Selectboard: Who serves next?

I would like to thank the many kind people who have wished me well upon news of my teaching position in Atmautlak, Alaska.  My date of departure for Alaska is July 31st.  I will serve out my term through the July 25th regular Selectboard meeting.  Then it will be up to the Board and Northfield voters to decide who will serve out the remainder of my term, which ends in March 2019.

horserace cropped

Apparently, a couple of people started to jockey for my position before I knew I’d be leaving town.  Such runs the gossip mill in our humble small town.  All’s fair in love & politics.

Given the news that a horse race has already started, I think it’s fair to let others catch up to the folks who’ve jumped out of the gate a little early.

Special Election ButtonThe question I’ve been getting is will there be a special election?  It’s an important question and there’s a process which allows this to happen, as you’ll see below.  The bottom line is, the Board appoints the successor to replace the departing Board member — although voters can call a special election if they choose.

The following memo lays out the details.  It was written by Attorney Garret Baxter at the Vermont Leagues of Cities and Towns.  Click this link if you want to download the info as a pdf file:   ATL Appointed Officer’s Tenure

“An elected town officer recently resigned. How long does the newly appointed officer serve?”

When a vacancy occurs in any town office, the selectboard must fill the vacancy “forthwith” by appointment in writing until “an election” is had. 24 V.S.A. § 963. This election can occur at either a special town meeting or the next annual one. “A town at a special meeting may fill a vacancy in a town office.” 24 V.S.A. § 962.

An office becomes vacant if the town officer resigns, is removed from office, dies, becomes insane, or moves out of the town in which he or she serves. When a seat becomes vacant, the selectboard must alert the public of this vacancy by posting notice of it in at least two public places in the town and in and near the town clerk’s office within ten days of the event creating the vacancy. Note that the selectboard may fill the vacancy prior to noticing it, though not prior to the creation of the vacancy. The notice, which can be used to advertise the availability of the office to interested applicants, informs the public of both its right to petition for a special town meeting to elect someone else to the position and of a change in their local representative leadership. 24 V.S.A. § 961(a).

A special town meeting can be called by the selectboard when it deems it necessary or on application of 5 percent of the voters. 17 V.S.A. § 2643(a). If a special meeting is not called, the selectboard’s appointee will remain in office until the next annual meeting, at which time the voters will elect a town officer to fill the balance of the unexpired term. If a special meeting is called, the newly elected town officer will still only serve the remainder of the original term.

For example, A is elected to a three-year term, serves one year, and resigns. The selectboard appoints B to fill A’s vacant seat. No special meeting is called and B serves until the next annual town meeting, when the voters elect C to fill the vacancy. C serves for the remainder of A’s original three-year term, which is two years.

There is an exception to this general rule. When a vacancy is created in the office of trustees of public funds, the person chosen to fill the vacancy “shall serve only for the remainder of the unexpired term.”

Garrett Baxter, Staff Attorney Municipal Assistance Center

Now it’s up to you.





North to Alaska

It’s been a little while since the last NatesUpdates, and today’s is a bombshell.

I was just offered a teaching position in an Alaskan village waaaaayyyy out in the bush.

Obviously, I want to talk about what this means in regard to my role in Northfield, but first, here’s the update about what led up to this dramatic change.

About a year and a half ago, after serving in the High School as substitute, I realized that what people have been telling me for a long time is true:  that I am a natural teacher.  So I entered the Vermont Teacher Apprenticeship Program at Champlain College and interned as a student teacher under my mentor, Rich Kendrick.  The program wrapped up in March and I began to apply for positions.

It turns out, competition for teaching jobs in Vermont is pretty high.  As a newbie to the profession, I realized right away that my prospects were very limited in Vermont.  In fact, among my 24 colleagues in the TAP program, only one has landed a full-time position.  I expanded my search, interviewing for positions as far away as Arizona — even Bahrain.  The comfort I took in applying for positions far away is the fact that Northfield is my permanent home.  I’m not selling my house or changing my permanent residence.

