Dear Friends and Neighbors:
On May 14th a small group of Mt Holly citizens presented the Select Board with a letter from their attorney threatening to sue the Board if they did not immediately stop working on the plan to replace the town garage. This group of “eleven” (who engaged the attorney) have not been happy with the way the School Board and Select Board (our elected officials) have proceeded with plans to replace the garage. They have asked the same questions and made the same complaints repeatedly. The School Board and Select Board have patiently responded to these individuals time and time again and while doing so have continued to plan the replacement of the garage in a manner that best serves the town. Because these few selfish individuals did not get “their way” they have decided to sue!
For well over 200 years the democracy of small communities such as Mt Holly has been based on the town’s ability to put forth ideas, argue them from all perspectives, put it to a vote and accept what the majority ruled. In some cases, individuals/organizations that did not prevail, petitioned the town for a revote and the matter was resolved. Never has a group of people who did not get their way ever threatened to sue our town.
As Town Moderator for well over 20 years I have witnessed very significant issues argued intelligently and emotionally by our citizens. Act 60, Withdrawing from the Rutland Supervisory School Union, the addition of class rooms to our school and the original proposed gym expansion to name a few. People felt very strongly about these issues and emotions ran extremely high. But once the discussion was over and a vote was taken, the neighbors who differed on which direction to take on these issues continued to respect each other and worked to move the town forward.
On the evening of May 14th this deep-rooted tradition of democracy was threatened. If this group has its way, our form of government will never be the same. Now, if the minority opinion (and in this particular case the extreme minority) does not prevail, if they do not get the answers they want to hear and if the process that led to the decision is not acceptable to them…they will sue! Do we want a future of lawyers deciding what is best for the town? Do we want a large dollar amount budgeted each year for legal fees? Do you want our elected officials having to worry about being sued when they make a decision on behalf of our town?
What makes this situation even sadder is what this small group of people is upset over…the replacement of our town garage. This is such a basic “no brainer” issue. The condition of our town garage is so deteriorated it is beyond repair and must be replaced. We must put into perspective how basic/fundamental the replacement of our town garage is. We, the tax payers, own the property (school property) which is ideally suited for this garage. We do not have to purchase the land and there is a possibility for a joint effort with the school to generate electricity via solar panels. The parcel will perc so the new garage will finally include a bathroom for the road crew (a luxury they have never had). The garage will be located right next to the Salt Shed and will remain in close proximity to the Municipal Office, Rescue Squad, Fire Department and the School. All of our town facilities will continue to be located within a stone’s throw of each other, clustered for convenience and easy access. For some completely illogical reason, the group of eleven feels that the town should spend time and money conducting a land search and an analysis of alternative site options. This is just one of fifteen unnecessary studies/analysis/estimates that this group is demanding.
I remember when we needed to replace the Fire Station in Mount Holly. A group of citizens brought their own tools, and under the supervision of Miles Richards and Bug Flanders, the existing Mt. Holly Fire Station was built. Nobody was paid and no expensive studies drove up building costs. The building is doing fine decades later. While a volunteer project is no longer feasible, replacing a town garage should not require multiple studies and analyses. Now, just as the Select Board is ready to present the town with the actual plans, the costs, contractor, etc. and then put it to a vote for approval of a bond for the construction…after four plus years in public planning, a small group of people who did not get their way demand that this process be stopped and if it goes forward they will sue!
Now that our collective blood pressure has reached an all time high, let’s take a moment to look at what this group is accusing our elected officials of doing…what their crimes are. They are accusing our Select Board of being in violation of Vermont’s Open Meeting Law and violating the Policies of the 2008 Town Plan. Are you kidding? The discussion of the town garage has been in public for almost five years! Go back and read the minutes of all these meetings (published in the Chit Chat)… Select Board meetings, School Board meetings and Planning Commission meetings. I believe there has been more public discussion of this project than all of the discussion on any public building projects completed in Mt Holly since our town was founded. If our Select Board is guilty of anything, it is being far too patient and forgiving of this group of eleven.
Let’s look at a few of the questions the group of eleven claim have gone unanswered. These have been printed in the Chit Chat on two occasions and have been responded to several times.
Question: Why is the new garage needed?
Answer: Once again the condition of the town garage is so deteriorated it is beyond repair! It is truly that simple!
Question: How will the cost of the new garage be paid?
Answer: Unless there is some rich soul in the community who wants to pick up the tab, the garage will be paid through a bond…just like all other capital projects!
Question: How will the new garage uses impact the school activities and traffic flow?
Answer: An absurd question. Unless the school plans a field trip to visit the garage there will obviously be no impact on school activities! Traffic flow?? Obviously the town vehicles using the garage will drive up and down the road. Do we really need to pay for a traffic study to determine this?
Question: What other sites have been considered that might serve the proposed uses as well or better than the site near the school?
Answer: Let’s see, we have a site that will cost nothing to use, will perc so finally the town employees can have a bathroom (please feel free to experience the porta potty next to the existing town garage on a day that is below zero or above 80 degrees to understand this need), is located next to the other town facilities, etc. So let’s ask the Select Board to spend more time and money trying to locate a comparable or better site??? Absurd!
Question: What will happen to the existing garage?
Answer: It will be dedicated to the Mt. Holly Historical Society and forever preserved. Only kidding but just trying to point out how ridiculous these “unanswered” questions are.
I urge all citizens of Mt Holly to attend the next Select Board meeting and show your support for and encourage the Select Board to continue their efforts to replace the Town Garage. Please do not let a few misguided individuals with their own selfish agenda destroy the democratic traditions of our wonderful community. Threatening to sue if you do not get your way is not how it is done in Mt Holly. Instead of a costly lawsuit, we need to put the replacement of the Town Garage to a final public meeting, followed by a town vote.
Sincerely, Ted Crawford