Hartford Selectboard Elects Newest Member as Chairman

White River Junction — The new look Selectboard’s officer elections stalled early, as a split vote and a prolonged debate over the vice chairman position echoed some divisions and arguments of the board’s previous iteration.

The discussion occurred after Chuck Wooster, who voters returned to the board this year after a three-year absence , was unanimously elected as chairman in the first five minutes of an organizational meeting last night. Wooster previously served on the board between 2007 and 2010 and was chairman in 2009.

Asked what he thought the chairman’s job should be, Wooster compared it to an air traffic controller.

“It’s not the chair’s job to fly planes,” he said. “It’s the chair’s job to keep the business of the board moving in an orderly fashion.”

After that confirmation, though, the board became bogged down in a nearly 30-minute debate over who should serve in the board’s No. 2 position.

F.X. Flinn, the incumbent vice chairman, and Simon Dennis were nominated for the position. The initial vote was 3 to 3, with Dennis himself abstaining. Alex DeFelice, Ken Parker and Sam Romano voted for Dennis; Bethany Fleishman, Flinn and Wooster voted for the incumbent.

“It was too painful for me to vote against (Flinn’s) continuation as vice chairman,” Dennis said after the meeting, adding that he was not aware he would be nominated. “No matter how it went, it was going to be less than ideal.”

The deadlock led to a discussion, at Dennis’ urging, about potentially putting the decision off a week in hopes of reaching a consensus. But the idea didn’t go over well, as multiple board members expressed their desire to put the issue to rest.

Flinn noted that not using a voting process ran counter to the town charter and state law.

“You may not like my style, but I understand how the chair’s position works,” Flinn continued. “I’ve done my homework, and I think I’ve proven that, and I believe I deserve the opportunity to continue in this role.”

But the position went Dennis’ way when Wooster changed his vote.

“I cast my vote in the interest of expediency and moving this process forward,” he said.

Despite his misgivings about unseating Flinn, Dennis later said he accepted the position as “a gesture toward board unity.”

Shortly after, Fleishman was elected as board clerk for the second consecutive year.

From there, the two-hour meeting did move along at a quick clip, as members began planning organizational steps for both the short- and long-term and offered ideas on how to govern more efficiently over the course of the coming year. Wooster said he would try to set an agenda that would end meetings by 9 p.m.

DeFelice mentioned creating a calendar for the board to set goals, and also diving into town budget earlier in the year.

He also floated the idea of a work session, “so we can feel out each other, for one thing, and head in the direction that we need to head.”

The idea went over well. The first session will be held on March 26. The next regular Selectboard meeting will be held a week prior.

There will be no shortage of work on the town’s end in the coming months. Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg noted the passage of two bonds — $4.9 for Municipal Building renovations and $9 million for athletic field work — at Tuesday’s Town Meeting will keep town employees busy.

“In addition, we have all the projects that we set forth in our budget, which is a full budget in and of itself,” he said.

The next month or so, he said, will be focused on bond-related work, such as filings, signings and contracts. After the meeting, Rieseberg said he plans for construction to start on the Maxfield property, which will eventually host a variety of courts and fields, in the summer or fall.

Because bid documents for the property already exist, he said, low interest rates can be taken advantage of and the money can be borrowed this year.

However, the situation is slightly different for the Municipal Building bond. There’s no set dollar amount for that project just yet, and Rieseberg said he wouldn’t want to borrow the full $4.9 million if the actual price of the building could turn out less.

“It may make sense not to bond until spring (2014),” he said. “Once you buy the bond, you own it.”

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.