Town Clerk Susan Haughwout met with the board to explain how the Wilmington Board of Civil Authority tallied votes under Article II of the ballot. The question asked voters to indicate their preference of two options by checking “yes” or “no” boxes. Haughwout noted that some voters addressed the question in a variety of ways. The BCA counted the number of people who marked “yes” to Option A (129) or Option B (107), and the number of voters who voted “no” to both options (128). Additionally, the BCA tallied the number who declined to vote on Article II (38). One person voted “yes” to both options.
Haughwout said some voters were confused by the question. “It was an unusual ballot, and we had people asking questions.”
Wilmington resident Christine Kennedy said she was one of the people confused by the question. “I understood that if I didn’t vote for Article I, not to vote under Article II,” she said.
“In our meetings, including the meeting you were at, we specifically asked people to vote under Article II even if you voted no under Article I,” said board member Doug Swanson.
Kennedy said she didn’t want to vote for either option, preferring instead to see an option in which Wilmington would keep both of their schools, and Whitingham School would be closed. “I totally agree,” added Wilmington resident Barb Cole. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to close this school. We can have two schools in our town. I wrote in Option C. The whole ballot was not a well-put-together thing.”
Karl Nilsen said the ballot was misleading. “I’d like to see (voting on the options) redone,” he said. “And I don’t see why there wasn’t an Option C to close Whitingham School.”
“It has no bearing on reality,” said board member Phil Taylor. “If we told Whitingham to close their school, they’d say thank you very much and move to school choice.”
“But they’re telling us to close our school,” said Nilsen.
“One of our schools,” corrected Taylor.
Swanson recalled the board’s past history of attempts to offer a school bond that would satisfy voters and provide an adequate educational facility, and the board’s efforts to entice Dover, Halifax, and other schools to join in the school collaboration. He said Wilmington’s relationship with Whitingham required compromise. “Option C (closing Whitingham School) is not a compromise, and it will not move us forward,” he said. “To the people who say we can renovate this school, let Whitingham do what they want, and hope they fail before us, I can’t argue. But that’s not how I’m going to do business.”
Board member Adam Grinold said the vote on Article II did not produce “a clear path forward.” At information meetings, board members said they wouldn’t necessarily choose the option that had the most votes, but would determine which option would offer “the path of least resistance” to a successful bond vote.
Wilmington business owner Mary Jane Finnegan said she was concerned about the impact on economic development that the closure of the high school could have in Wilmington. “I’m watching the town die, businesses are closing,” she said.
“But businesses are dying with the school right here in the center of town,” said Swanson. “I think it’s because of the tax rate. If you get the tax rate down and have a good school system, I think you’ll bring people in, young people with families.”
The discussion, with a focus on maintaining the status quo or an as yet unexplored option, appeared to be taking its toll on Taylor. “It frustrates the hell out of me that there was so much politicking going on,” Taylor said, referring to what he said was an orchestrated telephone campaign to encourage voters to vote against both options. “And I’m tired of people asking about other options like we can come up with options all day long. I’m friggin’ burnt out. One of the biggest things people are complaining about is taxes, and we come up with a solution to lower taxes and fix the buildings, and people want another option.”
Grinold brought the discussion back to the results of voting on Article II. “I haven’t heard the board say what they think the result was. If the idea was to determine the path of least resistance, I don’t see it.”
Grinold said the numbers could be interpreted to suggest that 129 people were in favor of Option A, and the rest were not in favor of it.
But Swanson said he thought the board would have little trouble convincing some “B” voters to support Option A. “A new science area, a new industrial arts building, and your taxes going down? Yeah, I think I can sell that,” he said.
Wilmington board members were joined by members of the Whitingham School Board.
As the two boards prepared to vote on which option to bring to a bond, Twin Valley School Board Chair Seth Boyd polled board members.
Taylor said he expected the results to be such that he would be asking Whitingham voters to accept the decision of a majority of voters in Wilmington. Instead, he said, Option A garnered more votes than Option B in both towns. “(The results) weren’t as clean as I’d like to see,” he said, “but I’d like to work on Option A, if that’s what the board wants.”
Whitingham board member Cheree Dix said the choice was clear from her perspective. “Whitingham voters picked Option A, and that’s where I’m going,” she said. Whitingham School Board Chair Dwight Williams agreed.
Wilmington board member Dennis Richter said he was in favor of Option B but, after struggling with the question, said he would support Option A under certain conditions. “I think we need to see Whitingham add some kind of police force,” he said, “whether it’s a deal with Wilmington or their own police. I would also hope the Twin Valley board would invest in a student resource officer.”
Grinold indicated he would vote against moving forward with Option A. “The one point I would like to drive home is that the vote in Wilmington did not present a clear path. I don’t think anyone can sincerely say they know what the voters want, and it illustrates the difficulty in getting a bond passed.”
After the vote, Williams asked board members if there was a “green light” to move ahead on discussions with parties interested in using the high school building in Wilmington. Southwestern Vermont Medical Center and Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation have both expressed interest in using the building. “I think we need to approach the selectboard first, and maybe you and I could do that at their next meeting, but yeah.” Board members nodded in agreement.
“Good, let’s get cracking,” said Williams.