This is where I’ll be:

Atmautluak 2002

Atmautlak is the home of 350 Yupik Eskimo Americans.  It’s just a flight away from — well, almost everything.  But I’ll only have a very short walk away from an awesome little school with a lot of great technology, fast internet, and a very passionate basketball team.  (Basketball is big in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.)  I’ll be arriving in Atmautlak on or around August 1st — so I have four weeks to make arrangements.

So I’ve been weighing what I need to do regarding my role on the Selectboard.  Legally, I can remain on the Board and attend meetings via teleconference or Skype.  But morally, my head isn’t going to be in the game when I’m 4,500 miles away, especially as a 1st year teacher.  I’ll think about what to do for another week or two — but realistically, I think we all know which choice I should make.

On July 11th, I’ll make my formal announcement at the Selectboard meeting.  I hope to see you there.

— Nate







Bottom Line: Run for Office

I have posted a correction on my response to the question of the MOU I discussed yesterday. You may see the correction in bold.  Thanks again to Susan Stillinger.

But I remain firm in my overarching message.

Before I outline the main points, I’d like to say to my colleagues on the Board that I’m satisfied working with you. We may not agree on many issues but we’ve come to respect each other.  Our current chair may have upset some folks in one of the meetings last year when he said, “I’ve been elected to do a job, and I’m doing it.”  As a matter of the democratic process, Ken Goslant was right.

I’d also like to point out that my colleagues are diligently working on other issues vitally important to Northfield’s future.  I’d like to mention Dave Maxwell in his efforts to build Northfield’s relationship with Norwich University.  Lynn Doney helped deliver an excellent new Police Chief.  Julie Goodrich has come up to speed right away, sharing some good questions and insights on details the rest of us may have overlooked.  And Ken is my primary ally in my economic development activity.   I also want to mention Bill Smith, Chair of the Development Review Board, for his work in helping create business-friendly Zoning Regulations.  (That’s a story for another day.)

As a supporter of the roadside vegetation project, I’d like to point out my respect for the process of decision making, even if I don’t like the outcome.  I lost a 4-1 decision after Town Meeting Day on a different issue and I still disagree with my colleagues, but the vote carries.

Back to the current issue, I remain firm on my position and would like to reiterate my points.  

1. Dissent transforms into leadership.

Run for office if you want to participate in making decisions. There’s a lot of wasted time and heartache in protesting outcomes. Northfield has created a long, agonizing history by voting for a Board then protesting against it. If you don’t like what the Board is doing, you’re not going to get far by approaching problems the same way, over and over again. Protest has led to some successes, but our protests also send a statewide message that Northfield doesn’t have its act together.

2. Pave the road for success…

..and acknowledge potential failure.  Keep the Select Board in the loop prior to outreach to State officials. We’re wasting everyone’s time and making Northfield look dysfunctional when individuals initiate work with State officials to make something awesome, only to have it rejected by the Board. The MOU was rejected out of hand and would have been rejected from the start.

As a result, State officials’ time has been wasted and Northfield looks like it doesn’t have its act together.  Now the State has to go back and find another town to participate in the pilot program. The outcome is that the next time an opportunity may arise, Northfield’s application may be viewed with skepticism.  I think the project is a great idea and yet I also know the application process, lacking initial support, has likely done more harm than good.

3.  Better Back Roads grant.

Northfield’s Town Manager, Jeff Schulz, has secured a Better Back Roads grant which may help achieve the same or similar goals as the MOU, and in a shorter time frame. Ask to be involved in a public input process.  And maybe say, “Thanks, Jeff!”

4. Run for office.

Yes, I’m repeating myself. But if you don’t run, don’t expect anything to change.  This is the bottom line from my post yesterday.

5.  My Role & Economic Development.

I have a year and a half left in my term and I won’t be seeking re-election. My primary focus is economic development.  Prior to my position on the Select Board I served as a member of the public on the Town’s Economic Development Committee.  At a meeting in July 2015 I commented that many towns partner with a non-profit organization as a vehicle for grants and other economic development activities.  The concept was received as a good idea, and in January 2016, three dozen members of our community came together and decided to form the Northfield Community Development Network .  

