Waterbury voters discuss unwarned gun law resolution

 

Waterbury Moderator Jeffrey Kilgore and Town Clerk Carla Lawrence count heads during a vote when they asked people in favor of an item to step forward as a group because they did not trust the count from a show of hands at Waterbury's town meeting Tuesday. (Photo by David W. Smith.)WATERBURY — Residents had their final and most substantial discussion at town meeting Tuesday over a gun control resolution that Waterbury Moderator Jeffrey Kilgore had already declared invalid. Voters also amended the operating budget with extra money that will allow the town to get involved with a property sale they hope will help them address parking issues. It was during the “other business” article at the end of the meeting that Kilgore told David Luce he was out of order for recommending the town adopt a resolution in support of strengthening Vermont's gun protections. This resolution, Luce said, was in support of the effort of Vermont students who were lobbying for stricter gun laws, and would be forwarded on the the governor and Legislature. Luce was not permitted to request action on unwarned business, Kilgore said, but added the town could decide to overrule his decision. Voters quickly motioned to do just that. And while they narrowly decided to accept the moderator's decision, the appeal led to a 40-minute discussion on gun control that touched on issues like limiting access to weapons, school security and the role of the mental health community in controlling gun violence. Margaret Luce told the story of her granddaughter, who had experience taking care of a classroom of young children while their school was under lockdown. While she had no problems with hunters and responsible gun owners, Margaret Luce felt more needed to be done to protect the physical and emotional health of children, and supported the notion of making a townwide statement on gun ownership. “Our children are frightened,” said Margaret Luce. “I am frightened for my granddaughter, who is a teacher.” Selectboard Chairman Chris Viens expressed a different point of view. The issue of gun violence and school shootings would not be solved with additional gun laws, he said. He believes the root cause of school shootings, like the recent tragedy in Parkland, Florida, that took 17 lives, is social media and cruelty and disconnection related to technology. “The cause of the shooting was a man so distraught by the abuse of his fellow students,” said Viens. Mike Bard said he supported the moderator's position, pointing out the diminished crowd that remained toward the end of the meeting, which lasted close to five hours. Any resolution would have a lot more impact if it included people there because it had been warned in the town report, he said. Erin Hurley agreed, but said she wished the resolution had been warned as she thought it might have brought a better turnout. “I'd be so proud of Waterbury if we sent something to Montpelier on gun control,” she said. Alex Cawley said he supported having a resolution, as it was a small step that was within their power to take. “Anything we can do to further the discussion, I think, is a good thing,” said Cawley. By a show of hands, voters supported the moderator's ruling, 32 to 29 votes. Kilgore closed out the discussion by reiterating that it was not permissible to take action on an unwarned article, but said he had enjoyed listening to the discussion of gun control, and thought it was one the town should have. Budget Voters supported the town's $4.7 million budget, which was up 8 percent from the $4.4 million budget approved in 2017. This includes funding for the town, the highway department and the library. According to the town, the 2018 property tax rate will remain unchanged at .45 cents per $100 in property value. Voters approved all special articles, as well as an amendment to add $37,500 that would be used to get the town involved in the potential sale of property at 51 South Main St., which they hope will end up netting them 35 or 40 parking spaces in a town that anticipates more difficulty with parking issues in the future. To do that, the town would use the money to sweeten an offer that developer Chris Parsons is making to Waterbury village to buy the property. Entering into this partnership would mean the town could negotiate to use parking spaces on the property. The village has traditionally been a separate municipality from Waterbury town, and is selling this property (which used to house the town offices before Tropical Storm Irene) as part of efforts to dissolve itself as a municipality and continue on as part of the town. Parsons has proposed a multi-use facility, with space for housing, offices and a restaurant, at 51 South Main Street. Some members of the public said the town should be attempting to buy the property outright rather than selling it to a third party. Select Board members said their plan to enter into negotiations with the other two parties did not mean they would necessarily lose an opportunity to buy the property at some point. They were asking for the money because it appeared they could secure some parking spaces in the deal. Board member Mark Frier added that a new commercial building on the property would bring in tax money in addition to the parking spaces. “A partnership like this, it adds value to the Grand List and also secures some parking,” said Frier. Voter amended the amendment with a stipulation any parking spaces secured in negotiations must remain under the town's use for 99 years. The budget passed easily by voice vote. Among the results from Australian ballot voting, new member Nathaniel Fish was elected to a one-year seat on the Select Board, while incumbents Mark Frier and Marc Meteyer were re-elected. Incumbent Don Schneider did not run again. Caitlin Hollister and Alexandra Thomsen will serve three-year positions on the Harwood Union Unified School District, while Melissa Phillips was elected to a one-year position. Town Clerk and Treasurer Carla Lawrence will hold on to her two positions. None of these positions was contested.

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