Published in News and Citizen 7-21-15

Watch Dogs are Watching

    There's been a slight rift between some of Morristown's representatives to the Lamoille County Planning Commission (LCPC) Board and the actions of the local regional planning commission.
    The rift first came to light when Morristown Director of Planning Todd Thomas, one of the town's representatives to the agency, brought up concerns about the department rehiring the recently departed former executive director to help finish off the end of the year books after a “not clean” audit report. Thomas was concerned this was done without the full-board's approval and questioned the appropriateness of allowing a former employee access to the organization's books.
    The issue appeared resolved after it came to light the former executive director's resignation included plans to help finish up bookwork, because the commission is currently without a bookkeeper.
    Last Friday, I had a chance to meet the new Executive Director at LCPC, Tasha Wallis.  She said the situation appeared to have two main issues, one being communication, the other being the lack of a bookkeeper.  Wallis said communication is the easy part for her to fix.  She described herself as someone always willing to tell people what they want to know, and from our discussion that day that is how she came across as well. After 25 years of new politicians, executive directors and people who think they are about to change world, you begin to learn the art of differentiating between the straight-shooters and those who make you roll your eyes each time they open their mouth.
    As for the other half of the issue, Wallis said they are actively looking for a new bookkeeper with the necessary skills to handle government-contract driven books. And as the person ultimately responsible for the books, she told me not to be surprised if the press release announcing the new hire begins, “YIPPIEE!!!!.”
    The whole matter looked to be over until the Stowe Reporter reported on an email exchange that requested an apology from Thomas and another Morristown representative Trisha Follert.  The email also discussed them not talking to the media about such matters.
    This is when the story piqued the attention of Eden's David Whitcomb, Lamoille County's self-appointed guardian of Robert's Rules of Order and transparency in government.  Whitcomb, who after 40 or so years either serving on boards or as moderator of Town Meeting, knew a board could not sanction members for speaking their mind.
    At a meeting of the LCPC Executive Committee, where they put that matter to rest by not asking Thomas and Follert to apologize, Whitcomb let the executive committee know in no uncertain terms he would make sure Eden voters did not pass their next budget request if these kind of heavy-handed tactics were invoked. 
    In many areas, Whitcomb's not-so veiled threat might come across as grandstanding tactics.  But anyone who has ever been to an Eden Town Meeting knows the gym is packed with voters just looking for an excuse to trim their budget, and thus their tax burden, a little more.
    Elected officials know their performance is up for a referendum vote each time they are on the ballot.  At a meeting last week, David Whitcomb reminded all boards, agencies and organizations that rely on public funds from local communities that the voters do pay attention and are all too happy to sharpen their pencils and make last minute rescissions to the budget from the floor.
    But that's just my 53 cents.