Middlebury selectman threatens to quit

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury Selectman Travis Forbes threatened to resign from his position late last week after leveling a breach-of-contract dispute against the town’s Public Works Department. Forbes alleged that department officials improperly rejected road sand from the Forbes family’s company — Case Street Redi-Mix Inc. — and instead ordered product from a different company, in spite of the fact that Case Street Redi-Mix had won the bid to supply the town’s sand this winter.
Forbes outlined this and other public works-related concerns in a Jan. 10 letter to fellow selectboard members and town staff. In that letter, he requested the resignation of Middlebury Director of Operations Dan Werner “or I will be writing a letter of resignation due to the events that unfolded today.”
But Forbes had apparently backed off from his resignation threat as the Addison Independent went to press on Wednesday. Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay confirmed that she and other municipal officials met with Forbes on Tuesday afternoon in an effort to resolve the dispute.
“Town officials and representatives of Case Street Redi-Mix met yesterday to discuss improving communication between the town and the contractor during the remainder of the contract term and also discussed testing protocols for winter sand and the delivery of notifications under the terms of contract between the town and Case Street Redi-Mix,” Ramsay said, through a written statement, about the outcome of the meeting.
The Independent was able to reach Forbes on Tuesday before that meeting, and received an emailed statement on Wednesday afternoon in which he noted that testing and notifications should also apply to “all other contractors moving forward with new contracts.
“It should also be noted that Case Street sand did pass the specs other than the load in question,” Forbes added.
Forbes joined his colleagues at the Tuesday evening selectboard meeting and did not mention the controversy.
It was on Sept. 8, 2013, that Case Street Redi-Mix won the bid to supply the town’s road sand this winter. Forbes recused himself from the vote on that bid award. The company prevailed with a low bid of $7.25 per ton for what Forbes said was a volume of 3,000 tons. He maintained the company has a contract with the town that called for half the total sand to be delivered to the public works stockpiles by late November/early December, with the balance brought in upon the town’s request.
Forbes, in his Jan. 10 letter, said Case Street Red-Mix began hauling sand on Nov. 7 and was about half-done with its deliveries on Dec. 10.
“On Dec. 24, 2013, Case Street began to haul again as the sand pile was being used rapidly,” Forbes stated in his letter. “After hauling in only one load that day, Dan Werner requested that we stop hauling because no one would be around to push the pile over. He said he would call when they were ready for more sand. Today (Jan. 10) we drove up to the town’s pile of sand to find that J P Carrara’s was hauling sand into the town’s stockpile. Upon confronting Dan Werner to see why this was, he had no good reason other than our sand just wasn’t working right now.”
Forbes claimed the sand met the town’s specifications and that public works officials should have called Case Street to help solve the alleged sand problem, instead of ordering sand from a different company.
Ramsay said public works officials were concerned that the particular delivery of Case Street sand might have been too fine to be effective on the roads. She conceded the town should have handled the matter differently and added “Case Street has provided the town quality sand before, without incident.”
Dale Hazard, the town’s highway superintendent, wrote a memo voicing concerns about the sand delivery in question and noted the subsequent request for 500 tons of sand from Carrara to make up for it.
The sand issue was but one of several concerns that Forbes said he has had about the operation of the Public Works Department. In his letter and during a Tuesday telephone interview with the Addison Independent, he alleged that several public works employees are dissatisfied by the way the department is being run.
“The morale is gone there,” said Forbes, a member of the town’s public works subcommittee who said he routinely speaks with workers of that department. He said some employees have likened their jobs to “going to prison” rather than to a vocation they enjoy.
Forbes added he has been frustrated that his suggested improvements to public works functions have been “just brushed off to the side.”
“It is time for things to change for the betterment of our town and job environment of the valuable public works crew,” Forbes concluded in his letter. “I feel for them, having to work in such a hostile, unprofessional environment, we are lucky to have them and their knowledge. They should be able to enjoy their jobs. A happy employee is a productive employee.”
The Independent contacted Werner on Monday to get his reaction to Forbes’ letter. Werner said he was not at liberty at this time to respond to the allegations.
Forbes’ threat to resign comes two weeks after Selectman Victor Nuovo stepped down on Jan. 2 after contesting the second of two conflict-of-interest complaints that had been leveled against him by several citizens who questioned his ability to discuss or vote on a proposed real estate deal with Middlebury College related to new municipal offices and a recreation center.
Meanwhile, ID-4  board Chairman Ruth Hardy recently resigned from the Town Offices and Recreation facilities Steering Committee and Selectwoman Susan Shashok announced she would step down from the town’s Parks and Recreation Committee. Both officials said their resignations were based on concerns about the current process in siting the new town offices and recreation facility.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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