Conflict arises during team building talk on Hartford Selectboard

By PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-23-2023 9:12 AM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — The Hartford Selectboard discussed plans Tuesday to organize training workshops and team building following an organizational meeting earlier this month, where rising tensions resulted in friction between colleagues and frustrations over an absence of civility.

Prior to discussions of the team building plan, one member stormed out of the meeting.

The Selectboard on Tuesday, along with community members, attempted to unpack the hostility on display during the previous session on March 9.

“This is not a team,” Selectboard member Lannie Collins said Tuesday. “This is ‘fragments.’ We have a lack of teamwork based on collaboration, respect, trust, communication and engagement on this board. And this limits our ability to be effective and to meet the needs of our community and our constituents.”

The conflict arose during a meeting to appoint new board officials and committee liaisons. A lack of familiarity with procedural rules, combined with differences in personalities, communication styles and political views, gave way to arguments and feelings of frustration.

Collins, speaking to the community, apologized for his own role in feeding conflicts with board colleagues, stressing that he strives to improve upon his shortcomings.

Collins also recommended that board members participate in a team building retreat or training so that board members learn “to understand their similarities instead of their differences.”

Several board members concurred with this training proposal.

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“We are all different personalities,” board member Mary Erdei said. “We are never going to be buddies together. We are all different; we have different lifestyles and experiences. But we do have the one thing in common, that we all want to do best by the town.”

Selectboard Clerk Kim Souza, the board training coordinator, said she is already researching training sessions that specifically target Selectboard teamwork.

This training would be in lieu of the previously planned training sessions in diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI.

“We are currently a board where there (is) reluctance toward diversity and equity training, so we have tried to pivot,” Souza explained. “The facilitators we were working with said maybe (our) board isn’t ready for diversity and equity training.”

Souza is currently consulting with different facilitators, including Vermont League of Cities and Towns, to provide three training sessions between April and June to assist the board in basic team building, conflict resolution and other skills.

Souza also reported that Vermont Community Foundation, which awarded Hartford a $10,000 grant to fund DEI training, is willing to allow the Selectboard to apply those funds to teamwork training.

The foundation sent Souza six questions to complete, to help the foundation determine if the board’s team building proposal will help toward the broader town goals in diversity, equity and inclusion.

One question, for example, asked if “Selectboard members are all committed to working on general communications and board cohesion.”

But the board could not answer that question on Tuesday, as board member Rocket abruptly left the meeting after voicing grievances about board colleagues.

Early in the meeting Rocket issued a nearly 10-minute speech in which he criticized some board members for being intolerant to dissenting opinions and unwilling to engage members with diverging viewpoints.

In a phone interview, Rocket told the Valley News that his meeting departure was “a statement to the Selectboard” that dismissing or marginalizing the views of him or other community members is unacceptable.

“I have tried individual outreach to board members and in a (nonpublic) mediation training; I have tried every possible way I know to bridge the gap with fellow board members,” he said.

Souza said she plans to bring a list of possible training programs to the next Selectboard meeting in April for consideration.

Patrick Adrian may be reached at padrian@vnews.com or at 603-727-3216.

CORRECTION: Hartford Selectboard member Rocket departed the March 21 meeting prior to the board's discussion of training workshops. A previous version of this story was incorrect in its description of when Rocket left the meeting.

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