Mural incident spills over as resident asks Mora to resign Derry board

Board member George Mora has turned over the Londonderry Community Forum to Nadine van Houten. All photos by Bruce Frauman.

By Bruce Frauman
©2017-Telegraph Publishing LLC

The controversy over the Route 10 mural painted over 10 days ago by a local restaurateur spilled over to the Sept. 18 Londonderry Select Board meeting, when resident Chad Stoddard asked Select Board member George Mora to resign from the board or be removed, if she refused.

Stoddard was responding to Mora’s decision to temporarily suspend him from posting on the Londonderry Community Forum’s Facebook page during a discussion — at times heated — on Mill Tavern owner Ed Brown’s actions in covering up the mural without permission.

See: Ed Brown Apologizes to Londonderry.

Mora, who created the page before she ran for the board and has continued to manage it,  said that Stoddard violated the rules promoting civility on the forum, and it wasn’t the first time. But Stoddard argued that Mora was abusing her power as a select board member by violating his right to free speech and was also disrespectful to Ed Brown.

Board chair Paul Gordon said that, according to the Vermont League of Cities and Town, there is no provision in the law for removing or recalling a select board member as long as they retain “life, residency and sanity.”

Chad Stoddard calls for Mora’s resignation.

Without addressing Stoddard’s request, Mora, instead, said she decided to turn over administration and moderation of the group to Nadine Van Houten, reading a statement that said, “The purpose of the group was and is to share information about important events and emergencies in the community. I’ve asked members to maintain a friendly and civil atmosphere. The group was never an official page of the town of Londonderry and was never sanctioned as an official mouthpiece for town government.”

She also vociferously defended her decision to “put Stoddard in a timeout” for using the “F” word when another commentor said that she would pray for him.

Resident Helen Hamman told the board that as a private Facebook forum, Mora “can set the rules for regulation.”

But Michael Arace, who is Stoddard’s business partner, argued that as an elected official, “you are expected to hold yourself as a position of respect in this town.” He also accused Mora of “cyber bullying.”

Board member Bob Forbes said that the board “does not control any of the input” of the forum, while fellow member Jim Ameden said that all board members “receive intense scrutiny, so it is really important to be careful” what we say. He added that he posted on the forum to try to “defuse the situation.”

The Londonderry Community Forum Facebook page was set up two years ago as an outlet for Mighty Londonderry, the town’s Community Resilience Organization, with the goal of providing a way for town residents to quickly communicate in an emergency.

The Facebook page was set up two years ago as a social media outlet for Mighty Londonderry, the town’s Community Resilience Organization, with the goal of providing a way for town residents to quickly communicate in an emergency. After disrespectful remarks were made about some residents, the Select Board decided it did not want the town officially associated with the site, so Mora, a private citizen at the time, made it her own. As of today, the forum has 933 members.

Gordon then asked the board to support his decision to talk with the Vermont State Police about Brown painting over the flower mural. He added that VSP said it has 20 days to gather information before issuing a complaint of “unlawful mischief.” Gordon would like to see some “restitution.”

While both Ameden and Cavanagh wanted confirmation from VTrans that the wall belongs to the state and did not wish to prosecute, the board decided to allow the legal process continue as Vermont State Police investigate.

Local business offers to sponsor mural

Helen Hamman of the Beautification Committee offers aid with the wall.

In the meantime, Gordon said that J.D. Sharp of the Vermont Butcher Shop, located down the street from the wall, has offered to sponsor an annual mural in conjunction with Flood Brook students and with mural artist Kim Ray as arbitrator.  Mora said it was “too soon” to process this proposal, and that she would like to hear what VTrans plans for its “reclaim” of Route 11 in 2019 before making a decision about the wall.

Resident Kevin Beattie said given the time of the year, no paint would likely be put on the wall until spring, so there is time for public comment.

Hamman said the Beautification Committee will meet with VTrans engineer Marc Pickering about the wall. And Sharon Crossman said that since the town planned the mural with VTrans, the town still should have some ownership in it. Gordon will thank the Vermont Butcher Shop for its offer, explain the complications and say the town is exploring options.

Hiring, shed construction and heavy equipment

In other board business, Gordon said the search committee for an new zoning administrator and town administrator had held two interviews and will hold two more.

Jim Ameden

The board approved issuing a Request for Proposal for snowplowing the Transfer Station, with a deadline of Oct. 16.

Gordon said that originally, the town road crew would be responsible for grading the access to the new salt and sand shed, but after consulting with Road Commissioner Jim Ameden and Road Foreman Mathew Rawson, he concluded it “may be beyond our capability.” Ameden said the shed excavating contractor will have the proper equipment to grade the road. Gordon said he was still negotiating with All Seasons Construction on the final terms of the contract, and will ask its excavation contractor for a price. Work is expected to begin Sept. 25 or 26.

Ameden said the 2005 plow truck was ready to be put up for sale, but the bed on the 2002 truck is in “horrible shape.” Rawson received a price of $9,150 to swap the bodies of the two trucks. As Ameden put it, the “05 will be no good to us with the existing bed.” The board agreed to spend the $9,150 to swap the bodies of the two trucks.

Also, Ameden said Rawson found a 2010 John Deere 544 loader, needed for the new salt and sand shed, from Nortrax in Springfield. Ameden called the $99,900 price a “good deal.” The road crew has been testing it for the past couple of days and found it to be in excellent shape. The board agreed to purchase the loader and figure out the “best possible terms,” which may include financing for up to three years, though two year financing is more likely. A new loader would cost more than $200,000, according to Ameden.

Ameden said they are still waiting for the roadside mowing equipment to be delivered. The town has agreed to rent the tractor and mower, but is still on a waiting list.

Gordon said he and Mora had agreed to language to post on a signs near the entrance of the Prouty land. Forbes wanted to include responsible hunting, so the final wording is: This property is owned by the town of Londonderry. Other than responsible hunting, use of firearms is prohibited. Overnight use of this property is prohibited. Responsible use and stewardship of this property is expected.

Kevin Beattie offers to oversee the final stages of the Genser property work.

Gordon noted that the majority of the building on the former Genser property has been demolished and hauled away. Former town administrator Kevin Beattie has agreed to supervise the work for the town. The next step is removal of the asphalt by Hunter Excavating of South Londonderry.  Beattie said a 25 gallon barrel of something “with a chemical smell. . . kind of showed up a couple of weeks ago.” It has been moved to the Transfer Station, where its contents will be determined for proper disposal.

The board charged the Policing Committee with looking into town speed limits and distracted driving problems then return to the board with a proposal.

The board also accepted Treasurer Tina Labeau’s recommendation that the town not pay the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union in advance of its Oct. 15 payment as requested. 

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  1. Rusty says:

    The first amendment says that Congress (and, by extension, any governmental entity) shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. A Facebook group not associated with a government entity can place any restrictions they want on what can be posted in their group. Some groups, including the Londonderry group, don’t want vulgarity expressed, and these groups have the right to exclude members who violate their guidelines. This group also wants their members to treat each other with respect. The comment Chad Stoddard made was vulgar and disrespectful, violating the rules of the group. Suspending him from posting was a response to that post, and not a violation of his first amendment rights.