Citing too many time commitments, Milton Selectboard member Todd Shepard tendered his resignation last Monday, Nov. 19. The board accepted unanimously, with Shepard in absentia.
Shepard attended every other Selectboard meeting since his appointment as Williston’s police chief in August. He said the town needs someone who can commit to the board’s twice-monthly schedule, which conflicts with Williston’s.
“I didn’t get elected to only make it when I could,” he said.
Shepard’s three-year term began in March 2010 when he unseated longtime incumbent Diana Palm. He joined the board just months after the sitting members fired then-Town Manager Sandy Miller.
Shepard’s term ends next Town Meeting, March 2013, meaning the current board will appoint someone to fill out the spot until the election, Town Manager Brian Palaia said. The town began advertising the spot this week.
Chairman Lou Mossey hoped Shepard would stay on until March, because the board begins budget meetings next month until January.
New members will get a binder with ordinances and the town administrative code, and existing members can tutor the appointee, Mossey said. Palaia also offered to answer potential applicants’ questions.
“The first budget session can be overwhelming,” Mossey said. “But it’s not a daunting task.”
Neither Mossey nor Palaia were especially surprised Shepard stepped down, they said. When he took the chief job, Shepard himself wasn’t sure if he could manage both roles on top of family commitments. His resignation letter stated the action was “the last thing that I wanted to do.”
After serving 2.5 years on the board, Shepard said he learned a lot, especially about budget priorities. This board focused on keeping up with its capital improvement plan, evidenced by the town’s recent ambulance, fire truck, police cruiser and highway truck purchases, he said.
Despite creating a higher tax rate, Shepard said replacing aging vehicles saves money in the end. He thinks the board should next start capital reserve funds for each department, essentially pre-paying for big-ticket items before they’re, well, essential.
Doing so creates “stabilization, so you don’t have a $400,000 bond vote needed because you need this big piece of equipment,” he said. “If you start planning ahead, you can reduce that overhead.”
Shepard also cited the board’s passing a new, officer discretion-based dog-barking ordinance, a contentious issue, as an accomplishment. He doesn’t feel he’s leaving large projects unfinished.
“Certainly there have been some contested meetings that I attended, but … everything was very smooth in my tenure,” Shepard said. “In all, my three years were good.”
The chief said he’ll miss working with his board-mates, the town manager and with town staff. He urged the board to continue getting department heads’ input: “They’re the experts,” he said.
Mossey thanked Shepard for his professionalism and attention to detail. At the November 19 meeting, board member John Bartlett encouraged registered voters to apply for appointment – that’s how he and John Gifford first started.
“It’s a good way to look under the hood,” he said.
Asked if the board must appoint someone so close to the election, Palaia said the town’s charter says the board “shall” fill vacancies, which sounds non-negotiable. Besides, having more folks on board makes things easier, he added.
“Any affirmative vote does take three members of the board,” Palaia said. “When they’re down one, there’s less opportunity for dissent or discussion.”
Despite an impending busy budget time – when the board usually meets weekly – Palaia encouraged people to apply.
“If they can get through that, then maybe they’ll have a sense that being on the board is a reasonable time commitment that they can make, handle and integrate into their lives and serve the community,” he said.
Any interested resident can apply for Shepard’s position by filling out a form, found on the town’s website under “Employment Opportunities.” Email the form to Brenda Comstock, human resources, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or bring it to the town manager’s office on Bombardier Road. If appointed, the new member can decide whether or not to run for an elected term.
The board will appoint a new member at its December 18 meeting.