With 5 resignations in the past year, Hartford Selectboard members keep choosing the exit

  • Juila Dalphin (Courtesy CATV)

  • Rachel Edens (Courtesy photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/25/2021 9:45:04 PM
Modified: 5/25/2021 9:45:02 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Hartford officials are planning a special election to fill two Selectboard seats left open after board members Julia Dalphin and Rachel Edens stepped down this month.

They are the fourth and fifth members to resign from the seven-member board in less than a year.

In her resignation letter submitted Thursday, Dalphin said she had accepted a new job as a chief quality officer for a home health agency in Barre, Vt., in February, shortly before she was elected to the board in Town Meeting voting. She wrote that she’d hoped to juggle work and board duties but said her busy schedule has forced her to miss three Selectboard meetings already.

“The citizens of the town of Hartford deserve a person who can commit time and effort to the work that must be undertaken by the Selectboard,” Dalphin wrote. “Presently I am unable to commit that time and must recognize that my resignation of my role is what is best for the town.”

Meanwhile Edens, in her resignation letter submitted May 13, pointed to unexpected medical issues that forced her to step down. In an interview Tuesday, Edens clarified that she had suffered a pulmonary embolism that nearly proved fatal. She said she wrestled with the decision to step down, adding that she worried about her duty to Hartford residents, but that she ultimately needed to put her self-care first.

“My grandmother taught me that voting was the most important thing one could do. She also taught me that ‘The mind rules the body’ and ‘You ain’t made of iron.’ ” Edens wrote. “I regret that often I have pushed these admonitions aside in an attempt to foolishly undertake what I knew I could not carry.”

Town officials said in a news release Tuesday that a special election will be held at a date to be determined, and that “details are being worked out in accordance with Vermont election procedures at this time.”

In the three previous resignations over the last year, board members gave different reasons for their decisions; Dennis Brown, who stepped down last summer, cited concerns with transparency on the board. Brown has since been reelected to the board. Alan Johnson stepped down in the fall because he was moving to Montpelier; and Alicia Barrow resigned in January citing “blatant bigotry” she said she experienced from community members over her race. At the time, Barrow was one of three Black members of the board.

Though all five members gave different reasons for their decisions, some officials have pointed to the workload as a possible contributing factor to the retention rate of board members over the last year.

The board meetings, for which members are paid $75, often run two to three hours but can stretch on for four or five hours. All told, members can work anywhere between seven to 20 hours a week on Selectboard responsibilities, Selectboard Chairman Dan Fraser said.

In addition to the meetings, members also serve on various town committees, said Town Manager Tracy Yarlott-Davis. Especially for members who have families or jobs, that time commitment can be a lot.

“We need to be cognizant of if you’re in the midst of parenting and have a job we’re asking for a significant time and brain commitment,” she said. “One of the things we can do better is being upfront about how much time and commitment this all takes.”

Dalphin echoed that thought, adding in a message to the Valley News on Tuesday that she had a difficult time managing the extra committee work, which she hadn’t anticipated when running for her seat.

“It seems to me that the Selectboard could benefit from a job description for committee members, allowing any candidate to understand all the requirements of the role, prior to a candidacy,” she wrote. “Good orientation and clear expectations often increase retention at places of employment.”

Dalphin and Edens ran in a slate of candidates, alongside current board members Fraser and Ally Tufenkjian, all of whom espoused more progressive values and platforms in their campaigns.

Edens, also pointed to the workload and said she had an added pressure of being a Black woman in a leadership role in a predominantly white town. Early on in her time on the board, Edens, who was initially appointed to fill a vacant seat in the fall, faced online criticism that she said was likely tied to her race.

“If you’re a person of color there’s a whole other layer of responsibility,” Edens said, explaining the process can take “a lot of emotional work.”

Edens said her colleagues on the board were supportive of her, but that it would have been beneficial — both to her and the board’s diversity — to have other Black women she could reach out to for guidance. Though, she clarified, her decision to resign was tied to medical issues, and not to race.

“I really think it would be wonderful if there was a way that Black women were able to connect across the state — a network specific to Black women,” she said.

Selectboard member Joe Major said he doesn’t think there is one specific reason for the turnover in members over the last year, but that the stress of COVID-19 likely has played a role.

“We’re just coming off of a pandemic that happens once every century. To say that isn’t a factor would be short-sighted,” Major said.

Regardless, he said he’s hopeful the five resignations are a “blip” and not a trend of what’s to come for the board.

“It is not a good look in any way, shape or form, but I would say with pretty much certainty it’s more of an aberration than something that is inherent to the Selectboard,” he said.

Anyone with questions on the upcoming special election can reach out to the town manager at tyarlott-davis@hartford-vt.org, according to the release.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

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