Ferrisburgh board to move charter forward following close vote

FERRISBURGH — The Ferrisburgh selectboard on Tuesday chose to forward the town’s first-ever charter to the Vermont Legislature for approval despite the narrow backing residents gave it in low turnout on May 11.
Residents last week in Australian balloting supported, by a tally of 61-59, a charter that would give the selectboard the power to appoint Ferrisburgh’s town clerk and treasurer. The total of 120 votes cast equaled about 5.5 percent of Ferrisburgh’s eligible voters.
Those positions have always been elected during Ferrisburgh’s more-than-250-year history, but problems with the town’s previous treasurer, who was ousted by voters in March, led the selectboard to consider making the switch to appointed town workers.
Board members said they were unable to bring into line a town official with whom they disagreed because he answered to voters, not to them. Vergennes, like most Vermont cities, has appointed clerks and treasurers, and Panton recently made the switch, citing the same reasons, although the town was not experiencing any issues with its office workers.
Selectboard Chairwoman Loretta Lawrence said board members briefly considered waiting until next town meeting to have another vote on the issue. But, she said, they decided the support for the charter expressed at this past town meeting and at two hearings as well as the positive, even if close, vote last week provided enough evidence for them to take the next step toward charter approval. A petition could still trigger a revote, however.
“We’re moving forward,” Lawrence said. “We felt good on Town Meeting Day with 120 people there. There was only one person who didn’t like it.”
Getting lawmakers’ approval probably cannot be accomplished during the current Legislative session, which could end this week. Lawrence last week said Reps. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, and Warren van Wyck, R-Ferrisburgh, were preparing the necessary paperwork.
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 said that the selectboard was happy with the performance of Town Clerk Gloria Warden, who was re-elected in March, and Treasurer Deb Healey, who unseated the incumbent in March, but the board believes the charter would protect the town if problems arose in the future.
“We’re excited to move forward with the charter,” she said. 
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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