Ending on a Positive
I spent some time watching the Cohen hearings today. On so many levels I was deeply concerned for all of us, but especially our children. We treat each other so poorly. We distrust. We lie. We accuse.
And yet I also understood how it came to be that the Chairman of the Oversight Committee Cummings and the man to his right, Rep Jim Jordan, each lost their cool today. Even in our small town of Norwich, VT we’ve had moments that tested each of us.
Tonight, as it turns out, was our last regularly scheduled Selectboard meeting before the Annual Town Meeting on Monday and the election next Tuesday. I was charged with drafting and submitting the Town of Norwich’s Selectboard Annual Report, which is below.
This Selectboard had its fair share of challenges this past year, but as it came to and end there were far more smiles than frowns, more laughter than anger, more collaboration than infighting… we’ve come a long way.
For me personally, this is the end of the 2nd year of my 3-year term. Being Chairman this past year was an honor, and I appreciated the patience my fellow board members and Town Manager and public had with me as I got up to speed and applied my own style to the role.
I remember when I first won the election in early 2017 it occurred to me that when I ended my term I would be 50 years old. At 47, fifty still sounds like an impossibly high number. But here we are, in the twilight of my 40’s, and more than ever I’m committed to spending time on things that matter, especially when it means I’m not with the family.
With one more year left, I’ll focus on consistent and stronger communication, better planning, and a few initiatives that have a chance at making a lasting difference in our community.
TOWN OF NORWICH
SELECTBOARD ANNUAL REPORT
July 1, 2017 was a day that will not soon be forgotten in Norwich – the “July 1 Storm” as we refer to it wreaked havoc on our small town of 3,414 and handed new Town Manager Herb Durfee, only weeks on the job, and the entire Norwich staff a herculean set of unexpected challenges. The first day of our Fiscal Year set a difficult tone for what would become a choppy year, in general.
The new Norwich Public Safety building was completed, and went live for the Norwich Police and Fire Departments in early Spring 2018. With important input from its neighbors the final details of the design and overall impact on the vicinity were carefully considered and modified accordingly.
The DPW Garage Addition was also completed, thanks to the redirection of FEMA funds that had originally been slated for the reconstruction of the beloved Norwich Pool, destroyed in Tropical Storm Irene.
The Board mapped out and performed research on an ambitious policy agenda, codifying Town Ordinances as well as reviewing and modifying policies on a number of critical matters, including Conflict of Interest, Personnel, Fraud and Financial, among others.
The Safe Routes to School project that contemplated a sidewalk along Church Street – a hot topic for over 10 years – was finally canceled based on substantial input from those neighbors most impacted. The town continues to look for alternative solutions to accommodate pedestrian needs with minimal impact to personal properties.
Despite the significant consequences of the July 1 storm, it was the effort to adopt a new Town Plan that dominated the Selectboard’s attention during most of Fiscal 2018. The prior Plan, adopted in 2011, expired in December 2016 without a new plan in place, thereby requiring a great deal of deliberation and effort on the part of many, including the Selectboard, Planning Commission, Town Management, and many engaged citizens. Multiple hearings and Special Meetings were held in early 2018 in an attempt to gather as much input as possible before submitting the updated Plan for approval to the Regional Commission (the “TRORC”). The Plan was ultimately rejected in the early part of Fiscal 2019 and as of this writing the Selectboard and Planning Commission are committed to restarting the process from scratch. We continue to have an adopted and valid Town Plan, but it does not carry the approval of the TRORC.
Norwich continues to focus on doing its fair share related to climate change. The Selectboard approved a resolution to join the Vermont Climate Pledge Coalition to reduce greenhouse emissions and designated a local solar project hosted by the Norwich Fire District as a “preferred site” for such a project, qualifying the project for important additional State and utility financial support.
Looking ahead, as we are now well into Fiscal 2019 and looking ahead into Fiscal 2020, it’s clear that 2018 will continue to influence and shape a lot of the Selectboard’s activities. “Resilience” best describes our town as we continue to work with FEMA to get reimbursed not only for the July 1 storm but even some remaining expenditures from Irene. We have new department heads across the board who are working very hard, along with all of the Town’s employees, to meet our collective expectations on services while keeping budgets in check. We have also reauthorized the Affordable Housing Designated Fund and we expect to be tackling more opportunities in that arena in the coming months and years.
In conclusion, all of us on the Selectboard continue to be honored to serve the citizens of Norwich. We have good days and challenging days, and we certainly don’t always agree on issues, but most of our meetings and interactions include lots of laughs, sentiments of gratitude, and a mutual respect that each of us are trying our best to do what’s best for Norwich today and into the future.
Please do come to Town Meeting on March 5, 2019. We would love to see you and hear your thoughts.