The board paused to acknowledge the contributions of Dot’s owner John Reagan, who died this week, and his wife Patty Reagan. The couple became local heroes when, after Tropical Storm Irene destroyed what had been an integral part of the village, they defied fate and resurrected the building and the business. Many credited the couple with saving the village after the flood. “They were not only iconic owners of an iconic business,” said Haughwout, “but they have been great bosses and mentors to many employees. Patty is a wonderful person who is going through the loss of a spouse, and our thoughts are with her and the Reagan and Bemis families. We’ll miss John.”
Following a brief executive session, board members unanimously appointed Sarah Fisher to fill the remaining year of Diane Chapman’s term on the selectboard. Chapman resigned two weeks earlier, citing differences with the board over the handling of personnel issues connected to Wilmington Town Manager Scott Murphy’s recent notice that he would not seek reappointment after his contract expires in February 2018.
In a related development, the board voted to enter into a separation agreement with Murphy following an executive session at a special meeting on Monday afternoon. The move will mean an earlier departure for Murphy, although the date hasn’t been announced yet.
Including Fisher, board members interviewed a field of four candidates for the position, including two former board members, Bill Adams and Jim Burke, and a current board member, Susan Haughwout.
Adams told board members that he volunteered for the position because his neighbors asked him to serve. “I feel that this is my town,” Adams said, “although I’m glad to share it with you. If you look in the cemeteries in this town, you’ll see this is where my kinfolk come from.”
Adams said tax issues were his top priority, particularly issues regarding fair taxation of power company land. “The area that’s underwater (Harriman Reservoir) was the most productive land in the town of Wilmington,” he said. “When (the reservoir was built) they realized that, and agreed to pay better than 50% of the taxes in Wilmington. And what now? Over the years they’ve bartered with lawyers and gotten the taxes down to a pittance. Well, the best property in town is still down there, and they ought to be paying for it.”
Burke said he stepped forward because he has experience the board will need as it seeks to replace its town manager. “I see a rough transitional time coming ahead,” he said. “I see long-range things that need a lot of work. I’ve been on two town manager searches, and that’s not an easy thing. It’s great to have the public come out and say they want to give it (service on the selectboard) a shot, but there’s also a lot of intricate work that needs to be done in this next year.”
Burke also called the former high school and proposed community center facility an “800-pound pink gorilla” that the town should not get involved with. “I don’t know the answer to that building, but I don’t think it should be on the taxpayers’ back to create a community center when we’re so overtaxed. It’s a school issue, and it should be left so that it’s on them, not on us.”
Haughwout decided not to run for reelection earlier in the year. Her term is set to expire in March, and is likely to be filled by former state representative Ann Manwaring, who is running unopposed for the position. Haughwout told board members she was volunteering to provide continuity on issues the board has been working on while they seek a new town manager. She listed the development of a capital spending plan and fiduciary oversight as among the special interests she’d continue to pursue on the board.
Haughwout also listed support of the fire department as one of her priorities.
Fisher said she has been involved in politics from the local level to national, but with three children and a husband (attorney Bob Fisher) who is often required to attend evening meetings, she hasn’t been able to get involved until recently. “Now that my children are older, I have more time to devote to something like this.”
Fisher said hiring a new town manager was the board’s top priority, but she also said the disposition of the former high school building and economic development are concerns. “I want to continue the work on economic development and encourage families to stay here and work. That’s very important to me.”