My hope is that my colleagues will recognize the advantages Northfield may enjoy if we hire an economic development director either as an employee of the Town or as the leader of the NCDN.  (I would abstain from any vote on that decision.)  The NCDN is already working hard behind the scenes under a professional board.  However, the primary message from state officials is that Northfield needs an economic director if we want to coordinate grants and become eligible for significant opportunities.

6.  Scenic Roads and Economic Development.

I understand how scenic roads contribute to economic development, and this is why I support the MOU and better oversight of Limlaw’s tree removal project.  We need to remove trees for safety reasons, but we need to also consider local beauty as a factor when people decide to move to Northfield.  In my campaign video I said, “This is what keeps bringing me back; the reason I call Northfield home.”

The roadside vegetation assessment MOU should be signed because it can help strike a balance between road maintenance and local beauty.  But it won’t move forward right now.   My colleagues feel differently than I do, and I don’t think they’re going to change their position.  They may even dig in their heels.  The self-started fire will rage all summer long.

7.  From a completely pragmatic view, the MOU has a fatal flaw.

It’s a multi-year project.  Limlaw’s tree removal work will be complete before the roadside vegetation inventory report is released.  Proponents for the MOU have stated that the project won’t hold up the tree removal project.  Therefore, trees included in the inventory may no longer be standing by the time the report comes out.

8.  Doing my best.

Once again, I would like to thank everyone engaged on this issue. I also want to assure you I’m doing my best.  As above, I’d like to thank my colleagues on the Board for their work on different issues and for their support of my work in economic development.  Serving my community, while sometimes difficult, is one of the most fulfilling jobs I’ve ever experienced.

Trees & Roads Redux

Here we go again.  

I’ll get to the details of the Trees & Roads debate in a minute, but first I want to say, I hear you — again.  I also want to be honest in sharing my exasperation about the way Northfield does business.  And I’m not talking about trees or even our current Select Board.

Our problem is governance.  

If I’m sounding a little jaded, it’s because I am. Northfield seems to spend most of its time lighting fires then putting them out instead of taking care of business.  It’s a huge waste of time and a whole lot of heartache.  And it seems to happen every single year.  Here’s a quick list for the last three years:

  • 2014: Rezoning for the Green Mountain Family Practice health care facility
  • 2015:  Proposed firing of then Police Chief Jim Dziobek
  • 2016:  Tree removal contract with Limlaw

In each case, there was something not quite right with the way decisions were made, and each issue certainly deserved public attention.  Indeed, I received a phone call in 2015 about the police chief issue even though I didn’t hold a public office at that time.  I politely declined when asked to show up at a Board meeting to protest the decision.

My response was, “This happens all the time in Northfield.  If you want to do something about it, run for Select Board.”

It’s something I’ve been saying for quite a long time now, but there haven’t been many takers.  The result:  Northfield elects a board then protests against it.

This isn’t how a healthy town self-governs.  In a healthy community dissent transforms into leadership.  People who invest time and motivate others should eventually realize they can be more effective by making decisions instead of fighting them.

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Seriously.  If Lillian Kaushtupper on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt can go from protester to public official, you certainly can.  The Trees & Roads issue is important to you.  I get it.  There’s an answer.  Be Like Lilllian!  Run for office.  Be a decider.  You get it, right?  (If you don’t have Netflix, here’s a taste of Lillian.)

Back to the current issue:  Trees & Roads.

I want to thank everyone who’s participated in the public discussion, particularly those who took time to show up at Select Board meetings.  As you may recall, I wrote about the issue last June (here and here).  There’s no need to rehash last year’s debate since the issue has taken a different turn.

The question now on the table is about a request to engage in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the State to create a roadside vegetation inventory.  At least, that’s what I thought we were talking about….

Communication Breakdown?

But it sounds like the MOU wasn’t fully explained — or that it’s now being described in a different, much more specific way.   Susan Stillinger, in a recent Front Porch Forum post, writes:

Northfield was offered the chance to be one of ten communities in the Lake Champlain Basin to receive a Rural Road Vegetation Management Assessment as part of the US Forest Service’s Resilient Right-of-Way Project.

This is the first I’ve heard of such details.  Thanks for the update, Susan — seriously, thank you.

