Tenny won’t file citizens’ position

MIDDLEBURY — Former Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny has elected not to pursue a citizens’ petition to force a Town Meeting Day vote on a new municipal building and recreation center. He cited legal advice indicating such an effort might confuse issues for local voters when they turn out at the polls next March 4.
Tenny had announced at a Nov. 5 selectboard meeting that he planned to spearhead a citizens’ petition to force a Town Meeting Day 2014 referendum on a proposal to build new municipal offices and a new Middlebury recreation center. The selectboard, in tandem with an ad hoc committee and an architect, has been planning such a project for the past several months. But it’s a project that has drawn opposition from some Middlebury residents who, among other things, believe the proposal is ill-conceived and unwisely sited and would result in the loss of what they believe is a valuable asset: the current municipal building/gym site at the intersection of College and South Main streets.
Current plans call for Middlebury College to provide $5.5 million in project assistance to the town in exchange for the current municipal building/gym site, which would be cleared and turned into a park. A new municipal building would be erected at the site of the college’s Osborne House at 77 Main St., and a new recreation center would be built either on recreation lands off Mary Hogan Drive, or on a parcel off Creek Road. The college’s Osborne House would be moved to a town-owned parcel off Cross Street. Total estimated cost of the project is $7.5 million, of which Middlebury taxpayers would be responsible for around $2 million.
The selectboard last month voted 4-1 in favor of a term sheet outlining the tentative terms of a project agreement with Middlebury College. Two board members were disqualified from participating in that vote in wake of a citizens’ complaint that questioned their respective ties to Middlebury College and whether those associations ran counter to the town’s conflict of interest policy. Selectman Victor Nuovo is a (retired) professor emeritus at the college, and Selectwoman Susan Shashok’s spouse works for a local company partly owned by the college.
While the term sheet ultimately received selectboard approval, Tenny said at the time of that vote that he would proceed with the petition anyway, because he was concerned about potential efforts to postpone or kill a project that he believes should be decided on Town Meeting Day.
But Tenny confirmed on Monday he has decided to scuttle the petition drive, which would have required gathering 10 percent of the town’s registered signatures (around 460).
“We’ve been given a firm legal opinion that if we were to initiate a full-fledged petition drive, we would be in direct competition with the selectboard (effort),” Tenny said.
“It would create potential conflicts and a large measure of confusion with the public,” he added. “We were advised not to do that. We were advised to be supportive of the selectboard.”
Tenny said he and other project supporters have been heartened by what they perceive to have been a more collegial, deliberative planning process unfolding during the past month at both the selectboard and project steering committee levels.
“In the end, I think the people will be impressed with the work the steering committee and the selectboard will be presenting,” Tenny said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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