Thetford Selectboard chairman quits, says 3 colleagues want to oust town manager

  • Thetford selectboard member Stuart Rogers checks his notes during Town Meeting held in Thetford, Vt., on March 1, 2014. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — Geoff Hansen

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/30/2019 3:38:31 PM
Modified: 12/30/2019 9:16:55 PM

THETFORD — Town officials are ending 2019 on a turbulent note after veteran Selectboard Chairman Stuart Rogers abruptly resigned and said three of his colleagues were working behind the scenes to oust Thetford’s new — and first — town manager.

Rogers, who had been the chairman for the past six years and on the board for seven, also filed a formal complaint with the Secretary of State’s Office, asserting that they had violated the state’s Open Meeting law.

The three Selectboard members — Nick Clark, Mike Pomeroy and Li Shen — said in interviews that they had communicated legally by email to schedule a meeting to evaluate Town Manager Serena Bemis-Goodall because Rogers had not acted upon their requests to hold such a meeting after her first three months on the job.

Bemis-Goodall started working in Thetford in early August after serving as a town manager in Maine. She is paid $72,500 a year, with her salary slated to increase to $75,000 in early February after her six-month probationary period is over.

Rogers resigned at a special Selectboard meeting held Friday evening that was initially called by three of his four colleagues to go into executive session for a “personnel discussion.”

Rogers amended the agenda to have the board sign a recently passed cannabis ordinance, allow time for “comments from the chair,” and then have the board discuss the town manager review.

In his comments, Rogers said the board “has become dysfunctional” and that he had filed the complaint with the state.

“It has become evident, in my opinion, that the three have been discussing and operating outside of any duly warned meeting, in their desire and attempt to oust Thetford’s first town manager, if not thwart the will of the voters, and doing so in concert with others in Town Hall,” Rogers said.

Later in his three-minute speech, Rogers said “since I no longer hold any confidence or trust in those three board members, I hereby resign my elected position to this board effective immediately.”

None of the four remaining board members, who also include Doug Stone, commented publicly at the time on Rogers’ action, and the board then met for about 30 minutes in executive session to discuss personnel.

But in phone interviews on Sunday and Monday, Clark, Shen and Pomeroy said they had complied with the law and communicated by email to schedule an evaluation after failing to get Rogers to do so. Stone, who works on the road crew in Vershire, could not be reached for comment.

Pomeroy is a former selectman who rejoined the board in March. Clark was first elected then. Shen has been on the board since 2017.

“He was making it challenging to get the evaluation (done),” Clark said of Rogers. “We discussed scheduling a meeting over email, but that is not a violation of the Open Meeting law. We did not discuss the evaluation itself over the email. … We did not formulate a majority opinion with some secret agenda.”

Shen said the assertion that she and her two colleagues were trying to oust the town manager “sounds like a conspiracy theory to me” and noted that “scheduling is allowable” under the Open Meeting law.

All three said they were surprised by Rogers’ resignation and Pomeroy credited Rogers for his work, which included extensive efforts to help Thetford recover from major flooding in the summer of 2017.

“It’s too bad. He put a lot of years into the town, and he deserves credit for that, whether people agree with him or not,” Pomeroy said.

But he also asserted that Rogers resigned because “we were challenging his authority, and I think he’s reacting personally, is what I think is happening.”

Rogers, in a phone interview Sunday evening, said he believes his colleagues violated the Open Meeting law in part by “acting outside of a duly warned meeting” and some at times also may have used personal emails to communicate with at least two other board members in the mistaken belief that that did not create a quorum.

While acknowledging that another member of the Selectboard could schedule a meeting, Rogers said such requests needed to include all board members.

Pomeroy said he sent an initial email to all four of his colleagues about holding the meeting, and that only Clark and Shen responded.

Shen, Clark and Pomeroy declined to comment specifically on Bemis-Goodall’s performance, saying it was a “personnel issue,” but Pomeroy said he had been pushing for an evaluation for the past couple of months.

“You don’t put someone in a brand new job and not tell them what they are doing right or wrong,” Pomeroy said. “If she’s doing a good job or a bad job, she needs to know.”

Rogers said he wanted to make sure the review was done properly and also had concerns about an anonymous survey of Thetford department heads — some of whom now report to the town manager — that Pomeroy arranged, and the board approved, as part of the evaluation.

Rogers was absent for that meeting but said some people in Town Hall, whom he did not specifically identify, were resistant to the transition.

“I like Serena. I think it has been a constant challenge because … people do not like change, they do not like to give up what they are doing,” Rogers said.

Bemis-Goodall said Rogers has been “one of my biggest supporters” and that Friday night’s meeting — two days after Christmas — had been both a surprise and “very concerning.” Bemis-Goodall was in Maine at the time, where her husband remains with their son, who is in his senior year of high school.

She was back in Thetford on Monday and was slated to meet with the four remaining board members later in the evening, after the Valley News deadline, following a budget discussion and selection of a new chair.

“I don’t know what to expect,” she said.

John P. Gregg can be reached at

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