VERGENNES CITY COUNCIL
AUGUST 22, 2017
Mayor Michael Daniels called the regular meeting to order at 5:30 p.m. at the Vergennes Fire Station. The Pledge of Allegiance was recited. Mayor Daniels advised there is an amendment to the agenda, adding 5e, to address a request to close streets surrounding the City Green for an event on September 30, 2017. Those in attendance were:
Mayor Michael Daniels Dorothy Anguish
Senior Alderman Renny Perry Lynne Perry
Alderman Mathew Chabot Andrew Fritz
Alderman Lowell Bertrand Doris Fritz
Alderman Jeffrey Fritz Chris Palmatier
Alderman Lynn Donnelly Catherine Brooks
City Manager Mel Hawley Stacy Raphael
City Clerk Joan Devine Tim Cook
Shannon Haggett Mike Winslow
Andy Kirkaldy Jason Farrell
Diane Lanpher Robert Levinson
Bethany Farrell Arlene Levinson
Jeane Posner Mabrouka Liebhaber
Andrea Cousineau Samuel Liebhaber
MINUTES: Alderman Lowell Bertrand moved to approve the minutes of August 8, 2017. The motion was seconded by Senior Alderman Perry. On the second page the sentence “She stated she likes the one that says ‘one cannot deposit anything in the right-of-way’ . . . was removed and replaced with “She stated she likes the one that says ‘no person shall put or place, or cause to be put or placed, in a street or other public place in the city or in the waters thereof, except in such place and in such manner as the city council may prescribe, rubbish, garbage or waste matter or other noxious thing’. There was also another amendment on page three under the City Manager’s report. The words ‘a deficit currently exists’, as it relates to the Sewer Fund, was corrected to read ‘a deficit is projected’. A vote on the motion to approve the minutes with corrections showed all voting in favor.
WARRANT: City Manager Hawley advised there are two Warrants. The Warrant totaling $82,788.43 was for current fiscal year expenses. The other Warrant, totaling $10,859.36, was for previous fiscal year expenses. He explained D & F Excavating and Paving, Inc. had a lag in billing for subcontracted flagging associated with a recent paving project. Both Warrants were circulated for review and signatures of approval.
CITY COUNCIL RESOLUTION: Mayor Daniels read the proposed resolution reaffirming values of inclusion, respect and justice. Senior Alderman Perry moved to adopt the resolution as presented. The motion was seconded by Alderman Bertrand. Jeane Posner was first to express her concern with seeing confederate flags on a few homes and felt the City should make a statement; thank you for that, she stated. The resolution will protect the right to fly that flag but renounces what those symbols may represent, she said. Mayor Daniels advised it is a middle of the line resolution. Stacy Raphael was also appreciative of an adopted resolution but stated this one does not go far enough for her. ‘On behalf of ourselves’ negates a community statement, she said, and asked if there was a chance to comment on the resolution before its adoption. Tim Cook disclosed that he is a member of the Vergennes Planning Commission but is speaking as a resident. He advised he is proud of Vergennes’ citizens who requested a resolution standing against hate. He went on to report he did not feel our Police Department was racist despite the results of the ‘Driving While Black and Brown in Vermont’ study but we cannot afford to lose businesses due to the perceived racism. Mr. Cook asked the City Council to hold City employees to the same standards expressed in the resolution. Mayor Daniels asked if anyone tried to make contact with the individual that had the Confederate flag on his house because it was now down. Catherine Brooks expressed concern with the ‘Driving While Black and Brown in Vermont’ study that states Vergennes Police Department has the highest profile stops in Vermont. She suggested a study committee to work with ‘Black Lives Matter’ groups and the police departments to identify any problems that might exist in our department. By being proactive, we can save our town, she advised. Mayor Daniels encouraged people to speak with Police Chief Merkel regarding those numbers. He advised when that report was released he spoke with Chief Merkel and feels confident our police department does not aim at race; they are focused on enforcing the law. Because Tim Cook did not feel the residents should have to confront the Chief of Police one-on-one, Alderman Donnelly advised she could ask the Chief to address this on Front Porch Forum. Mayor Daniels asked Catherine Brooks if she would be willing to Chair her recommended study committee. Alderman Fritz volunteered to serve on the ad hoc committee. Stacy Raphael advised no one has gone to take down those flags and someone who had put up several ‘Black Lives Matter’ signs have had them stolen or vandalized. Let’s not pretend that this is about a man’s right to fly a flag. This is clearly about racism, intolerance and bigotry, she said. Alderman Chabot stated he agrees with the resolution but also agrees with Stacy Raphael. City Manager Hawley stated that the resolution is about the City Council and not the people. To include the people would require a vote. Dorothy Anguish asked if they could draft a resolution and bring it to a vote. Jason Farrell explained the petitioning process for a special meeting of the City where a vote on a resolution could take place. Alderman Fritz suggested we move ahead with the amended resolution, removing ‘on behalf of ourselves’, and sign off. Representative Diane Lanpher advised there is a lot of anxiety in our community right now. She felt when people are shaken they look to authority for direction. After the presidential election, she advised, there was a lot of hate filtering throughout the State so a Co-Statement was issued from the Speaker of the House’s office and was signed by members of the General Assembly. She provided a copy of that document. Jason Farrell challenged the City Council to not only find the reason for the wrong numbers in the ‘Driving While Black and Brown in Vermont’ study and what we will do so this does not happen again but to also reassure everyone we will not tolerate such behavior. City Manager Hawley advised he would like a newer set of numbers to see if it is a trend or not sufficient time to conclude the results they came up with. Tim Cook felt the onus was on the police department to do; not us. Jason Farrell stated that is the perception of our community so we need a broader report of what happened. Senior Alderman Perry advised they will look over the numbers, have a conversation with the Chief, and establish that we will not allow this to happen. Resident Mabrouka Liebhaber said the City Council needs to think of the people coming to Vergennes. She would like to see a commitment from the City Council to treat all people fairly. Senior Alderman Perry stated that we can always do another resolution but this one will offer something immediately. Stacy Raphael said this conversation has been productive and she does not want to minimize sentiments that are going on but wants us to remember that black lives matter and there is no room for hate and bigotry. A vote on the motion, including the friendly amendment, showed all voting in favor.
