Forty-five minutes after being elected chairwoman of the Essex Selectboard, Elaine Haney announced Monday night that she will be stepping down from the village board of trustees, effective immediately.
Her resignation comes just a week before the trustees’ annual elections, at which Raj Chawla and Amber Thibeault will compete for a seat now filled by Rep. Lori Houghton. According to the village charter, the trustees will need to appoint a new member to serve for the next year, then fill the position during the next regular election in April 2020.
Haney’s decision ends a yearlong run serving both governing boards during which a handful of residents – mainly those who live in the town-outside-the-village – questioned her ability to represent two different municipalities.
“The position of chair is a higher level of commitment and focus than being a general board member,” Haney said in explaining her resignation. “I just want to make sure that perception doesn’t exist.”
Members unanimously selected Haney during the annual reorganization meeting, which occurs at the first gathering in April every year. Max Levy, current chairman, nominated Haney to the post. Levy was then elected vice chairman, while Patrick Murray punctuated his first meeting by volunteering for the role of clerk, generally reserved for new board members.
The board also set its meeting schedule, sticking with meetings starting at 7 p.m. on the first and third Monday of each month, save several variations due to holidays.
And members agreed to a goal of holding two joint meetings a month, with one occurring on the selectboard’s regular schedule and the other falling on the trustees’ regular schedule. They held off on solidifying the joint meeting schedule until discussing with the trustees.
Two board policies covering proper meeting conduct and conflict of interest also earned airtime, with discussion on the latter centered on the board’s two new members.
Murray, who is also a member on the Essex Westford School Board, said he would gladly recuse himself from any discussion in which the board felt he couldn’t separate his two roles.
“If there’s ever an instance where it would appear I’m advocating on EWSD for any reason, I would absolutely welcome anyone to bring it to my attention,” he said.
And Annie Cooper defended her role as moderator of the EssexVt Facebook group, which features more than 3,500 members, following concerns from selectmen Andy Watts over potential censorship issues.
Watts noted that among Cooper’s responsibilities is maintaining a civil discussion and said he could envision a scenario where she may remove comments that, for example, use profanity to criticize the selectboard.
But Cooper saw no problem in keeping the role, noting the page is not a governmental sponsored page.
“My moderation is wildly transparent. I remove almost nothing. Anything I do remove is very apparent,” Cooper said. “I feel a million percent comfortable about any discussion I have on there being respectful.”
The board decided to pass both policies without any changes.