RUTLAND HERALD 03/12/21
By Keith Whitcomb Jr. Staff Writer
BRANDON — Citing a belief in term limits and differences of viewpoint from that of town leadership, the chairman of the Planning Commission resigned last week.
Michael Shank sent his resignation letter to the Select Board on March 3. At Monday’s Select Board meeting, the board accepted the letter and went on to appoint three new members to the commission, along with discussing rules regarding who could serve on board-appointed commissions going forward.
Likewise, Shank stepped away from his roles on the Brandon Energy Committee, and Rutland Regional Planning Commission.
He said Friday that he was appointed to the Planning Commission not long after he moved to town in 2017, and was named to the energy committee and regional commission around the same time. He served as chairman of the Planning Commission for about two years.
“I’ve enjoyed the learning and leadership that these roles have offered me and, as a longtime supporter of term limits at all levels of elected government, I feel it’s time to make space for others to serve in these capacities,” he stated in his letter. “I will add that I hope the town’s leadership finds new ways to welcome new ideas, new challenges and new leadership. I’ve often felt that the town is resistant to diversity of thought and reticent to rethink or unpack the status quo. And that’s on a range of issues — from Brandon’s toxic pesticide use and growing noise pollution problems, to calls for new leadership on social and environmental sustainability issues and more youth engagement on town committees, to the authorities and parameters of the Planning Commission and Energy Committee.”
He said his references to pesticide use stem from the town’s role in the Brandon-Leicester-Salisbury-Goshen Insect Control District (BLSG). Shank and others have been critical of the BLSG’s use of adulticide mosquito control chemicals.
“When you are invested locally in a volunteer capacity, you want it to be a positive experience, you want it to be a space where new ideas, new responses, and new solutions are encouraged, and I felt like they were actively discouraged often,” he said.
Shank declined to name individuals or any group as the root of the discouragement,
“I don’t like to name names, but I’ll just say town leadership,” he said. “And oftentimes there were moves by town leadership to limit what we could explore, what we could do, or what we could think about and what we could proffer or posit as possible solutions.”
It wasn’t mentioned in his letter to the board, but Shank noted in an email to the Herald that he’d taken issue with the town’s handling of animal-control issues. Prompted by an animal neglect case in early 2020, where hundreds of farm-type animals were removed from a property in town, the board spent several months rewriting its animal-control ordinance, only to dismiss the new animal-control officer citing differing views on how the job was to be done.
Shank was among the people who took some of the rescue animals in after they were turned over to authorities.
Select Board Chairman Seth Hopkins said Friday it’s not a fair characterization to say town leadership has been dismissive of new ideas.
Hopkins cited the recent debate over a noise ordinance proposal.
“The Planning Commission did go down the road of writing a noise ordinance, which is not something that they’re authorized to do by state law,” he said. “The Select Board writes ordinances, and that was pointed out to them, and they stopped writing the noise ordinance.”
The commission then sent the Select Board all the information it had on a potential noise ordinance, and the discussion around that continues.
At Monday’s meeting, the board scheduled two public forums on the matter, one at 10 a.m. March 20, the other at 6 p.m. March 22. Both will be held remotely with logging-in information to be posted. These are listening sessions on top of the hearings required for the board to pass an ordinance.
“I don’t see how that’s discounting or dismissing any of their work,” said Hopkins. “It’s just putting it in the appropriate forum.”
Also at the Monday meeting, the board contemplated no longer allowing the appointing of its own members to commissions and committees under its purview meaning for instance, a select board member would not be allowed to serve as a planning commissioner. It contemplated not being allowed to appoint two members of the same household to a commission or committee. No action was taken on these items, and it was agreed they’d be discussed at the next meeting.
The three new members the board appointed to the Planning Commission are Liz Gregorek, Todd Nielsen and Bob Foley. Existing members are Alexandra Breyer, Ralph Ethier, William Mills, Lowell Rasmussen and Alison Walter. Its reorganizational meeting is scheduled for April 5.