Freedom Forms Committee to Study Town Buildings

Freedom — March 26, 2009 — An issue that was not on the agenda ended up garnering the most passionate discussion at the [Freedom] Select Board’s meeting on Monday evening. The Select Board was considering how to proceed with a warrant article that had been approved at Town Meeting when the discussion evolved unexpectedly into one about “transparency” in town government.

A New Committee
Two weeks ago at Town Meeting, voters rejected a warrant article that sought to purchase several acres of land with funds from a previously-established Municipal Land and Building Capital Reserve Fund and approved in its stead a petitioned warrant article — Article 26 — calling for professional study of town buildings and cost comparisons of renovations and new construction.

The legality of Article 26 had been questioned by town counsel during Town Meeting. When asked on Monday evening about that issue, the  Select Board stated that due to possible legal problems with the article’s wording, the Board could choose to not follow through with the article. They had chosen to follow the will of the voters.

At Monday’s meeting, the Select Board had its first opportunity opportunity to discuss how they would proceed with the approval of Article 26. Chair Les Babb proposed that the Board appoint an advisory committee to be charged with developing a scope of work that could be put out to bid. The Advisory Committee would be given a copy of the findings of the Freedom Municipal Building Committee, which had studied municipal needs and submitted its report in November 2006.

Babb had people in mind for the committee and had apparently spoken to them individually beforehand about their interest in serving on this committee. His aim in choosing individuals was to bring various viewpoints to the table — people from each side of the controversial issue as well as “neutral” people who don’t yet have an opinion on the topic.

What he wanted, Babb stated, is to “start over fresh.” The names he submitted — Lee Fritz, John Shipman, John Krebs, Chuck Brooks, and himself as the representative from the Select Board — represent “all sides and all views.”

Neal Boyle, who won his seat on the Board in the March 10 elections, agreed with Babb’s aim of inviting a “variety of viewpoints” to an advisory committee. That said, he also suggested that the Board slow down before establishing the new committee and take time to “let the world know what [we’re] doing” through publicity on the town’s web site and the Freedom town column. He called what he was asking for “transparency” in town government.

Babb had earlier, as part of his proposal, suggested that the advisory committee’s draft and approved minutes be posted on the town web site. But before he was able to respond to Boyle’s suggestion about “transparency,” town employees spoke to the issue of the town’s web site.

The town’s Administrative Assistant commented that the web site “is not our priority” because the law does not require posting on a web site; the law requires written postings in the newspapers and at the town office and the post office. The Road Agent agreed, stating that the “web site isn’t the legal priority,” it’s the written notices that are.

Board member Jim Brown, in response to Boyle’s suggestion about publicizing the committee before appointing it, said that “the whole town can’t run this office.”

He moved Babb’s proposal and the motion carried, 2 against 1, with Babb and Brown voting in favor of establishing the advisory committee and with Boyle voting against.

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