GRASS CLIPPINGS IN THE STREET: City Manager Hawley dispersed a copy of the current City Ordinance, Section 7. General, that addresses leaves and other materials put in the right of way. He reported this was the section to amend if wanted. Alderman Lynn Donnelly moved that an amendment to the ordinance be prepared removing “without the permission of the City Council” under item 1. Alderman Bertrand seconded the motion with all voting in favor.
SANDWICH BOARD/TEMPORARY SIGNS IN THE RIGHT OF WAY: City Manager Hawley felt that temporary signs in the City right of way should be addressed in an ordinance adopted by the City Council rather than the zoning regulations. Shannon Haggett, Chair of the Planning Commission, advised they discussed that area in depth for several months and agrees with City Manager Hawley that it is a City Council item and not a Planning Commission issue. Manager Hawley said he would like the City Council to know the real estate rules for signs and asked Alderman Donnelly to provide that information. Garage sale signs are another issue that needs to be addressed. Unless there are regulations for these signs, he advised he will continue to pick them up and put them in the dumpster. Alderman Matt Chabot questioned whether there were any existing regulations or laws on this. Manager Hawley advised there is a law against putting any signs on utility poles for safety reasons and all off-premise signs are illegal. Sandwich board signs are exempt from the laws on signs in the zoning regulations but they are not allowed in the right of way. Senior Alderman Perry volunteered to work on this matter.
CREDIT/DEBIT CARD IMPLEMENTATION: City Clerk/Treasurer Joan Devine advised she narrowed the field to two companies for credit/debit card processing and both will charge associated fees to the users. She explained she will have to collect the fees from the card holders at the time of use that will automatically be withdrawn from our account on a month basis (minimum of $25 month).
STREET CLOSURE REQUEST: The “Eat on the Green” Committee requested permission to close Park Street and block off the parking spaces on North Green Street between North and Main Streets on Friday and Saturday, September 29th and 30th. This will facilitate set up and delivery of food service for the first “Eat on the Green” event that is scheduled for September 30th from 3 p.m. until 9 p.m. Alderman Lowell Bertrand moved to approve the request. The motion was seconded by Alderman Jeff Fritz with all voting in favor.
CITY MANAGER’S REPORT: City Manager Hawley, speaking as the delinquent tax collector, reported delinquent taxes for last fiscal year were at $51,591.08 a few days ago; minimal payments have come in since. Out of 949 bills there are only 25 accounts in arrears. He reported they have until August 31st to pay or contact him; the next step is the tax sale process. The delinquent sewer assessments stand at $32,038.64, he advised. There are 789 accounts billed and 37 of those accounts are 120 days or more in arrears. Those 37 accounts will be included in the tax sale group if not paid by the end of the month.
Manager Hawley advised Bill Clark, President of the Vergennes Swim Team, wants to attend the next meeting to share with the City Council progress they have made and plans for their future. They had 122 kids on the team this year, he advised. He reported our Wastewater Treatment Plant operator Rick Chaput put in a new chemical feed system this year and our cost for chemicals was reduced to about $2,500.
COMMENTS: Mayor Daniels reported the treatment plant had an 111,000 gallon overflow last week but there was nothing our guys could do; the system just could not handle the rain. He advised there have been over 400 boats this summer; one night there were 23 boats. He said there has been a lot of positive feedback from them. He reported that he has also been working with Northlands Job Corps on developing a dog park.
ADJOURNMENT: At 7:07 p.m. Alderman Lowell Bertrand moved to adjourn the meeting. The motion was seconded by Senior Alderman Perry with all voting in favor.
Vergennes City Clerk