By LEE J. KAHRS
BRANDON — The select board here approved an update to the town asset sales policy, but not without some tense moments.
The board at the July 27 meeting had asked Selectman Tracy Wyman to draft a update to the policy the board had approved in June after he expressed displeasure with the then-current policy.
The issue has come to the fore in the last two months with the sale of an abandoned property on Prospect Street and then interest in swamp lots from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The June policy was drafted and proposed by Selectman Tim Guiles. It required that property sales and sale prices be discussed and set at a select board meeting. Any bids were announced to the board at that time, then the board would wait two weeks until the next meeting to make a decision, giving any additional bidders time to also file a bid with Town Manager Dave Atherton.
But issues arose last month when the town received two bids on abandoned property at 44 Prospect Street, one for $20,000 and another for $30,500. Per the town’s then-policy, the bids were announced and any action by the board was held over until the next meeting to afford others the opportunity to bid. But the high bidder pulled their bid after the bids were announced and a Front Porch Forum post appeared from Guiles informing residents about the property up for sale. Atherton was out of the office the week following, and was not available to field the calls with additional offers. The original bidders expressed great displeasure with the way the bids were handled.
At the July 27 meeting, Wyman said he did not feel that policy was fair and wanted to rescind it in favor of a sealed bid system. Board Chair Seth Hopkins asked Wyman to craft an alternative policy proposal and bring it back to the board.
On Monday night, Wyman did, saying he and Guiles worked on the updated proposal together.
“We wanted something that would be a little more effective,” Wyman said, and described a bid and auction proposal with a 15% deposit required that will be returned to participants who do not get the winning bid. The board would then vote at the next meeting to accept the highest bid, however the board would have the discretion not to accept the high bid if it deemed there were other factors that may impact the welfare of the town.
“The benefit of an auction is that it’s the most fair for the town and the buyer,” Wyman said.
Wyman also advocated for a sealed bid process, but Guiles was against it saying it was not transparent enough.
Then Atherton presented a policy proposal after doing some research around the state and around the country. His policy was a sealed bid policy that would set a minimum bid and a deadline. The bids would be then opened all at once at the Town Office and the results would be presented to the select board at the following meeting.
Atherton said he did not agree with an auction proposal because none of the board members or town employees are auctioneers. He also said that town attorney Coni Pell looked over his proposal and signed off on the language, adding that she had problems with the fairness of the previous policy.
“It really set some people off,” Atherton said of the Dinn property bidding process. “I don’t think establishing a policy just to annoy people is a great idea.”
Guiles then pressed Atherton about what the town attorney did not like in the previous policy.
“Taking offers, making them public, then it comes to the town,” Atherton said.
“So your saying the sale amount should not be public?” Guiles asked. “I’m trying to get to the problem, whether it’s the policy or the way you implemented it.”
“I take that as a personal hit, Tim,” Atherton replied.
The two then proceeded to argue, Guiles saying that Atherton led bidders to believe their bids would remain secret, and Atherton saying Guiles created a policy that led to confusion.
“I’ve been stopped on the street because of your policy,” Atherton said. “It’s not user friendly.”
“It’s not difficult,” Guiles said. “There is nothing difficult about this policy,” adding that he did not believe the town needed to hire an auctioneer to handle asset auctions.
“Transparency, value to the town and expediency, those are my criteria for an effective policy,” Guiles said.
Selectman Doug Bailey then interjected.
“For the sake of wanting to move on and bring it back to a more cordial discussion…” Bailey said. “I like both policies and I don’t think we need to beat up on why the last one didn’t work.”
After further discussion, Selectman Brian Coolidge made a motion to accept the policy drafter by Atherton and signed off on by the town attorney. Hopkins seconded.
Guiles then said that he felt Wyman proposal should be considered because the board asked for it, adding that in fact he believes the policy deserved a vote.
“I think for Mr. Atherton to go off on his own to make a policy…” Guiles added, but Hopkins interrupted him.
“He didn’t go off on his own,” Hopkins said. “I didn’t have time and during a phone call I said, ‘Why don’t you run it by the town attorney?’”
“I didn’t realize you did that,” Guiles replied. “That’s different.”
The vote was as dramatic as the discussion. When the roll was called to vote on Coolidge’s motion to adopt Atherton’s policy, Coolidge and Hopkins voted ‘Yes’, and Guiles voted ‘No.’
After a pause, Wyman also voted “Yes,” at which point Bailey abstained. The motion passed 3-1-1.
“I’m sure the board thanks everybody who took enough care to develop both of these policies,” Hopkins said.