WILLIAMSTOWN — When it comes to town-sponsored Facebook pages, the Select Board on Monday adopted a “no comments” policy it believes will best serve the community.
The board was also told it is facing a hefty investment to protect and secure information contained on the town’s outdated computer server.
Heavily vetted by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, the new policy contemplates using Facebook as a means of spreading municipal information without opening the door to what board members feared could be frequently unproductive and potentially libelous online conversations.
While Chairman Matthew Rouleau acknowledged the change may “border on censorship” to some, the alternative — at least from a liability perspective — was worse.
“My fear is opinions masquerade as facts a lot of times,” he said. “I’d rather not have that happen.”
At least not on Facebook pages that are seemingly sanctioned by the town.
Heading into Monday night’s meeting, three Facebook pages fit that bill — one for the town, another for public safety personnel and a third specifically created for the fire department and moderated by Fire Chief William Graham and resident Cindy Cross-Greenia.
The latter page was removed last month and won’t be restored because it is viewed as redundant.
The public safety page already provides a forum for Graham to share fire department-related information and for Don Angolano and Marie Abare to post items of interest about the ambulance service. However, under the new policy, comments will not be permitted.
That will also be true of the town page, according to Town Clerk Barbara Graham, who is responsible for administering it and said Tuesday she disabled the comment capability several months ago.
Cross-Greenia pushed back on the decision to eliminate the fire department Facebook page she was credited with starting. The page, she said, had proven to be a successful fundraising tool for the department, as well as a way to spread helpful information.
“This is not frivolous stuff,” she said. “This is not gossip.”
Board member Jessica Worn said nothing in the policy will prevent the sharing of the kinds of information Cross-Greenia argued was valuable.
“All those posts can still happen,” she said, noting contact information would be provided for residents who need additional information or want to provide feedback.
Worn said that communication would occur in a “more controlled” one-on-one way.
Rouleau said that is his strong preference in a world where Facebook often generates more heat than light — a sentiment he expressed earlier in the evening during a protracted discussion of an animal control issue he argued was blown out of proportion on social media.
“The unfortunate part about Facebook is it can also be a reactive tool,” Rouleau said. “When you’re upset, or you’re angry, or you’re confused it ends up on Facebook and it’s hurtful to a lot of people, whether it’s hurting them personally or it’s harmful to their business.”
Though some residents were openly critical of the town’s animal control officer and the local boarding facility it uses, Rouleau said both provide valuable services to the town and neither warranted the criticism they received online.
Those postings coincided with the town’s decision to remove the fire department’s Facebook page and consider adopting a social media policy establishing rules for using the pages that would continue to operate with the board’s blessing.
While the board adopted a policy it hopes will resolve any future Facebook problems, members were told they must soon address a technological issue that will require a pricey fix.
Angolano, who provides information technology services to the town, said replacing a soon-to-be-obsolete server that isn’t backed up and poses a massive security issue and data breach risk must be a priority before Microsoft ends support for the system in January.
Board members were walked through a proposal from SymQuest that would require an unbudgeted expense of $23,800 for hardware alone. The board asked Angolano and Town Manager Jackie Higgins to prepare a refined estimate of the financial impact of the proposal for their consideration next month.
Angolano said the board couldn’t wait much longer than that given the six to eight weeks it would take to order and install the equipment before transitioning to the new system.
“The closer we get to January, the more dire it’s going to become,” he said.
WILLIAMSTOWN — Less than three years after buying a twice-refurbished ladder truck, the Select Board was told this week a key piece of the firefighting apparatus — the ladder — needs to be refurbished again.
That was the bad news.
The good news is that money for what could be a $45,000 fix to a 20-year-old truck the town bought for $200,000 in 2016 is available, now that an accounting glitch involving the acquisition of a new fire truck has been resolved.
The board had planned to finance the new truck — an 2017 HME rescue pumper — over five years, but the $100,000 expense was inadvertently paid in full over the summer. That depleted the town’s fire truck fund and board members approved the paperwork needed to correct the error at their Monday night meeting.
