Brandon SB discusses minutes, electric cars, holding cells, and BRAVO


BRANDON—The Brandon Selectboard gathered for its regular meeting on Monday evening.  As usual, at the beginning of the meeting, the Board took a moment to discuss and approve the minutes from the previous meeting.  Board member Tim Guiles expressed frustration with the depth of information that the Recording Secretary, Charlene Bryant, provided, noting two instances in which there were inaccuracies, one involving information he had presented regarding Vermont’s targets for carbon reduction and another involving something he was quoted as having said.  Mr. Guiles asked that both instances be corrected and said, “I think it’s a mistake to have this level of detail in the minutes,” continuing a debate about the appropriate role of the minutes, whether they should be a summary of motions and votes with minimal space given to discussions or a full picture of what was said and done, or perhaps some middle ground.

Board member Cecil Reniche-Smith asked whether the minutes could simply be fixed, to which Mr. Guiles responded that he did not want to have to take the time to read the volume of detail to ensure that everything was correct and that the video recording should act as the transcript.  Board member Heather Nelson stated that she had received negative feedback on the Board’s publicized change to a more streamlined approach.  Mr. Guiles replied that the complaints “were based on an idea, not the product,” since the Board had reversed course before any streamlined minutes could be released to the public.

Mr. Guiles moved to adopt an abbreviated approach to the minutes, but the motion was not seconded.  Mr. Guiles was the lone nay in the approval of the previous meeting’s minutes.

Town Manager Seth Hopkins presented highlights from his written report, the full text of which is available in the packet for the 9/11/23 Selectboard meeting on the Brandon town website.  Highlights from his report included:

  • A conversation with Board member Heather Nelson and Town Clerk/Treasurer Sue Gage regarding the town’s match for the grant for the paving taking place at the Park & Ride on Conant Square.  Mr. Hopkins had been under the impression that a source had been designated for the town’s match but learned this was not the case.
  • Jeremy Disorda has been selected to replace Shawn Erickson as Highway Foreman and will undergo training in the role before Mr. Erickson’s departure next year.
  • Several trees have been taken down around town, some at the request of homeowners and some at the suggestion of the Highway Foreman.  Neil Silins, Brandon’s Tree Warden, was consulted on some of the removals but not on the ones that were not in the town’s right-of-way.
  • There will be a tribute to Art & Donna Doty to honor their contributions to the Otter Creek Insect Control District on September 30 at 9 am in Crescent Park (at the intersection of Pearl Street and Conant Square).
  • The Town Office has worked with residents to formulate payment plans for delinquent taxes.  Delinquent property taxes have dropped from $424,065 to $417,367 and delinquent water/sewer has dropped from $346,344 to $335,503. A fuller “snapshot” of the town’s current finances is available in the Town Manager report in the Selectboard packet on the town website.

Rec Director Bill Moore presented his report, the full text of which is available on the town website.  Highlights included:

  • A collaboration between Brandon Rec and Pittsford Rec due to low enrollment in girls’ soccer.  The combined team will practice at Estabrook Park, Pittsford Rec, and Otter Valley.
  • The shelter at Estabrook Park is being painted.  And the tennis court has been closed for safety reasons.  The current tennis court will likely be repaved and portable nets used for tennis and pickleball while a new court is prepared in a more suitable location.  The current court will then be repurposed for skateboarding.
  • According to Mr. Moore’s research no additional permit will be required for the rebuilding of the tennis court in a non-wetland location within the park.

During the Public Comment segment of the meeting, Board member Brian Coolidge brought up some missing signage to Mr. Hopkins and also expressed dissatisfaction with the proposal to have community members look after the bioswales on Park and Pearl Streets.   According to Mr. Coolidge, it would be a bad precedent to set and the town should assume responsibility.

Mr. Hopkins replied that the town’s maintenance of the swales had been criticized and the Buildings & Grounds Department currently has only one employee.  

“A little volunteer labor is not a negative,” said Mr. Hopkins.  “The community can take difficulty and turn it into opportunity.”

Board member Heather Nelson suggested that part of the problem with maintaining the swales is that the town had never had so many public gardens to maintain before.  Board member Cecil Reniche-Smith added that most of the swales just needed basic maintenance and were otherwise healthy.

Board Chair Tracy Wyman brought up the difficulty of finding parking in front of the businesses on Park Street, from Li’s Restaurant to Bar Harbor Bank.  He suggested implementing a two-hour limit on parking in that lot from 6 am to 8 pm and no overnight parking.  He stated that business owners on that stretch had complained that their customers often couldn’t park.

After some debate, during which it was noted that full parking spaces were a nice problem for a town to have and it was proposed to eliminate the bike lanes on Park Street to make more room for parking, it was suggested that the Brandon Inn should instruct its guests to park behind the Inn rather than in front and that perhaps a working group, in conjuction with the Chamber and the Downtown Brandon Alliance, needed to be formed to design a long-term solution to this perpetual problem.

