According to Chapman’s brief letter, she had intended to finish her term, which expires in 2018, but decided to leave over her opposition to recent board decisions. “Recent actions of the selectboard have made me realize that I cannot, in good conscience, continue on the board.”
On Thursday morning, Chapman clarified that her objections were related to legal actions regarding Town Manager Scott Murphy. She referred to a decision in December to seek legal counsel, which followed an executive session on a personnel matter. At a subsequent meeting, Chapman expressed her disappointment that the executive discussion and public vote had occurred while she was on vacation.
“The board could have waited to deal with the situation after I returned,” she said. “They chose not to, in fact they had two meetings on the matter while I was out of town.”
Murphy subsequently gave notice that he planned to leave at the end of his contract. At the time, he said that the selectboard had asked him to leave before the end of his contract, something he was reviewing. Chapman would not reveal matters discussed in executive session, but indicated that the selectboard has continued to pursue legal action aimed at removing Murphy before the end of his contract, something she believes is unnecessary, expensive, and a distraction from efforts to hire a new town manager. “It’s needless,” Chapman said. “They’re racking up the attorney bills, and the townspeople don’t need that on their shoulders. The whole thing snowballed out of control, and it didn’t have to go that way.”
Chapman said she’s satisfied with her choice to resign, and felt like she could no longer make a difference on the board. “It basically came down to a four to one vote, and I didn’t see what purpose it served to stay on the board.”
Board members discussed their strategy for filling Chapman’s term. According to selectboard chair Tom Fitzgerald, the position can’t be filled at this year’s Town Meeting, since the deadline petitions for selectboard candidates passed on Monday, the day before Chapman submitted her resignation.
“According to our procedures, we have the authority to fill the vacancy until an annual or special Town Meeting is held, and must inform the public of the vacancy,” Fitzgerald said. “With John in Montpelier, and us here, we’ll have to have three votes to pass anything. The makeup of the board is going to be a little testy here for a bit.”
In other matters, the board discussed an inquiry by the Whitingham Selectboard regarding a possible partnership in fighting the state over education funding. The Whitingham board recently added an article to their Town Meeting warning seeking $100,000 in funding for their legal fund. The move was in reaction to Whitingham’s projected homestead school tax rate increase of 52 cents despite a Twin Valley budget that has been slashed by $750,000. In a letter to state and federal officials, Whitingham board members noted that Whitingham and Wilmington have consolidated their schools to save money, as currently mandated by the state. “We were the pilot towns for merger. It seems to have the opposite effect, due to a loss of student population.”
Whitingham board members called on officials to revamp the state’s education funding formula. “Please do something about these escalating property tax rates! We fear there will be many residents that will be unable to afford such an increase. Our school is already close to bare bones for extracurricular activities for the students and find any further cuts could result in parents leaving our town for towns with an affordable quality education for their children – most likely out of state.”
“I’m not sure their constituents are going to be able to come up with another $100,000, either,” said board member Susan Haughwout. “Is there a specific plan?”
“No plan,” said Fitzgerald. “An idea, but not a plan.”
Board members declined to ask Wilmington voters for a matching amount for a formal partnership, but noted that the town could still participate in any joint action.
“I think we need to wait until we have a stronger plan, a more clear direction of where it’s going,” said board member Vince Rice.
“I think we want to say that we understand the position Whitingham is in. We’re in a situation that’s severe enough. There’s no end in sight and it’s devastating. We can understand (Whitingham’s) pain, but we’re not prepared to ask voters for hard dollars right now.”