Derry board asks One Londonderry to remove liaison following email kerfuffle

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Concerns over the relationship of a private organization with a mission to improve aspects of Londonderry and the town government and its transparency responsibilities prompted the Select Board at its Monday, Aug. 15 meeting, to take the unusual step to ask One Londonderry to remove one of its members as a liaison with the board.

Select board chair Tom Cavanagh told the meeting he wanted “to be fully transparent with the public” Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Discussing the private organization One Londonderry and its proposed community center, Board chair Tom Cavanagh told the meeting that “to be fully transparent with the public” he was disclosing an email sent to town administrator Shane O’Keefe in which a One Londonderry member suggested that communications between the two of them should be “kept private.”

“As a town we do not do that,” Cavanagh continued. “We will not do that and we ask that this person not be involved with the town anymore on this community project, and I believe that One Londonderry has taken care of it.”

In the July 26 email, obtained by The Telegraph, One Londonderry work group chair Mary Ellen Yankosky wrote: “I believe that certain elected officials in town are unaware of their duties and positions as elected officials. I am not responding to either (Town Clerk) Kelly Pajala’s comments nor (Select Board member) Vince Annunziata. That’s not my style. I prefer to have those officials spoken to in an unofficial capacity. If that does the trick fine. If not, residents in this state do have recourse in the form of filing complaints with the SOS (Secretary of State).” She continued by saying that it might be nice if “the town officials worked toward collaborative community building instead of being an obstacle…” Yankosky then went on to tell O’Keefe “…I believe you and I would both be more effective in our respective positions if we worked together, confidentially to improve Londonderry.”

Upon receiving the email, O’Keefe turned it over to Cavanagh, who then shared it with the rest of the board that evening.

Yankosky was chair of a work group on building a community center.

One Londonderry members Esther Fishman and Elsie Smith said that the situation has been resolved and that Yankosky will no longer be the liaison with the Select Board. They added that the Yankosky is still on that committee, but they are looking for someone else to work with the Select Board and to sort out leadership issues with that committee.

Monday’s hefty agenda brought out a substantial audience

“In all fairness, Esther and Elsie did not know about the communication,” said Cavanagh, who added that the Select Board is as open and transparent as it can be and will continue that way.

One Londonderry has received approval from the Select Board to allow Norwich University students to conduct an assessment of the town-owned Prouty land — on Route 100 between the north and south villages — to see if it is  suitable for a community center.

That study is now uncertain,  One Londonderry members indicated Monday night.

According to a July 6 post on the Londonderry Community Forum on Facebook, plans for the “Tri-Mountain Commons” community center are for “affordable one-bedrooms, family units, and senior housing … a community space with child care and indoor youth space, meeting rooms, event space for indoor community events, co-working/tech space, indoor pool and gym etc…” The 29-acre site, much of which sits in a river corridor and flood hazard zone,  is currently home to the town’s salt shed.

“As many things as we disagree on, I think (transparency) is the one thing we’ve all committed to,” said Select Board member Vincent Annunziata and he suggested that with the Planning Commission and One Londonderry working together, “transparency needs to be paramount.”

That comment goes a long way to explaining why several board members insisted that a committee suggested by Planning Commission chair Sharon Crossman earlier in the meeting would be subject to Vermont’s Open Meeting Law.

The board approved the planning commission’s pick for a housing consultant but balked at setting up a joint committee with One Londonderry

In discussing the Housing Needs Assessment approved by the Select Board with funds from the American Rescue Plan back in April, Crossman told the board that the Planning Commission, recommended Camoin Associates from Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

The board approved the commission’s recommendation and Crossman suggested that a work group be formed to assist Camoin with its work. She suggested that the group consist of members of the both the Planning Commission and the housing work group of One Londonderry. The group would then report its work back to the commission, which would, in turn, report back to the Select Board.

Cavanagh said he did not have a problem with forming a committee, but to make it “fully transparent” it should be subject to Vermont’s Open Meeting Law.

Board member Melissa Brown wondered if a committee could be as nimble as it needed if it had to go by the law.

Crossman said this consulting work group was not designed to avoid the law, but the two groups didn’t see the need for the full boards to meet since “all of the information will be relayed at the next (Planning Commission) meeting and no decisions were going to be made.”

“We don’t want to do the wrong thing,” said Brown. “Sometimes it’s better to err on the side of caution.”

Cavanagh said he did not want to give the appearance that the Select Board was not being as transparent as possible.

Planning Commission member Larry Gubb said the working group could facilitate the assessment and, by reporting to the commission, would achieve transparency.

Town Administrator Shane O’Keefe said that he had inquired of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns regarding this type of group and was told that only the Select Board can establish a committee. O’Keefe noted that VLCT urged caution in forming such groups since they can raise transparency issues.

Brown said that the board should be going by the law, but if the group was assuring the board that they would be reporting what they were doing, “I don’t see any problem with allowing them to work as nimbly as possible.”

The Telegraph asked if the Select Board was forming the group and if it would be appointing its members. Several board members said that was what they would be doing “with a recommendation.”

The formation of such a group by the Select Board would make the group a public body subject to the Open Meeting Law. According to the statute a public body is “… any board, council, or commission of the State or one or more of its political subdivisions, any board, council, or commission of any agency, authority, or instrumentality of the State or one or more of its political subdivisions, or any committee of any of the foregoing boards, councils, or commissions… ”

In the end, the board chose Camoin to do the housing assessment and decided to wait on appointing a work group.

There is some crossover between One Londonderry and town government, with Planning Commission vice chair Larry Gubb and member Mimi Lines and Development Review Board chair Esther Fishman also working with One Londonderry.

A long agenda

In addition to the transparency questions raised, the board got through a hefty agenda that included:

  • reversing the recent changes to the Transfer Station schedule,
  • approving the firm of Hoyle Tanner to provide engineering for the Spring Hill Road culvert replacement,
  • establishing a local Cannabis Control Commission comprised of Select Board members and
  • approving a coin drop by Ruck Up Inc., a veteran service organization. The coin drop will be held on Route 11 on Saturday Sept. 17 with a rain date of Sept. 18.


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