Board denies Wrenner seat on dispatch

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Selectwoman Irene Wrenner explains why she volunteered for the committee working on an agreement to create a union municipal district, the same model proposed in last year’s recreation proposal to merge departments in the town and village. The board did not accept
her application. (Photo by Colin Flanders)

Joint municipal manager Pat Scheidel will remain an interim dispatch committee member after the Essex Selectboard decided not to appoint its only volunteer for the position: selectwoman Irene Wrenner.

Wrenner had applied to serve as a permanent member on the committee working on an agreement to create a union municipal district, the same model proposed in last year’s recreation proposal to merge departments in the town and village.

The district would govern a regional dispatch center, which could improve the average delay of 60 to 90 seconds between a 911 call and the dispatch of units in the county, according to consultants paid for by eight municipalities, including Essex.

“I’m very interested in seeing that this governance model is the correct one for regional dispatch for the county, as well as for Essex,” Wrenner said at the June 5

meeting. “And those may be two different decisions.”

In open session, chairman Max Levy and selectman Michael Plageman questioned how Wrenner, who heavily criticized the rec proposal, could keep an open mind.

Wrenner said that opposition was aimed at the decision-making process leading up to the proposal, not the model itself. She said UMDs make sense if there’s no better option.

“I didn’t get that impression,” Plageman said. “I believe your position was basically to torpedo all UMDs, and you went far and wide to find information that basically bore out that position.”

Levy echoed the concern. He cited Wrenner’s role in the political action committee, Plan B for Essex, whose website says that expected outcomes for any UMD — or special taxing district — are “problematic.”

“Why would I apply to serve on the board for a UMD if I didn’t think it might be one of the solutions?” Wrenner asked.

“That’s a good question,” Levy said.

Discussion over the appointment spilled into a closed-door session. Later that evening, Levy confirmed no decision was made, and Scheidel will continue in his role.

The following day, Wrenner said she believes the result is punishment for her role in the recreation saga. She imagined no scenario where the board would appoint her.

“They have their goals in mind for this position, and clearly I don’t meet whatever criteria they’ve set up,” she said.

Levy denied her claim. He said the board doesn’t participate in “political games;” rather, it considers volunteer positions by measuring the applicant’s skills with the committee’s need.

In this instance, Scheidel is the better fit to represent Essex, Levy said, in part because the committee originally requested town managers.

Including Scheidel, the committee is currently made up of five city or town managers, an assistant town manager, Burlington’s fire chief and Milton’s selectboard chairman.

The committee held its first three meetings without an official representative from Essex after the selectboard tabled the issue on three occasions. Some members were concerned that the obligations would add to Scheidel’s already heavy workload, while others felt the board should focus on other topics.

During a March meeting, Scheidel cautioned an appointment meant the selectboard would have to decide whether to warn a vote on the proposal. He said he was willing to join if they guaranteed to warn the vote. Conversely, if members knew they wouldn’t, he’d prefer not to “waste the time.”

Members tasked him to attend two meetings and report back. After one, he returned to the board and said he felt an appointment was necessary.

The seletboard then voted to advertise for the position.

Committee chairman Aaron Frank said he expects to send the final agreement to legislative bodies for comment before it heads to the attorney general.

Wrenner said her perspective as an elected official would help the committee “craft the plan to make sure it can pass muster” when it heads to voters. Plus, Wrenner said she believes experience with the recreation district only adds to her credibility as a viable dispatch committee candidate.

“I can’t see anybody at the [committee] being anywhere near as knowledgeable as I am or any of the people who worked with me,” she said.

Yet Wrenner said it was a little too late to encourage any of those people to apply.

“The writing was on the wall: People are not really welcome to apply, those who knew the most about special taxing districts who could really add something,” she said.

She called the result disappointing, but not surprising.

“I was just interested in seeing how it would play out,” she said, adding she plans to attend the rest of the committee’s meetings and said she has offered to be an alternate.

Levy said he doesn’t see a need.

The board welcomes any volunteers to “see how their skills stack up against” Scheidel, he added, but the town won’t spend money further advertising the position.

“There’s no politics, there’s no backstabbing. That’s nonsense,” he said. “All I do is look for the best interest of the entire community.”

*This story was updated to reflect the dispatch committee’s current make-up.