Town Manager Jackie Higgins presented the board with documents needed to secure a four-year, $80,000 loan from Peoples United Bank at 2.85% interest that she said would enable the town to pay the new truck off $20,000 installments as originally planned.
The current year’s installment — $20,000 plus interest — is spoken for, but the balance of the borrowed money — nearly $60,000 — will be placed back in the fire truck fund.
The timing is fortuitous because Fire Chief William Graham told board members they’ll need to spend much of that money fixing the 1999 ladder truck.
Following a fire in April, Graham said it appeared some of the trucks seals were leaking and, upon closer inspection, it appeared the ladder was “bowing” and the waterway appeared to have issues as well.
Graham said he contacted the manufacturer and was told fixing the problem will require disassembling and reassembling the 75-foot ladder and the waterway — work that must be performed at its plant in Pennsylvania.
Graham’s “best-case” estimate for fixing the ladder truck and transporting it to and from Pennsylvania is $35,000. However, he warned it could cost $45,000 if the cables and shims all need to be replaced.
“It’s expensive,” Graham said. “You can’t sugarcoat it.”
While the ladder needs to be repaired, Graham said the truck itself is still in “excellent condition” and the manufacturer will conduct a “bumper-to-bumper” inspection before starting the anticipated repairs.
Chairman Matthew Rouleau said that “once-over” would provide useful information to the town before any significant expense is incurred.
“They will make sure whatever repairs we do … they’re going to be worth it,” he said.
Graham said he is confident that will be the case, and the truck remains operable and will continue to be used until January when it will be taken out of service for repairs that are expected to take about a month.
Board members agreed to spend up to $45,000 in repairs and Rouleau told Graham to keep members “in the loop” with respect to the inspection.
Graham said he would and predicted the repairs approved by the board would extend the life of the ladder truck by another 20 years.
In an unrelated matter, board members expressed tentative support for an ordinance recently suggested by Graham that would enable the department to bill for some of the services it provides.
Rouleau said the ordinance needed legal vetting, but he and others expressed support for the concept of creating a new revenue source that could be used as a tool to recruit and retain local firefighters.
The ordinance proposed by Graham would divert revenue collected by the town into a fund that could be used to provide an additional financial incentive for qualifying firefighters.
Initially proposed as a property tax credit, board members seem more supportive of using any money collected pursuant to the proposed ordinance to provide annual stipends for firefighters, in addition to the hourly rate they are paid when responding to emergencies.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday abruptly forced out John Bolton, his hawkish national security adviser with whom he had strong disagreements on Iran, Afghanistan and a cascade of other global challenges.
The two men offered opposing accounts on Bolton’s less-than-friendly departure, final shots for what had been a fractious relationship almost from the start.
Trump tweeted that he told Bolton Monday night his services were no longer needed at the White House and Bolton submitted his resignation Tuesday morning. Bolton responded in a tweet of his own that he offered to resign Monday “and President Trump said, ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow.’”
Trump said that he had “disagreed strongly” with many of Bolton’s suggestions as national security adviser, “as did others in the administration.”
The departure comes at a trying moment for the Trump administration on the world stage, weeks ahead of the United Nations General Assembly and as the president faces pressing decisions on a host of foreign policy issues.
As pressure has mounted amid global troubles and signs of an economic slowdown at home, Trump has increasingly favored aides who are willing to defend him on television. Bolton was tentatively booked to appear on a pair of Sunday talk shows in late August but backed out, saying he was not comfortable with some of the administration’s plans, and that drew the president’s ire, according to a White House official not authorized to discuss private conversations
Also, tensions have risen between Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over influence in the president’s orbit and how to manage the president’s desire to negotiate with some of the world’s most unsavory actors.
