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Barton’s One-Man Select Board Could Set State Precedent

January 10, 2012

BARTON - The Barton Select Board has hit uncharted territory in regards to the recent resignation of two select board members occurring at the same time. The move left Barton with only one select board member. What can one select board member legally do?
The situation isn’t provided for in state statutes, which left town attorney William Davies and Secretary of State Jim Condos in a position to set precedent. When select board member Patricia Tompkins resigned Nov. 20, the Town of Barton still had a functioning board. But when Laurence Scarpa resigned his seat on the board, the town was in unchartered territory.
Grace Mason, Barton’s Town Clerk, said that they, her and the remaining board member, Robert Croteau, didn’t know what to do so they called the town’s attorney.
They found out that there was no provision in the statutes for dealing with this sort of issue. One statute states that if there is no select board, then the secretary of state can call an election. Another statute states that, in the case where there is only one select board member, that member can sign for bills and payroll to be paid.
But because a board can only make decisions by unanimous vote, that member cannot call an election, or at least there is no provision for that in the statutes, Davies said.
A special election has been called for Jan. 13. This was possible because Davies and Condos went over the statutes and decided that calling an election is a formality, that it has to happen, and that one remaining select board member could call the election.
“We are very broadly interpreting that statute to say that the one select board member can also call this election,” Davies said.
Davies and Condos discussed what should be done to amend the existing statutes. The easiest course of action would be to put a clause into the existing statute, the one which allows for a single select board member to pay the bills.
That change would allow that select board member to call for an election in case there are no other board members, Davies said.
Though he has not had a chance to bring this up, Davies said he will “button hole” a legislative member before the end of this session.
Since the two board seats were vacated, Barton Town has not had a select board meeting and won’t until after the Jan. 17 decision.
The two select board seats were vacated for different reasons. Tompkins stated in her letter of resignation that she was stepping down due to her day job in Newport. She felt that this job took up the majority of her time and she was not able to devote the time and energy that were necessary to being a good select board member.
Scarpa’s letter states that he was resigning due to “recent developments in the Town of Barton” and “circumstances beyond his control.” Scarpa was unable to be reached for comment.
To fill the vacant seats, six Barton residents have stepped up for the election. Running for Tompkin’s empty seat are Rupert Chamberlain (a previous board member), Paul Sicard (a previous member of the board of trustees for Barton Village), and Deborah Crane-Foote. This seat has a year left before it is up for reelection. Scarpa’s empty seat has two years left before reelection. Four people are running for this spot, including Peter Poginy, James Greenwood, Naomi Dean, and Rupert Chamberlain.
“I am pleased at the number of folks willing to put their names forward in this election,” Davies said. “Too often that is not the case in these municipal elections.”
As Chamberlain is running for both seats, it is a possibility that he could win both. If that were to happen, he would have to resign from one, then he and Croteau would appoint the third member. They would not have to choose from those who ran in the election. They could choose from any Barton Town resident, Davies said.

 

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