By LEE J. KAHRS
BRANDON – The Brandon Select Board will take up the issue of federal and state matters presented to the board, like the gun sanctuary resolution issue in Pittsford, at its next meeting.
Board chair Seth Hopkins proposed enacting a board policy on the issue at the Feb. 10 meeting, but there was a lengthy board discussion before the vote to table the issue.
“I think the board functions best when it does what it is authorized to do, which is financial, personnel and policy oversight for the town,” Hopkins said in his introduction. “And I think the board gets into to trouble when it goes out of those guardrails and starts taking positions on amendments to the Constitution… I don’t think the people of this town expect, when they elect the select board that the select board is going to attempt to speak for them on matters like that, and I think it would tend toward disharmony on the select board to have that level on controversy around issues like that.”
Hopkins said he felt it would be prudent to establish a board policy going forward should issues such as the gun sanctuary resolution come before the board.
“If we do have a policy, I think it’s reasonable to say that the policy is not directed at any particular petition or controversial issue that someone might have brought before the board,” he said.
A draft of the proposed policy was read into the record:
“This policy expresses the sense of the select board (hereinafter, “board”) regarding the propriety of board discussion, board-facilitated discussion by the public during board meetings, and board action related to matters over which the board is granted no authority in the Vermont Statutes.
Vermont municipalities and the officers thereof are granted those powers specified by the Legislature, and no other (“Dillon’s Rule”).
General supervision of the affairs of the Town of Brandon belongs to its select board. See 24 V.S.A. § 872. The select board has no authority to speak for the Town on matters outside this remit. Such matters properly reside with state and federal elected officials and judges.
This policy is adopted at a time when no specific petition/motion/discussion is before the board, with a view to consider and enact a policy at a time when the board may fairly choose a dispassionate and impartial course. The board is likely to be presented with opportunities in the future to take positions on issues of varying levels of controversy, and having such a policy in place beforehand may helpfully inform the board’s response upon future occasions.
Harmony is essential to efficient operation of the select board. Debate of controversial issues over which the board has no authority tends to undermine harmony as well as rob the board of the time it rightly devotes to matters under its purview: the efficient operation of the Town of Brandon through financial, personnel, and policy oversight.
“Therefore, it is the policy of the board that on matters including but not limited to the federal or state constitutions, law, or policy, which are not clearly relevant to the board’s charges in statute:
1. The board will take neither action nor position.
2. The board will decline requests to consider petitions or deliberate thereon.
3. The board will not permit public debate to consume undue time at its meetings
This resolution may be waived in any instance or rescinded in its entirety by majority board vote.”
Hopkins then made a motion to adopt for the sake of discussion.
Selectman Tim Guiles said he felt that the board members expressing their positions and opinions on federal and state matters contributes to the public discourse in town.
“Even if we don’t have authority on something, it would still be useful to know our positions.” He said. “And if the public is not comfortable with a resolution that we make, they can come to our select board meetings and help us make a different resolution… or ultimately, they can vote us out of office,” Guiles said.
His other point was that he thought a policy like this would prevent open discussion and debate.
“This seems to err on the side of limiting debate, and I think we should err on the side of encouraging conversation,” he said.
There was general agreement that Town Meeting is the place to bring up issues not directly germane to town business.
Bailey made an amendment to the motion to table the issue until the Feb. 24 meeting to give board members time to consider the proposed policy.