Andover board opts for in-person Town Meeting; Bodin says voters’ voices are being disrespected

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Long simmering disagreements over a number of issues boiled over at Monday’s Andover Select Board meeting after the board decided on a 3 to 2 vote to return to a “floor vote” Town Meeting rather than using Australian ballots as it did last year due to the pandemic. Australian balloting would have allowed for absentee voting.

Town Clerk Jeanette Haight, left, explains that Senate bill 172 would allow towns to use alternate procedures – including remote and hybrid meetings with Australian ballots. Images courtesy of Okemo TV

Board member Maddy Bodin had proposed holding a hybrid “informational” Town Meeting — in person and by Zoom, on the Saturday before Tuesday balloting. Just like last year’s annual meeting, the vote would be held on the following Tuesday by Australian ballot, which would include absentee ballots. Apparently last year’s meeting attracted more than twice as many votes as usual.

Following Monday’s ‘no’ vote, the board began to address the Select Board portion of the town’s annual report that, for the past three years, has been written by Bodin. But Bodin told the board “I utterly refuse to do that this year.”

She continued, “I am disgusted by the actions of this select board” that occurred during the time covered by the Town Report. “I’m disgusted now because the select board has voted to take votes away from the people of Andover.” Bodin continued, saying that she saw this as a trend toward not respecting the voices of Andover voters.

At issue was whether the town would hold its traditional “vote from the floor” format or use the hybrid model from last year in which an informational meeting was held in person and by Zoom on Saturday, while all articles on the warning plus elective town offices would be voted by Australian ballot on the first Tuesday in March. Such changes were authorized by the legislature last year and renewed last week. The bill was sent to Gov. Scott’s desk on Tuesday.

Town Clerk Jeanette Haight noted that many more people than usual participated under last year’s arrangement, with 130 voting where normally 60 cast ballots.

After Haight finished explaining the legislation that would allow a remote or hybrid meeting, board member Scott Kendall said, “Keep us a floor town.”

Board member Maddy Bodin saying she would not write the select board report for the town’s annual report

Bodin then moved to adopt Australian balloting — and with it the hybrid information meeting. Chris Plumb seconded it and voted yes. Then, without discussion, Kendall and board members Jed LaPrise and Chris Walker all voted no. Ironically, Kendall and LaPrise were attending the meeting remotely while Bodin, Plumb and Walker were in person at Andover Town Hall.

Speaking of writing the Select Board portion of the Town Report, Bodin said, “I refuse to cover for the select board. I refuse to lie for you. I refuse to color your actions in any way that make it seem like I find them acceptable. I don’t.”

On Tuesday, Bodin told The Telegraph that the switch to in-person without any discussion – especially when she felt that board members had discussed voting on a non-binding resolution regarding use of ATVs on town roads – showed the earmarks of discussing town business outside of a public meeting.

Walker attempted to dismiss Bodin by saying she was “complaining about your fellow board members in a a public forum.”

“Three-quarters, if not 99 percent of the problem is that you (Chris Walker) Jed (LaPrise) and Scott (Kendall) think it’s appropriate and that it’s legal to discuss the public’s business in private,” Bodin said during the meeting.

“Not discussing this here with you,” Walker replied.

“You just took votes away from the people of Andover,” Bodin charged.

“So for 200 years we took votes away but you are going to give them back?” asked Walker, referring to the fact that prior to Zoom technology all votes were taken in person. Walker then claimed that there are Andover residents who say they can’t attend Town Meeting due to health reasons but “can travel all over the country” and even and can go “skiing but can’t even come in here to vote.”

In talking with The Telegraph, Bodin pointed to potential instances of conflict of interest, email discussions of town business that violate the state’s Open Meeting Law and decisions that ignored statute or judicial decisions.

“If I ever find that Andover Select Board members are breaking the Open Meeting Law,” said Bodin, ” I would go straight to the Secretary of State.”

In an interview Tuesday, Walker defended his vote on the Australian ballot saying, “I voted the way the people I talked with around town wanted it to be.” He also denied ever having what would amount to an illegal meeting by discussing town business with at least two other board members either by emails, conference call or in person.

Speaking of the annual select board report, Bodin said, “I couldn’t see a way I could portray – to the outside world – the actions of this select board to be accomplishments.”

The Andover Town Meeting will be held on Saturday, Feb. 26, at which time in-person votes will be taken on all town business and elections. On Tuesday, March 1, voters will only vote by Australian ballot on the school district budget. The board has one more meeting before it must finalize the Town Meeting warning. That will be on Monday, Jan. 24.

— Cynthia Prairie contributed to this article.

 

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  1. One of the challenges of local democracy is that elected boards are never going to please everyone. Each individual will always have different opinions on how things should be run. There are always competing interests in local decision making. While this may make for discontent, sometimes severe, it is how democracy works. In Vermont and America, democracy is restrained by the construct of our constitutional (r)epublican system. The question is then, “Has the duly elected selectboard operated outside of this structure?” The answer would appear to be NO, despite the slanderous allegations by Maddy Bodin.

    If the citizens of Andover think they are not being well represented by the current legally elected select board members they are welcome to run for the board in the next election cycle. This is the next appropriate and peaceful way to remedy whatever grievances citizens may have.

    As a former resident of Andover and a former selectboard member in Cavendish I don’t see anything out of order with the present state of affairs in Andover. Politics is often not pretty, but it is how we hash out our differences and hopefully find some resolution.

  2. Rodger Parker says:

    The actions of the three board members was disgraceful. By there actions over the last few months it appears they have no interest in representing ALL the people of Andover, only a small group . Monday night confirmed it.

  3. Scott Kendall says:

    After seeing this article about 10 minutes ago I’m very disgusted.
    1st of all I am out of state and was driving down the road while zooming in on this meeting. That’s why I was not there!!!
    2nd of all rather I miss understood or never heard it mentioned. I was under the impression that this was not Just for this year. It was my understanding that it was to take Andover out of being a floor vote for a long duration of time! That’s why I voted NO.
    3rd and most of all to have a board member throw a fit (like a child) and make false accusations cause she didn’t get her way. Very unprofessional! A disgrace! There is only 1 liar in this, the board member throwing FALSE accusations out to try and make her look good!
    4th. The Chester Telegraph posting something to try and make a person look bad. With out reaching out to hear their side. Because I know Shawn Cunningham has my phone number he called it before.

  4. Jean Peters says:

    I attended the Select Board meeting in person on Monday night.  I was more than disappointed, but certainly not surprised, to see evidence of a dysfunctional Board.  One of the things I love about Andover is how residents who attend Town Meeting can place a floor vote on the budget and on other important issues facing the town.  All residents are free to decide whether to attend or not, knowing that they have to “live” with decisions should they not attend….but Covid has changed many things, including how we gather.  We don’t know, nor should we, who has comorbidities or who is in the elderly age group considered the most vulnerable to serious consequences from Covid.  A hybrid vote, as we did last year, allows a voice to all who wish but are afraid to gather.  I was stunned into silence, which is rare, when the vote came back as a floor vote..  Those who voted for floor vote are the same Board members that have been telling me to get used to change even if it may not be good change for Andover.  I do believe that the hybrid vote, which allows people to remain safe, should have been a unanimous decision as opposed to 3 to 2 in favor of a floor vote.  

  5. David Peters says:

    Just a question.
    Is the Andover Select Board looking out for the interests of ALL the residents of Andover, or do they have their own agenda?

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