Since joining the administration in the spring of last year, Bolton has espoused skepticism about the president’s whirlwind rapprochement with North Korea and has advocated against Trump’s decision last year to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. He masterminded a quiet campaign inside the administration and with allies abroad to persuade Trump to keep U.S. forces in Syria to counter the remnants of the Islamic State and Iranian influence in the region.
Bolton was also opposed to Trump’s now-scrapped notion to bring Taliban negotiators to Camp David last weekend to try to finalize a peace deal in Afghanistan.
One Republican familiar with the disagreements between Trump and Bolton said the adviser’s opposition to a possible meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was a precipitating factor in the dismissal. French President Emmanuel Macron has been trying to broker such a meeting, possibly on the sidelines of the upcoming U.N. General Assembly, in the hope of salvaging the international Iran nuclear deal that Trump withdrew from.
In Tehran, Hesameddin Ashena an adviser to Rouhani said in a tweet that dismissal of Bolton was a result of the “resistance” of Iran, adding that “cornering and omitting Bolton is a strong sign of failure of maximal pressure policy of the U.S.”
Pompeo said Trump has been clear that he is willing to meet with Rouhani “with no preconditions.” Speaking at an unrelated briefing at the White House, Pompeo acknowledged that he had often disagreed with Bolton on issues.
“There were many times that Ambassador Bolton and I disagreed. That’s to be sure,” Pompeo said.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who appeared with Pompeo, said: “The president’s view of the Iraq war and Ambassador Bolton’s was very different.”
Asked if world leaders should expect changes in Trump’s foreign policies going forward, Pompeo replied: “I don’t think any leader around the world should make any assumption that because some one of us departs that President Trump’s foreign policy will change in a material way.”
Bolton and his National Security Council staff were also viewed warily by some in the White House who viewed them as more attuned to their own agendas than the president’s — and some administration aides have accused Bolton’s staff of being behind leaks of information embarrassing to Trump.
Bolton’s ouster came as a surprise to many in the White House. Just an hour before Trump’s tweet, the press office announced that Bolton would join Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a briefing. A White House official said that Bolton had departed the premises after Trump’s tweet and would no longer appear as scheduled.
In a further sign of acrimonious relationship, a person close to Bolton told reporters that they had been authorized to say one thing — that since Bolton has been national security adviser there have been no “bad deals” on Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Syria. The person, who did not divulge who had given the authorization, was not allowed to discuss the issue by name and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
When asked to respond to the person’s comment, White House press secretary Grisham smiled and told reporters: “I don’t know how to read” it. “Sounds like just somebody trying to protect him,” she added.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said the move was a cause for worry.
“John Bolton was the wrong choice and the silver lining to this instability is that there will be fewer people whispering war chants in the president’s ear,” said Murphy. “But no one of any quality is going to take a job in the nation’s national security cabinet so long as everyone’s head is permanently hovering slightly above the chopping block.”
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was traveling with Trump Monday, said reports of Bolton’s dissent on the Taliban meeting was a “bridge too far” for Trump.
Later, in a statement, Graham, a close ally of Trump’s, said Bolton pursued an agenda that helped the president and protected U.S. national security. But he also said, “President Trump, like every other president, has the right to a national security adviser of his own choosing.”
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Charles Kupperman, the deputy national security adviser and a former Reagan administration official and defense contracting executive, would fill Bolton’s role on an acting basis. Trump said he would name a replacement for Bolton next week.
Bolton was named Trump’s third national security adviser in March 2018 after the departure of Army Gen. H.R. McMaster.
Bolton was always an unlikely pick to be Trump’s third national security adviser, with a world view seemingly ill-fit to the president’s isolationist “America First” pronouncements.
He’s championed hawkish foreign policy views dating back to the Reagan administration and became a household name over his vociferous support for the Iraq War as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under George W. Bush. Bolton briefly considered running for president in 2016, in part to make the case against the isolationism that Trump would come to embody.
Still, Trump has admired Bolton for years, praising him on Twitter as far back as 2014. Trump has told allies he thinks Bolton is “a killer” on television, where Bolton is a frequent face on Fox News, though the president has voiced some unhappiness about Bolton’s trademark mustache.
