Covid frustrations spill over at Derry board ahead of holidays; Town hires assessor

By Cherise Madigan
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing, LLC

The Londonderry Select Board is not immune to the frustration that many are feeling around the Covid-19 pandemic and state mandated restrictions, especially as the holidays approach. Following Emergency Management Director Kevin Beattie’s update on the pandemic, Select Board member Vincent Annunziata voiced resistance to Gov. Phil Scott’s recent directive to avoid multi-household gatherings.

Board member Vincent Annunziata bristled at Gov. Scott’s recently imposed restrictions. Photos courtesy of GNAT-TV

“I’m not thrilled about the governor telling us what we can do in our own house, especially when we’re coming to the holidays,” he said, later suggesting that the board speak out against the directive.

According to Beattie, Covid cases continue to rise in the country and within Vermont, with the state reporting a record 122 new cases on Monday. A large percentage of recent cases — 71 percent according to Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine — have resulted from family and social gatherings, as evidenced by contact tracing.

“I know it’s hard to hear with Thanksgiving and the holidays coming up, but everyone needs to bite the bullet and do things differently this year,” Beattie said. “It’s simply not safe to have gatherings with family and friends outside of your immediate household.”

“The only oath we swore as Select Board members is to uphold the rights of the Constitution, and I don’t see anything constitutional about telling me what I can do in my own house for Thanksgiving or Christmas,” said Annunziata. “I’m not comfortable biting that bullet, or asking our constituents to.”

Emergency Management Director Kevin Beattie said people need to “bite the bullet and do things differently this year.”

Select Board Chair George Mora noted that the Select Board is not in a position to either enforce Gov. Scott’s directive or encourage Londonderry residents to ignore restrictions. Annunziata expressed frustration with non-compliance from visitors to the region, as well as the impacts of isolation on children and families.

“We’re eight months into this now, and it’s still an extremely tiny deal,” he continued. “I don’t think this is something that should be tolerated. We can’t have the governor in our house telling us what to do.”

Londonderry Health Officer Richard Phelan advised that the board tell residents to “do what they think is right,” agreeing that barring gatherings ahead of the holidays goes “a little too far.”

Mora said that residents will either follow restrictions or they won’t, and reiterated that the Select Board should not be advising constituents on the matter. Town Clerk Kelly Pajala, who represents the Windham-Bennington-Windsor region in the State House, countered Annunziata’s argument.

“The governor is trying to give people as much information as possible, to let people know what they can do to protect themselves and their families, and by extension our entire community,” she said. “You can look at the deaths and illness as being ‘small,’ if you want to. For some people, that risk is very, very close.”

Rep. Kelly Pajala responds to Annuziata’s statement calling Covid “an extremely tiny deal”

Pajala added that shaming those who follow guidelines is “completely inappropriate” and that encouraging residents to ignore them would be irresponsible, though she agreed that it’s not the board’s place to enforce the guidelines.

“People who are in charge of making hard decisions for an entire population are trying to get everyone the best information they can for how to protect themselves,” she concluded. “It does come down to the choices you make in your household, and in your workplace.”

Board member Jim Fleming pointed out that a vaccine may be available sooner than expected, and urged patience until that time comes.

“We’ve just gotta ride it out,” he said. “We’re only trying to keep us safe. In the end, it’s your decision. Do whatever you want, because you’re going to anyway.”

Mora agreed that residents will “do what they are going to do.” Board member Taylor Prouty expressed his feeling that it’s been beneficial to have Beattie provide updates to the board, and Beattie clarified that he is reporting from the state level in his Emergency Management role. Ultimately, no action was taken by the board.

Earlier in the meeting, Pajala detailed changes at the Town Offices in response to rising Covid cases, including the use of a pickup window and only one vault appointment per day. She added that land records, as well as other town information, are available on the Town of Londonderry website.

Assessor hired, Zoning position reconfigured – again

Following a discussion on traffic speeds and safety, the board approved a job description and salary for the new position of Town Assessor, in light of Board of Listers Chair Sandra Clark’s pending retirement.  The position would be paid $44 per hour for 24 hours a week, reflecting the average for such a position according to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, Mora said.

Jeremiah Sund was hired to be Londonderry’s town assessor

Later in the meeting, the board went into executive session to discuss the possible hiring of Jeremiah Sund, a lister for the Town of Vernon. Coming out of executive session, the board hired Sund.

The position for Town Zoning Administrator, currently filled by O’Keefe, was also re-configured following the recent resignation of the assistant to that position. Instead of hiring a new assistant, the board moved to separate the role of Zoning Administrator — which will be hired out as a part-time position — allowing the Town Administrator to continue full-time without the additional help provided by an assistant.

Mora said that the town already has two applicants for the Zoning Administrator position, who will be interviewed by representatives from various town boards.


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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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  1. Tim Roper says:

    I’ll try to be concise here. Here’s how it lays out.

    My mask protects you. Your mask protects me. When I see someone not wearing a mask in public places it tells me that they really don’t care about anyone but themselves.

    So the choice is between those two options. Demonstrating that you care about others, or demonstrating that you only care about yourself. Everyone who sees you in public knows where you stand.

  2. Vincent Annunziata says:

    Re: Nathan,
    I am happy to discuss our different views on Government vs. Individual responsibility any time. You know how to get a hold of me.
    My comments reflect the views of many members of the community and they will not go away from name-calling or shaming. In addition to a health crisis, there is a very real spiritual crisis happening around us that I cannot ignore.
    Thanks for stopping in all the way from Seattle.

  3. Nathan Blackmer says:

    Turns out that behavior during a pandemic that impacts the health of others isn’t a private concern.

    I’ve never understood why anyone would take public office and actively use the power they have to harm people.

    Its a pandemic, Vinny. How irresponsible and short-sighted can you be? Telling people to ignore the advice of public health officials?

    You’re either very foolish, or very callous. Neither is a good look.

  4. Steve smith says:

    Coolidge may have worn a mask to serve his community but that would have been HIS CHOICE. We should all be given the CHOICE. If you feel a mask protects you wear one, if you feel being out in public with other is dangerous then stay home. Those are choices. I use math and common sense in making my decisions. Those seem to be lost practices.

  5. Vincent Annunziata says:

    “There is no justification for public interference with purely private concerns.” – Calvin Coolidge (My son is named after him.)

  6. Bill Lane says:

    As I read Mr. Annunziata’s comments, I recalled this: “I love Vermont because of her hills and valleys, her scenery and invigorating climate, but most of all, because of her indomitable people. They are a race of pioneers who have almost beggared themselves to serve others. If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the union and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont.” — Calvin Coolidge. I think he would have worn a mask to serve his community.