The Resilient Right-of-Way Project sounds great — but there has been no reference to it in any communication I’ve received as a member of the Select Board.  All I’ve seen is a MOU which was presented to the Board sometime in April.  It wasn’t described in connection with a particular program.  It was described as “experts who are willing to give us their time.”  Or something like that.

My understanding is that some folks in town talked to people they knew in Montpelier, who together came up with an idea to conduct a roadside vegetation inventory.  It was described as an exciting pilot project.  Perhaps the idea hadn’t yet coalesced into a Resilient RoW Project at that time — but if it had, it wasn’t described in detail.

It still sounds great.  But there seems to be a communication breakdown.  I feel a little out of the loop.  As a member of the Board, I lack detailed information about what’s being proposed on a grassroots level, and I’m not entirely sure who the players are.  And it’s not because I haven’t been paying attention.

[Correction:  The document was presented and discussed at an April Select Board meeting with no vote or action taken.  I advocated for the agreement but failed to convince my colleagues to move forward with it.]

Cart Before the Horse Process

Frankly, it’s embarrassing to know that Northfield probably looks dysfunctional to our State agency partners in Montpelier.  The idea was formulated on a grassroots level, brought to the State, and then rejected by the local Select Board.  A better process might have been for the grassroots effort to *start* with the Select Board — then go to the State.

Why didn’t anyone approach the Board before bringing it to the State?  My guess is that the organizer(s) may have felt like the idea would fail before it got started.  Indeed, that’s probably what would have happened.  I would have likely supported the idea and my colleagues would have likely seen things differently.  That’s just how democracy works.

But by going around the Select Board, another needless fire is starting to rage.  And this time our partners in Montpelier are watching.  They’re not going to be impressed with Northfield, that’s for sure.  We’ve wasted their time.  And this time, I have to say, it’s not the Select Board’s fault.  As a member of the Board who supports the cause, I honestly feel a little side-struck.  Out of the loop.  Exasperated.

What’s Happening Now

So here’s the good news.  The Town Manager recently applied for a Better Back Roads grant.  Here’s an excerpt from the Town Manager’s report from April 22nd.

I have applied for a VAOT Better Back Roads Grant to perform a road erosion assessment of gravel and paved roads and site assessments to help identify and  fix road erosion issues near surface water areas.  The purpose of applying for the grant is to prepare for and address the ACT 64 municipal storm-water permit process.  The Town has a good chance of obtaining the grant as the State is being pushed by the Feds to clean the waters of Vermont under the Clean Waters Act.    If awarded, the funding will assist the Town in identifying and addressing areas of potential erosion along water ways –  a main issue raised by residents.

At the last Select Board meeting (May 23rd) the Town Manager reported that Northfield has been awarded the Better Back Roads grant.  Here’s the follow-up.

The Town has received an $8,000 Better Back Roads grant to perform an inventory of road related erosion and /culvert problem areas.   The timing of this award is important as it will help the Town prepare for the required Municipal Roads General permit process that municipalities will face in 2018.  In addition, it will serve useful in the Town’s on-going  tree removal process as it will document and delineate sensitives areas along roadways.

The bottom line to the question regarding the Select Board’s decision to not pursue the Resilient Right-of-Way Project:

I can’t speak for other members of the Board who may have had other reasons to not follow the grassroots’ lead.  But for me, the bottom line is that we’re now moving forward.  The Better Back Roads grant will focus on erosion control and help our Town Forester make recommendations on roadside tree removal.

The irony here is that the Town Manager took the lead and is working hard to put out the fire on the Trees & Roads issue.  Usually it’s the public who steps up to put out the fire.  If you see Jeff Schulz, feel free to ask him about the process and maybe say, “Hey, thanks!”

What’s Next?

Now it’s your turn.  Start gathering signatures for a petition to — Run for office.  Northfield needs to stop electing a Board only to protest against it.  The problem is systemic.  It’s just one issue after the next.  There are lots of reasons to *not* run for Select Board — but there’s no reason to expect change if we keep doing the same thing over and over and over again.  It’s not difficult to imagine Northfield’s future controversies.  In fact, here’s my prediction:

  • 2018:  Conflict between the Select Board and the Northfield Conservation Commission regarding the Town Plan.  This one is completely predictable.
  • 2019:  Angst over the mass retirement of executive level officers at Norwich University, followed by a last minute rush to try to finally develop consistent, positive relations with the Town’s largest employer after spending decades talking about it.
  • 2020:  Still wondering why Northfield’s economy remains stagnant even though the simple solution would have been to hire an Economic Development Director in 2017.    Please note — this is what I’ll be recommending this year.

