Derry dog owner addresses barking issue; board appoints Health Officer

Town Treasurer Tina Labeau, left, and Town Clerk Kelly Pajala attend the meeting at town offices fully masked.

By Cherise Madigan
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

At a special session of the Londonderry Select Board on Monday, the board appointed a new Town Health Officer, heard from a resident whose dog’s barking was discussed by the board at its Aug. 17 meeting and went into executive session to discuss potential litigation.

Cobble Ridge dog owner responds

West McDonough of Cobble Ridge Road tells the Londonderry Board her side of a controversial story. Click on the photo to read the original story.

The meeting, typically held on the first and third Monday of the month, was held a week early due to the coming Labor Day holiday. Following standard business such as minutes approval, pay orders, and correspondence, the board heard from West McDonough, a resident of Cobble Ridge Road who expressed “dismay” at having been discussed by the board without warning.

Board chair George Mora aimed to keep the discussion brief, in accordance with new Select Board rules enacted at the last meeting that limit guest speakers to three minutes. McDonough explained that she wanted to present her side of the story on the record, following an extended discussion of her dog’s alleged barking at the prior meeting and the subsequent recommendation of penalties by the board. None of those penalties could be levied since, soon after the meeting, McDonough’s enterprise was recognized as a farm by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture and thus not subject to the town dog ordinance.

McDonough told the board that she took her neighbors’ concerns seriously and that a well-trained livestock guardian dog should not bark through the night. After recording the dog every night for 12 days, then logging each barking incident in a spreadsheet, McDonough said she doesn’t see a problem.

She told the board that during seven of the 12 nights, no barking occurred except one incident that lasted for less than a minute. On three nights, two to four incidents occurred but all were under a minute each, McDonough said. She added that on two nights there was “significant barking,” although coyotes can also be heard on the recording and, the next morning, McDonough found evidence of bear activity on the property.

Board member Vince Annunziata said he is looking forward to seeing a runoff plan on McDonough’s property.

Overall, the worst night of barking, she said, was no more than a total of 15 minutes, with the long part of that being around five minutes. The average length of each barking incident was less than a minute, which, she says “hardly seems like nuisance standards.”

McDonough added that the dog escaping her enclosure is a legitimate concern, so she has worked to raise the fence and also purchased a tracker. She also countered any claims that her dog could be dangerous, saying that children living on the property safely play with the dog regularly.

“I didn’t wish to have, sitting on the record, a place where I was talked about in a pejorative fashion extensively and not at least respond,” McDonough said. “I want it on the record.”

Select Board chair George Mora explained that there isn’t anything the board can do statutorily, and that it would be up to the residents of Cobble Ridge to find a solution. She went on to ask McDonough about her qualifications as a farm per state requirements, while Board member Vincent Annunziata added that he is looking forward to seeing a runoff plan — considering the property’s proximity to the West River — and member Jim Fleming commended McDonough for her preparation.

Town Health Officer appointed

Richard Phelan, a newly full-time resident of South Londonderry, was recommended as the new Town Health Officer during Monday’s meeting. Phelan, who accumulated an extensive public service resume before retiring in Londonderry, said that he is “excited to help out.”

“I’m happy to volunteer, I believe in community,” he said. “I’d like more people to volunteer for things, which I’m not seeing happen at this present moment.”

The position had previously been occupied by Mora, as the responsibility falls on a town’s Select Board chair if no resident volunteers according to Vermont Department of Health guidelines. Alongside recommending Phelan, whose appointment will now be finalized by the state health department, the board also moved to appoint Mora as Londonderry’s Deputy Health Officer due to some lingering business regarding a rental unit violation.

On July 29, Mora and Jamaica Select Board Chair Greg Meulemans, who also serves as his town’s Health Officer, had appealed — largely to no avail — to the select boards of Weston, Peru, Landgrove and Windham for possibly sharing the position among several towns and turning it into a paid position. They cited the increased demands placed upon the position during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Executive session: Contos vs. Town of Londonderry

The board formally went into executive session, which lasted approximately 15 minutes and included all present Board members as well as Town Administrator Shane O’Keefe, Town Treasurer Tina Labeau, and Town Attorney Robert Fisher.

Upon returning from executive session, Board member Taylor Prouty moved to “authorize the Town Administrator to execute on behalf of the board an acknowledgment of defense with a reservation of rights with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns in the matter of Contos v. Town of Londonderry et. al.”

Previously, the board addressed the matter on Jan. 6 during the “correspondence” portion of the meeting, acknowledging a “suit by Emanuel Contos regarding tax deeding of property at 104 Tallwood Circle,” according to the meeting minutes. On March 10, as reported by the Telegraph, O’Keefe said that he had asked the Windham County Superior Court to dismiss the case. The case involves a property that the town sold at tax sale, according to O’Keefe. The former owner is seeking to nullify the sale.

In other business

The board also heard from Londonderry Planning Commission Chair Sharon Crossman, as well as Commission member Larry Gubb, who presented results of ongoing Town Hall studies that will recommend potential improvements to the Twitchell Building. While the thermal, environmental and safety portions of the study have been completed, funding for the structural study (between $3,500 and $4,000) still needs approval from the board. Following some discussion, O’Keefe suggested that the board review the scope of services before authorizing funds to which the board agreed.

Sharon Crossman discusses work on the Town Office building and a CARES-funded grant that the town will be part of.

Crossman also noted that she had submitted an application to be part of a state grant that the Okemo Valley Chamber of Commerce applied on the town’s behalf. The $10,000 grant is focused on economic recovery in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and aims to increase tourism through a consortium that includes Londonderry, Ludlow and Weston. The board agreed to discuss rejoining the OVCC at its next meeting. Last year, the board voted to discontinue membership.

In an interview, Chamber Executive Director Carol Lighthall clarified that the chamber applied for $40,000, which is passed to the state from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. That money would be used to market a number of the 12 towns it covers that replied to her inquiry.  The chamber will be the lead partner and the project would include digital advertising,  mailings to second-homeowners, buy local gift cards and expanding the distribution  of the Okemo Valley Magazine to out-of-state Covid-safe areas, among other items.

Three separate applications for grants — a FEMA Public Assistance grant, a Local Government Expense Reimbursement grant, and a Coronavirus Municipal Records Digitization Grant — were approved by the board, and potential zoning violations at Taylor Farm were also discussed.

Early on, O’Keefe addressed a scheduled mediation session for the Vermont Woodchips Real Estate Holdings enforcement and Development Review Board case. While Mora thought that she would have a conflict as “one of the parties is a friend” she said that it seems that she can still participate in mediation without concern, and offered to join O’Keefe and Fisher at the mediation on Oct. 19.

Emergency Management Director Kevin Beattie had “nothing new to report” regarding Covid-19, though Labeau did announce that the Town Offices had received about 200 masks available to the public as needed.

Signage for the Transfer Station continued to be discussed, and Board member Tom Cavanagh noted that punch-cards would once again be required as the facility returned to normal operations. The board also approved a proposal by former Road Foreman Duane Hart to mow the former septage spreading fields at Londonderry’s Solid Waste Management Facility. In return, Hart will be able to keep any hay that he collects.

The Londonderry Select Board will meet next on Monday, Sept. 21.

— Cynthia Prairie contributed to this article.

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Filed Under: Covid 19 CoverageFeaturedLatest NewsLocal announcementsLondonderry

About the Author: Journalist and photographer Cherise Madigan specializes in writing about outdoor recreation, the environment and travel. She has roots in Manchester and a history of reporting throughout Southern Vermont. Madigan is a graduate of Nazareth College of Rochester, earning her degree in Political Science summa cum laude in 2015.

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