory comment from an individual in the audience attacking my character. Have things fallen so low that we are reduced to juvenile name calling in our public meetings? I was questioning the actions of the Selectboard, not attacking their character.
The actions of the Selectboard, and misinformation in the new publication “Heath Town Talk” only serve to drive us further apart. “Heath Town Talk” was purportedly created as a forum to disseminate and discuss information pertinent to the community in the hope of bringing us together. In fact it uses unsubstantiated figures, distortions, and misinformation to disparage the Finance Committee and advance their one-sided minority agenda.
Life in Heath has not always been like this. In the past we have worked together civilly to overcome our differences and move on. At the last Annual Town Meeting, the Selectboard told the town that nothing would be done with the building until the entire situation was thoroughly studied. Please do not break your promise to our town. Do the right thing!
Bob Dane is a resident of Heath.
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