Government & Politics

New generation takes over Morristown board

From left to right, Don McDowell, Laura Streets, Judy Bickford and Travis Sabataso. Courtesy photos/News & Citizen

This story by Tommy Gardner first appeared in the News & Citizen on March 16.

Thirty-five years of combined institutional memory is gone from the Morristown Selectboard, either pushed out the door by voters or leaving of its own volition.

The board, during its annual reorganizational meeting Thursday, bid farewell to its longest serving members as the remaining elected officials pondered how to deal with the fallout from an unpopular operating budget.

Brian Kellogg, who had served over 20 years on the board — in addition to more than 40 years as the town dogcatcher and 20 years a volunteer firefighter — was defeated in Town Meeting Day elections by Travis Sabataso, who ran on a promise to defeat the budget and have a hand in crafting a new one.

Sabataso may have also played a part in the departure of Bob Beeman, who had been on the board for 15 years, most of it as the chair. Beeman, who cited a family member’s health issues as a significant factor in his decision to step down, also said the political atmosphere had gotten too heated in the past year, and he singled out Sabataso for levying personal attacks against town officials.

Both men struck conciliatory tones Thursday when reading from prepared statements.

Beeman said he had originally planned a lengthy resignation speech but decided against it, saying he wanted to “take the high road” and not “deflect any negativity” on the board he was leaving. He reserved most of his remarks for praising the town employees, apologizing for any heat they’ve taken over the past month and a half of budget strife.

“This last Tuesday was 15 years for me on the board. I have to say that I enjoyed the first 14 of them very much, even the long meetings until 10 o'clock at night and even some heated discussions at times,” Beeman said. “Maybe even I was elected because I’m the guy that just tells it like it is. I’m not afraid to say something whereas some people bite their lip sometimes. I still feel that way.”

Sabataso said he was “disheartened” to read Beeman’s comments in the News & Citizen last week in which he told the newspaper that Sabataso “has done nothing but berate, criticize and insult” town staff and board members in the weeks leading up to Town Meeting Day. But he also said he would work on his communication skills.

“Often, democracy requires people with different opinions to sit together and find compromise and I believe our community is better served when we have a variety of opinions at the table,” Sabataso said. “It saddens me to see the leader of our board step down during a time when we need strong leadership more than ever, but I will try to do my best to be a valuable leader and member of this board going forward and I hope that we can all work together to help lead this town into the future.”

There remains a Bob-sized hole on the board, as Beeman leaves with a full year left in his term and the board presses forward for now at 80-percent strength. There has been no move yet to warn a special election or solicit candidates so the board can appoint someone to replace Beeman.

A portion of Thursday’s meeting was dedicated to distributing responsibility among the elected officials and appointing new people to committees or town positions.

Judy Bickford, now the longest tenured board representative as she begins her sixth year, was elected board chair. Don McDowell, a relative veteran now as he enters his second year, was named vice chair.

Sabataso is joined by another new member, Laura Streets, who urged cooperation.

“There are some harsh realities coming up that we’re going to have to face, and I ask everyone to not take it personally, or get defensive,” Streets said. “Let’s work together and we will get through this, and we will be better off.”

The board adopted a new meeting schedule — it will still meet on the first and third Mondays of the month, but meetings will start at 5:30, a half hour earlier than usual.

As far as Kellogg’s responsibilities, the town has gone to the dogs, with Kellogg deciding not to continue as animal control officer or pound keeper.

David Ring suggested that, similarly to how the town recently rechristened the Bridge Street span the Francis Favreau Bridge after a former town historian, the town ought to rename a bridge slated for construction in the Morristown Corners area the Brian Kellogg Bridge.

Ring also noted Beeman’s departure, saying, “Unfortunately, Bob, you’re leaving, so we’re gonna have to find another bridge for you.”

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