Hartford Track Supporters Await Ruling

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, February 02, 2018

Woodstock — Hartford officials and supporters of an athletic track at the high school took the stand in Windsor Superior Court on Thursday, the second day of court proceedings over whether the town and School Board are obligated to include on the Town Meeting ballot a question about a high school track that was put forth by 600 petitioners.

Petition signer and Quechee resident F.X. Flinn, acting as his own counsel, asked Judge Robert Gerety to rule in favor of a preliminary injunction that would force officials to ask voters whether the School Board should spend $50,000 on preliminary design and engineering work for a track to be installed on the Hartford High School campus.

The town and school district were represented by attorney Joseph Farnham, who argued to Gerety that Flinn had failed to prove petitioners would suffer “irreparable harm” — a standard that needs to be met before an injunction can be granted — if the question were to be left off of the ballot.

The School Board rejected the petition last week, arguing that its wording — which includes creating a committee to manage the $50,000 allocation — would illegally force the board to relinquish its authority to manage taxpayer money in the best interests of the district.

Flinn filed his initial suit on Monday, and asked the court to resolve the issue before today’s deadline to submit the final warning language to the printers for a March 6 Town Meeting.

In an effort to establish irreparable harm, Flinn called a handful of track supporters to the stand as witnesses and asked them to describe what would happen if the petition, which could lead to a track being built in 2019, were kept off the ballot.

Hartford High School 10th-grader Nick Jones said that he loved running track when he was in middle school, but he quit the track and field team because he saw himself losing ground against students from other districts that have tracks.

“I was not progressing,” he said. “I wasn’t getting stronger. ... I would not be able to continue the sport that I loved when I was younger.”

On cross-examination, Farnum established that Hartford still has a track team, a coach and practices, and that it retains the ability to compete with other schools.

Peggy George, of White River Junction, testified that she would move her family, including two seventh-graders, out of the school district if the question were not placed on the ballot.

“I’ll be furious,” George said. George said she saw her son’s performance on the team suffered when the family moved to Hartford from Windsor, which has a track.

Sheila Hastie, president of the nonprofit Friends of Hartford Track, testified that her daughter, a student-athlete in the Hartford school system, had broken an ankle during a track and field team practice on the grass.

Hastie said the only way to get the track built was for the public to demand it from their officials — which was the intent of the petition.

“There’s always going to be something else that bumps the project, I guess,” Hastie said.

Selectman Dick Grassi also was called to the stand, where he said he expressed doubts to school officials about the prospects of an alternative plan that would fund some of the design work from a municipal allocation.

Gerety did not rule immediately, but said he would make an effort to make a decision before today’s deadline.

Many of his questions focused on whether town and school officials were obligated to put legal petitions on a warning for a specific meeting identified by petitioners, or whether officials instead had discretion in the timing of the special meeting they choose.

No ruling had been made as of Thursday evening.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.