AP writers Matthew Lee and Jonathan Lemire contributed.
BARRE — A collision between a commercial truck and a railway locomotive on Hill Street in the Granite City on Tuesday afternoon closed off nearby streets shortly before schools let out.
No one was hurt in the accident at the rail crossing on Hill Street, although there was damage to two locomotives traveling in tandem and to the front end and suspension of the truck. The truck also ruptured the fuel tank on the rear locomotive, raising concerns about the potential for an explosion and fire.
Police and emergency services responded at about 2 p.m. after the collision. The two Vermont Railway locomotives were traveling back to the granite quarries to pick up more rail cars carrying stone. The truck, owned by Burrell Roofing Inc., of Williamstown, was traveling down Hill Street toward South Main Street when it slammed into the rear locomotive.
Cheyenne Baker, of Orange, was visiting her boyfriend’s aunt on nearby Perry Street and helped redirect traffic off Hill Street after the accident.
“I was there with my kid and we heard tires screeching ... and we came outside,” Baker said. “The train was coming across, like it normally does ... and (the truck) hit the second engine,” Baker said. “The train was going towards the granite mill.
“I’ve heard the CV joint of the truck is completely gone and right now, they’re dealing with a gas leak,” she added.
Timothy Adair, who lives on Hill Street, just yards from the railroad crossing, said he was sleeping at the time and was awakened by the accident.
"I heard the train slam on its brakes and I heard the crash,” Adair said. “The train was trying to cross the street and that truck, right there, T-boned it and the train is leaking diesel fuel.”
Barre Deputy Fire Chief Joe Aldsworth was directing recovery efforts after the accident.
“We got a call for a truck versus railroad engine accident,” Aldsworth said. “We got here, and we found the Burrell truck wedged like it is now and it punctured the tank which had 2,500 gallons of diesel fuel in it, which is actively leaking.
“At this point, we’ve lost between 100 and 150 gallons,” Aldsworth continued. “We have dikes (to contain the spill), put down Speedy Dry (fuel absorbent) and the crew was able to plug the hole (in the fuel tank) temporarily.
“We’ve called Absolute Spill Response, which is here in Barre, and they’re here to help clean it up. They’re going to pump out the tank, just enough to get it below a couple of hundred gallons left. They’re going to move the engines down to the railyard so they can have Vermont Railway (look at the damage).
“We called HazMat, and Vermont Emergency Management has been notified but they will not be coming — we’re going to be handling this in-house,” Aldsworth added.
Aldsworth said a “media blast” was sent out to notify the public and media of the accident and the railroad company was notified to disable the signal crossing at Ayer Street — which was activated by the approaching train — so that traffic could travel through the crossing.
“We’re very fortunate there were no injuries or fatalities and we’re just working to mitigate it now,” Aldsworth said. “It’s probably going to be shut down for two hours, I bet.
“The (Department of Vehicles) is coming to investigate the accident because it is a commercial vehicle involved and they will make the determination (about the accident),” he added.
Aldsworth said both locomotives were damaged, with a ruptured fuel tank on the engine struck by the truck and airlines severed on the front engine.
A spokesperson at Burrell Roofing said he did not have any information about the accident and could not comment.
“If you weren’t concerned about vaping before, you should be now. The government is calling out one maker of e-cigarettes and saying, ‘Enough.’”
In the news
Democratic candidates look for edge on Iowa’s campuses. A2
A request by an East Montpelier man convicted of having sex with a minor to be released from probation was denied by Washington County criminal court. A3
Live Big, Build Tiny
Learn about tiny houses with Erin Maile O’Keefe, co-founder of Tiny House Fest Vermont and instructor at Yestermorrow Design/Build School. 7-8 p.m. Yestermorrow Design Build School, 7865 Main St., Waitsfield, email@example.com, 802-496-5545.