“Hidden Agendas and Palace Intrigue Revealed”
Our neighbor and VN columnist Jim Kenyon struck again over this long Memorial Day weekend. It is hard not to go point by point and refute nearly all of it, but I’ve tried to stay concise to set the records straight, starting with the following:
At a recent Norwich Selectboard meeting, Chairman John Pepper assured the audience the ouster of resident Jeff Goodrich from a key appointed position in town [TRORC Regional Commission representative] wasn’t a “witch hunt.”
Maybe or maybe not.
In watching Norwich town government operate over the last 20 years or so, I’ve learned it doesn’t really matter who’s in charge — there’s no escaping the hidden agendas and palace intrigue.
First, what you see on today’s Norwich Selectboard is exactly what you get. Norwich is a small town…so small that if there were something to hide, be it an agenda or a dog bone, one of the many aging Goldens in the area could sniff either out in a day.
“Palace intrigue”? I had to look it up: A situation in which powerful individuals within an organization are working against each other. As far as I can tell the most powerful individual in the current situation is the one who has his own column, often focused on expanding distrust amongst neighbors, in a regional paper that doesn’t permit comments.
The situation Jim Kenyon describes, in which the Selectboard did not reappoint a long-time town volunteer, was a challenging one. The majority of the Selectboard felt there were substantive deficiencies in attendance, performance, and attitude which made what should have been an easy reappointment anything but easy.
Here’s what hasn’t been shared, and yet was known by Mr. Kenyon (especially after our spending nearly 90 minutes together, in person, last Friday). In 2016, when the Planning Commission (PC) missed the Norwich Town Plan renewal deadline, the applicant was both the Chairman of the PC – responsible for submitting the Plan – andthe Norwich representative for the Regional Commission (TRORC) – responsible for approving the Plan. Had the PC simply resubmitted the 2011 plan for renewal to the TRORC in a timely fashion, all of the 2017-2018 Town Plan controversy would have been avoided. Mr. Goodrich was the long-time expert and key player in both positions and failed to parlay that expertise into effective execution. In the private sector, that would spell immediate termination from one or both positions. In the public sector, it was as though nothing had happened.
In an effort to find a happy middle ground, one option I had asked the applicant to consider was applying for the alternate role and working alongside one of the other applicants who could be the lead representative. Mr. Goodrich refused.
Mr. Kenyon also chose to take aim at the newly appointed lead representative, Rod Francis. Read the article to see all of it, but he concluded with:
If board members and Durfee were looking for a yes man, it appears they found one. (Only Langhus voted against Francis’ appointment.)
It’s true that Mr. Francis reports to the Town Manager. It’s not true that he’s a “yes man”. It’s common practice for Vermont towns with Town Planners to appoint them to their regional boards and we’re in good hands with Francis, who has decades of experience, as our TRORC representative for at least the next 12 months. Resident and PC member Jeff Lubell stepped up to take the alternate rep role, too. Targeting Mr. Francis in such a manner is classic Jim Kenyon, trying to create distrust where it very simply has no place. Our town employees deserve better. We all do.
We hear a lot of discussion around town that we must preserve the “rural character” of Norwich. While working to protect the open fields and forests and trails is a big part of that, so is appointing volunteers who treat others with respect and fulfill the basic expectations of the role. (I wish there were a way to hold columnists to any standard at all). In this case, the Norwich Selectboard had to make a decision that could impact future expectations for Town volunteers in a positive way for years to come. I believe we did just that.