Final Thought

Did I mention something about running for office?

Moving Forward. What’s the Plan?

Lynn and Julie at Good MeasureCongratulations

A sincere congratulations to Julie Goodrich and Lynn Doney on their election and re-election to the Selectboard on Town Meeting Day.  I’m looking forward to working with Julie and Lynn over the next two years.

Moving Forward

So, what’s next?  While I won’t be setting the agenda, my thought is that the Board would do well to take a look at the Town Plan as a guide as we think about our vision for the future.  The Plan covers quite a few specific ideas which are forgotten over time.  However, Northfield’s Town Plan provides important recommendations for public spending and economic development, two of the most important issues in our community at this time.  This is why we need to review the Plan

What’s the Plan?

Northfield Town PlanThe Town Plan speaks for all of us.  It was created through a process which involved broad public input. A series of public meetings were advertised and open to everyone.  No voice was excluded or ignored.  Participation was excellent.  The Plan represents consensus in our vision for Northfield moving forward. 

There have been times in public discussion when the Plan has been dismissed as “a guide” rather than a serious tool for planning and action.  My point isn’t to get into negativity — it’s simply to point out that we have a great resource we shouldn’t dismiss out of hand.

You can download and read the Plan here:  NORTHFIELD_TOWN_PLAN_2014


Candidates at Good Measure Brewing!

In follow up to the excellent Candidates Night a few nights ago, there will be a Mix & Mingle at Good Measure on Wednesday!  This may be your final opportunity to talk about Northfield’s future with Selectboard candidates and local leaders, so come on down and enjoy a local brew and appetizers!

  • What:  Mix & Mingle with Candidates!
  • Date:  Wednesday, March 1st
  • Time:  5pm – 7pm
  • Place:  Good Measure Brewing
  • Features:  People, Fun, Beer, Appetizers!

Save the Date!  Just click the appropriate link below!

iCalendar  •  Google Calendar  •  Outlook  •  Outlook Online  •  Yahoo! Calendar

Paving on the Horizon!

I had a productive phone conversation with Jon Kaplan from the Bike & Pedestrian program yesterday.  We talked about upcoming grants to build sidewalks and enhance street-side safety.  From an economic development perspective, pedestrian- and bike-friendly streets are essential features which help attract new residents and small businesses.

But before I get to that great news, here’s something you might really enjoy:  Routes 12 & 12A south of Northfield are scheduled to be paved in the near future!

Jon sent me a link to the VTrans site which shows the State’s paving and road maintenance schedules.  The picture above is a screenshot from  As you can see, segments of Routes 12 and 12A are identified as in “very poor condition” and, fortunately, are in the construction scheduling pipeline.  Let’s chalk that up as an item for in the Good News Department!

bike-and-pedS0, back to my conversation with Jon Kaplan.  The subject was about grant funding for sidewalks, crosswalks, and other bike & pedestrian safety projects.

$3 million in federal grant funding is available for major projects, generally in the $300,000 or greater range.  Last year, there was about $6 million in requests, so obviously there’s plenty of competition from other communities who want to improve their local byways.  However, Northfield has done a lot of planning recently, so we’re in a better-than-average position to win if we submit a proposal.

The other opportunity is a Small Projects grant funded by the State.  $300,000 is available with average grant sizes in the $10,000 to $30,000 range.  Turns out, not many communities have applied for funds from this program recently.  The award amount can help build crosswalks with curbing, provide signage, install bicycle parking racks, or other smaller scale enhancements for public safety.

The application window opens near the end of April or mid-May.  Decisions are announced in September.  Falls from North

What do you think?  If you think sidewalks, crosswalks, or bike paths are a good idea, post the project you’d prioritize in the comment section below?  What small project rises above other small projects?  What kind of big project would you like to see?  Share your thoughts!