Ferrisburgh OKs charter in close vote; If Legislature approves, board authority grows

FERRISBURGH — Ferrisburgh residents in Australian balloting on Thursday backed a new town charter that would give the selectboard the power to appoint Ferrisburgh’s town clerk and treasurer — but only by a two-vote margin in low turnout.
The tally backing the charter was 61-59, and only about 5.5 percent of Ferrisburgh’s eligible voters showed up at the town’s Route 7 office building to make their opinion known.
Ferrisburgh Selectboard Chairwoman Loretta Lawrence said the question of how the board should proceed will be on its agenda this Tuesday evening.
Lawrence said she believes the town will best be served in the future if the board accepts the result and petitions the Legislature to approve the charter, which would be Ferrisburgh’s first ever. She said she will make that recommendation to the full selectboard.
Problems with the town’s former treasurer and the fact board members had no recourse to discipline him other than to set his pay prompted them to propose the charter. The charter was also recommended by professional auditors who alleged the former treasurer had made a number of late filings and failed to reconcile some accounts. The selectboard also questioned whether he worked enough hours.
Residents voted the treasurer out of office on Town Meeting Day, and Deb Healey was voted in. Town Clerk Gloria Warden also easily won re-election in March.
“If we didn’t get the charter at this time we would still be in good hands with the people we have currently,” Lawrence said. “But we need the charter for the future of the town.”
Putting the charter into effect probably cannot be accomplished during the current Legislative session, which could end at any time. Lawmakers were hoping to wrap up this past weekend. Lawrence said Reps. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, and Warren van Wyck, R-Ferrisburgh, were preparing the necessary paperwork.
No election is scheduled in Ferrisburgh until Town Meeting Day next March, although a petition could trigger a revote on this issue. A special election or a vote next March would probably have little effect on the timetable because lawmakers’ approval almost certainly cannot be obtained until next year.
The proposed charter is brief in describing duties for the clerk and treasurer, but gives the selectboard the power to write job descriptions. It also includes a provision that the jobholders do not have to be Ferrisburgh residents.
The two-page charter includes basic language giving the town the right to “continue to be a municipal corporation” with “all the powers granted to towns and municipal corporations by the Constitution and laws of the State.”
Lawrence acknowledged she wished Thursday’s turnout had been higher and the result more decisive. She speculated on some of the reasons why even fewer people than usual showed up for a single-issue special election. 
“I talked to a lot of people in the last few days,” Lawrence said. “Some assumed it would pass. Some didn’t know about the vote. A lot of people supported it, and some people didn’t. Some people thought they took care of the problem on Town Meeting Day.”
She continues to believe the charter would protect the town moving forward.
“It’s a little disappointing. It would have been nice to have it one way or another be a bigger margin,” Lawrence said. “Down the road for the future it would be a wise thing to do.”
One thing is certain, she said.
“The intent is to continue on with the people we have,” Lawrence said. “We’re very happy with our new treasurer. We’re very happy with out current town clerk. Things are going well. We hope they want to stay.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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