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04/09/2009

By Lisa Loomis

After some deliberation over what the role of a municipal water implementation task force should be, the Waitsfield Select Board agreed upon a job description for members and will name those members next week.

The select board met on April 6 to hammer out specifics of what the task force should do and what role Town Administrator Valerie Capels will play in the task force as well as what the role of a project manager will be, once a project manager is hired.

Board member Charlie Hosford said that he was concerned that the list of proposed tasks would overwhelm volunteers. Hosford said he was also worried that having Capels serve as interim project manager would unfairly put too much on her plate. Board member Bill Parker added that he would like to see a diversity of backgrounds on the task force.

PUBLIC OUTREACH

Some of the responsibilities proposed for the volunteer members of the task force include helping secure easements, land records research, photocopying site plans, meeting with property owners, public outreach, assisting with the development of a water system ordinance and rate schedule, development of informational material to publish, and more.

Board chair Kate Williams asked members to create the task force first and ask those members to help with the project manager position. Because the town is receiving state and federal funds for the municipal water project, a project manager must be hired through the competitive bidding project.

Board member Sal Spinosa said he would like to have members of the task force available to field ongoing questions from the public about the project. He said the project is still generating a lot of questions and confusion and said that peoples' concerns with the project linger.

WATER PROJECT PASSED

The water project was passed by a vote of 593-560 on Election Day in November. It was the third time Waitsfield voters cast ballots on the proposal.

"I'm readily available to answer those questions," said Capels, adding, "With a volunteer task force, how do you see that working?"

"I don't think they feel heard," said Spinosa, reminding the board that they represented those who voted in favor of the project as well as those who did not.

I think we've got to make them available not just at meetings but also by phone. They need to make themselves knowledgeable and be available. The task force ought to have a weekly blurb in <MI>The Valley Reporter<D>, for example," said board member Paul Hartshorn.

PUBLIC QUESTIONS

The mechanism might be a regular meeting of the task force to take public questions," Spinosa said.

"I don't see the task force as an open forum on continually having the ongoing discussion about yes and no on the water project. If that's what we're setting up, I don't think it will go anywhere," said Hosford.

"I don't hear Sal's suggestion as that. I think of this as an implementation task force," Williams responded.

"If it just becomes another smaller forum for arguing, nothing will go forward," Hosford countered.

A WINNING MARGIN

"I don't think you can close the door to the person who says this plan is faulty and should not go forward. I think the response should be, 'Tell us why.' You can't shut that down," Spinosa said. 

"We need to be clear that however narrow the margin was, it was a winning margin," Williams said.

"The votes have been very close, if task force members spend even a minute trying to debate the merits of this, then they've lost their forward momentum. I think questioners should come to us rather than the task force. They should be focused on implementing the plan, forming it, figuring it out, working with engineers and the project manager, working on rate structures. They should not spend time debating the merits of the proposal," said Parker.

"We've got to protect their time to do their work and we'll take the larger questions. If those questions affect implementation, we'll pass that back to them," Williams said.

Spinosa concurred that the select board could handle such questions as did Hosford and the other board members.

The board moved into executive session to discuss proposed members of the task force and will appoint members on April 13.

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