By Lee J. Kahrs, The Reporter
PROCTOR—The question of whether or not to continue employing a town manager in Proctor will go back to the voters next month.
A group of Proctor residents secured a petition with more than 5 percent of the required voter signatures in favor of bringing the question to the voters. Under state law, voters have the power to authorize a select board to hire a town manager. Therefore, they also have the right to revoke that authorization.
The petition read simply:
“We the undersigned legal voters of the Town of Proctor, Vermont hereby petition the Select Board to warn a special election for the Town of Proctor to be held to vote on Title 24 Chapter 37 Section 1243.
“Will the Town of Proctor vote to take advantage of the provisions of Chapter 37 of Title 24 of the Vermont Statutes Annotated, and authorize the selectmen to employ a Town Manager?”
Voters will then mark either a “Yes” box or a “No” box on the ballot.
Fifty-seven signatures were needed to equate to 5 percent of registered voters. The petition was turned in to the town clerk’s office with 69 signatures.
The Proctor Select Board accepted the petition at a special meeting on May 4. A vote on the issue will be held on June 13.
Indeed, Proctor residents voted to authorize the hiring of a town manager in 2014, by a vote of 307-213. Up until then, the town operated with a town administrator who reported directly to the Select Board.
Per state statute, a town manager is responsible for a number of key municipal duties, including supervision of all town employees, public buildings, the police and fire departments, parks and playgrounds, as well as assuming the duties of road commissioner, and is responsible for all budgeting, accounting and tax collection.
Current Town Manager Stan Wilbur was hired in March 2012 as the town administrator at a salary of $52,000 after Stephanie Bourque left that position in June 2011.
Once Proctor voters approved the hiring of a town manager, Wilbur was named interim town manager and the Vermont League of Cities and Towns appeared before the board offering assistance in the search for a qualified town manager. But a search was never launched. In the meantime, Wilbur has never had a contract with the town. According to the Proctor Town Clerk’s Office, Wilbur’s current salary is $68,157.
Wilbur is a retired civil engineer with over 40 years of experience in facilities planning and design and construction engineering for state and municipal highway, water supply, wastewater treatment and other public works projects. He also has municipal government experience, serving as chair of the Tinmouth Select Board, the Vermont League of Cities and Towns Transportation Committee, and the Tinmouth Board of Civil Authority. In the past, he has served in Shelburne as town moderator.
But there have been several calls for Wilbur’s firing over the last two years by former select board members who said Wilbur is incompetent and not working in the best interests of the town. There have also been charges of favoritism with regard to bids on town projects.
Wilbur’s most vocal critic was former selectman John Jozwiak, but he lost a bid for re-election to the board on Town Meeting Day after Selectman John Corliss filed petitions to run for both the one-year seat he was appointed to and Jozwiak’s three-year seat. After the votes were tallied, Corliss chose to occupy Jozwiak’s three-year seat, and Jozwiak was off the board.
But Jodi Jones, one of the organizers of the petition drive, said the vote is not about individuals as much as it is about democracy. “Right now, we’re challenging the statute to see if that’s the town government we want,” she said in a phone interview Monday. “We needto look at this position because we’re using our tax money to fund this position, and duties were added.”
To her point, Jones said that Proctor had plans to hire a marketing manager for an economic development project called the Proctor Prosperity Plan, which has stalled, as well as a grant writer. She said those duties were instead folded into the town manager position, raising his salary. Jones contends that those duties have not been acted upon.
Jones has also been a vocal critic of Wilbur’s job performance, but insists that the push to re-examine the position is not about that.
“This is not about people,” she said. “This is about our voting rights. This is not about personalities. This is about the law of the state and the voters’ rights to determine their government. This is not about anything other than statute and voters’ rights and democracy.”
That said, Jones did acknowledge that petitioners may have signed due to their dissatisfaction with Wilbur.
“But this title is in the voters’ hands and it’s up to us to authorize the Select Board whether we have this position or we don’t,” she said. “The search for a town manager wasn’t carried out. This is about our tax money being used to fund this position.”
Jones plans to speak at the May 22 Select Board meeting, and said she will urge the board not to enter into any contracts while the vote is pending.
If voters approve rescinding the Select Board’s authorization to hire a town manager, Jones said the position must be terminated within 30 days of the vote.
An information meeting on the vote will be held on Monday, June 12 at Proctor Junior/Senior High School at 7 p.m.
Voting will take place on Tuesday, June 13 at the high school. Polls will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.