In response to a question from the room about a prior inquiry, Mr. Hopkins clarified that the town’s contract with the Police Union did not specify that each officer had to have their own vehicle.

The Board then evaluated 5 bids that it had received for the rebuilding of Newton Road.  The bids were the following:

  • Waters Excavating: $424,116.25
  • Richard Reed & Sons: $523,000.00
  • Steady Property Maintenance: $230,282.01
  • Bruce Meacham Property Maintenance: $206,966.10
  • Markowski Excavating: $494,697.38

The Board voted to award the contract to Bruce Meacham Property Maintenance of Middlebury.  Mr. Hopkins stated that the company’s references had been checked and proved satisfactory.

The Board then engaged in a lengthy discussion about the electric-car chargers in the municipal parking lot next to the new Dunkin’ Donuts.  Currently, the fee to charge cars is paid to a company called Chargepoint, which then remits the money to the town.  The town, in turn, must pay Green Mountain Power for the electricity used.  This arrangement netted the town $111.62 during 2023.  

The Board discussed raising the charge to customers to increase the town’s revenue, especially since the warranty on the chargers is only 5 years (expires in 2026) and it is unclear what the costs to the town will be after that.  It was noted that rates in the area vary, with Brandon charging $0.17 per kWh and $0.75 per hour of plug-in time (basically to occupy the charging station, whether actually charging or not).  Brandon is not the highest for either of these rates in the area.  The Board agreed more information was needed before any action could be taken.

Board members Tracy Wyman, Tim Guiles, and Brian Coolidge will form a committee with Town Manager Seth Hopkins to begin negotiations on a new contract with the Police Union.

Brandon Police Chief David Kachajian presented a proposal to purchase a metal holding cell after 3 recent incidents during which violent detainees caused significant physical damage to the booking room at the police station.  The proposed holding cell resembles a bench chair in a metal cage-like enclosure, measuring 2’ wide by 3’ long by 6’ high.  Former Brandon Police Chief Christopher Brickell stated that he thought the cell might be too small, but Chief Kachajian assured him that it was roughly the same size as the space in the back of a police cruiser. The Police Department does not technically need the permission of the Board for the purchase, which will cost $4495 for the unit plus $350 for shipping, since it has enough money in its budget to cover the expense.  But Chief Kachajian sought the approval of the Board and received it, in a 3 – 2 vote, with Mr. Guiles and Mr. Coolidge voting nay.

The Board formed a working group to coordinate with the Brandon Tree Warden, Neil Silins, on the Warden’s proposed Shade Tree Plan.  The group will consist of Brian Coolidge and Tracy Wyman.

The Brandon Energy Committee submitted its semi-annual report to the Board, outlining its activities over the previous six months, which ranged from installing new bike racks around Brandon to offering workshops on energy efficiency for homes and business to writing articles for The Reporter.  The Committee’s full report is available in the Selectboard packet on the town’s website.

The Board then addressed the proper formulation of BRAVO, Brandon’s Restorative Justice Committee.  BRAVO is a town committee that helps residents, often youth, to avoid the judicial system for conduct that has caused harm to others by bringing the parties together to come to a resolution that’s acceptable to the aggrieved.  

The Board sought to clarify the structure of the committee, since it seemed to have its own set of bylaws (unlike other town committees) and since it also seemed, to some Board members, to be providing some services on a volunteer basis that could be consolidated with the professional Restorative Justice team in Rutland, particularly the role of Coordinator, which is the liaison between the parties and the police and the first contact the parties have with the committee.

Interim BRAVO Coordinator Claire Astone opposed the change.

“This is our community and it makes a difference to the people we serve,” said Astone, referring to the suggestion that her role be shifted to Rutland.

Board member Reniche-Smith replied, “We’re not taking away any of the work of restorative justice from the Brandon Committee.”  Reniche-Smith argued that shifting the work of the Coordinator to Rutland would free up the Brandon volunteers to focus on the actual work of restorative justice rather than on administrative obligations.

After continued debate, with supportive contributions from BRAVO member Debbie Boyce, Police Chief Kachajian, Deputy Town Manager Bill Moore, and Board member Tim Guiles, it was suggested that the committee should be “reconstituted” in order to bring it more into line with the operations of other town committees.  No further action was taken.

The Board then appointed Town Manager Seth Hopkins to a 1-year term as Emergency Management Director (term ending 9/30/24) and Fire Chief Tom Kilpeck to 1-year term as Emergency Services Voter (term ending 9/30/23).  These appointments are made as Brandon’s representatives to the Rutland Emergency Management Committee.

In the Board’s final bit of public business for the night, it approved three warrants:

  • $86,500 for deicing salt, in preparation for winter
  • $156,619.94 for expenses
  • An amendment to the blanket approval for payroll to include Jeremy Disorda’s new position as Highway Foreman in training.

The Board then went into executive session to discuss contracts and personnel matters.

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