By Shaw Israel Izikson, Contributor and Mara Brooks, Editor
After multiple emails and phone calls by Charlotte News editor Mara Brooks and Investigative Reporter Shaw Israel Izikson, Selectboard Chair Matthew Krasnow answered questions about business conducted at the board’s regular meeting on Sept. 27.
It was a two-day process for Krasnow to respond to questions in an email where the resigning selectboard chair accused Brooks and The Charlotte News of inquiries that were “inappropriate at best and incendiary or sensationalizing at worst”, detailed intensely personal family struggles, added additional media outlets to the thread after demanding The Charlotte News keep his communications “off the record”, and copied the selectboard, the town administrator, the publisher of The Charlotte News, and others in the bizarre exchange.
Brooks and Izikson attempted to ask several definitive questions of Krasnow about the meeting, but due to Krasnow’s various deferrals, the thread lasted for 17 emails over the course of the morning and into the late afternoon of Sept. 29.
At the Sept. 27 meeting, Krasnow announced that he would be resigning as the chair of the selectboard.
Krasnow made the announcement during an agenda item listed as “Personnel issue and Personnel policy – executive session likely,” but was held in an open session.
After announcing his resignation, Krasnow said he would stay on as a member of the board. He then made a two-part motion for the board to approve: the first part was to accept his resignation effective October 10, and the second part was to appoint Selectboard member James Faulkner as its new chair as of Monday, Oct. 11, right before the next scheduled regular selectboard meeting.
Vice-Chairman Frank Tenney objected to the two-part motion, stating that the motions should be kept separate, and questioned the idea of Krasnow choosing his successor. Tenney’s objections were quickly dismissed and the motion was passed.
Later in the meeting, a report was presented on a timeline of conflict of interest allegations made against former Zoning Board of Appeals member Ronda Moore.
Moore resigned from the ZBA on July 28 after serving less than three months on the board.
At the June 28 Selectboard meeting, Moore was accused by ZBA chair Lane Morrison of a conflict of interest regarding Evergreen Family Health’s permit application for a Charlotte Health Center. (Moore owns a property that adjoins what was proposed to be the Charlotte Health Center in the West Village Commercial District.)
At the meeting, Morrison publicly asked the Selectboard to remove Moore from the ZBA.
In mid-September, Evergreen Family Health announced its decision to halt the project.
In an interview with The Charlotte News last July, Krasnow stated that he believed Moore had behaved improperly.
In recent months, Charlotte resident and former ZBA member Stuart Bennett has consistently pressed the town for transparency surrounding its role in Moore’s resignation and the damage caused to her reputation by the accusations. Bennett penned a Letter to the Editor in the Sept. 23 issue of The Charlotte News requesting accountability from the town.
The full report on a conflict of interest investigation on Moore, which was conducted by the Burlington law firm, Stitzel, Page & Fletcher, was presented at the September 27 meeting.
The report cleared Moore of any wrongdoing and conflict of interest.
As shown by a dated email, the report was sent to Krasnow, and Town Administrator Dean Bloch, on Thursday, Aug. 19 — more than a full month before its findings were shared with the public.
On Tuesday, reporter Izikson emailed Krasnow for clarifications and comments about discussions held at the Sept. 27 meeting.
After no response for more than a day, editor Brooks wrote an email asking for comments from Krasnow and Selectboard Member Louise McCarren.
In response, McCarren wrote to Brooks that she would not comment.
“Jim and Matt speak for the Board,” McCarren wrote.
Eventually, Krasnow responded to Brooks on Wednesday, and copied his email to the rest of the select board and Town Administrator Dean Bloch.
According to Freedom of Information rules, when a full selectboard conducts business via email, it is considered municipal business and therefore a public document.
In response to queries made both by Brooks and Izikson about the Sept. 27 meeting, Krasnow wrote in his email, “This feels like a lot of (negative) pressure.”
“You do realize I work full-time and don’t have the luxury to put down the hammer, rake, tape measure, etc. to write my opinions while I’m getting paid an hourly wage, right?” Krasnow wrote.
Krasnow went on to give Brooks and Izikson, and others copied on the correspondence, a detailed account of his personal routine and family obligations, and asked that it be kept “off the record, please.”
In response to Krasnow’s highly personal email, Izikson again attempted to ask questions about the Sept. 27 meeting.
Izikson asked the following questions to Krasnow:
“Why did it take over a month to make the letter and outline public about the Moore conflict of interest report? What was the hold up?
Also, why hasn’t the selectboard voted to absolve of conflict of interest or vote on giving Moore an apology? Why wasn’t a statement made? Will there be a follow up?
What did it cost the town in attorney and miscellaneous fees to investigate this matter?
As for your decision to resign, when did you inform the board when you were going to resign and why was it listed as a possible executive session?”
Before he responded to Izikson’s questions, Krasnow addressed Brooks and Izikson:
“I feel like a broken record as the questions you’ve asked me in the past have been inappropriate at best and incendiary or sensationalizing at worst. What confuses me is that your stories are often balanced, measured and largely accurate.
This is why I feel it’s important to have the be part of a larger community discussion and not conversations behind closed doors. Transparency with the press is as important as governmental transparency.
I hope you accept my invitation to have this clearly needed discussion with the Selectboard for your readership to hear and other papers to report on as well.”
Krasnow then copied The Charlotte Bridge editor (and former Charlotte News editor) Chea Evans on the thread.
Brooks replied by asking Krasnow if he was willing to state on the record that no members of the selectboard knew of his decision to resign prior to the Sept. 27 meeting.
In his comments at the meeting, Krasnow indicated he had been consulting with Faulkner about various chair duties for a period of time prior to his resignation.
“I’ve been working in the past six months with Jim on a couple of dozen projects, and he seems that he has the time and experience to devote to it,” Krasnow said. “My ability and bandwidth have been dwindling, so we have been working more and more together. I think he is doing a great job and I think it will be a smooth transition.”
In response, McCarren, who previously said she would not comment, wrote: “This is a personnel matter.”
“I’m on the interstate. I answered the question…I didn’t speak with ‘the board’. I did ask speak [sic] with jim about it to see if he’d be willing to accept the role.”
Krasnow then stated that he “first thought about stepping back in some way about 2 weeks ago (after the last meeting). I first spoke with Jim sometime after that.”
In an interview with The Charlotte News, Selectboard Vice-Chair Frank Tenney said he was surprised by Krasnow’s actions at the September 27 meeting.
“What I expected is Matt to say that he was resigning and for us to vote on that, and then the board could decide on how they were going to go from there,” Tenney said.
Tenney said when new board members are voted in, the board usually holds “an organizational meeting.”
“If you look back at our meeting in March, even though Matt was basically the returning chair [after the town elections], the meeting was led as though we had no organization at that time. So, the first thing we did was to elect a chair and a vice-chair,” Tenney said.
Tenney said he had “no idea” that Krasnow was going to resign as chairman and nominate Faulkner in his place. He suggested this may have been Krasnow’s way of steering the future direction of the select board before stepping down.
“I was totally caught off guard,” Tenney said. “All it said on our agenda was a personnel issue and that was it. I found out when he (Krasnow) said that he didn’t have the bandwidth [to continue as chair] and that he was going to resign. That was the first time I heard about this.”
Tenney said he didn’t know why the vice-chair or other board members were left in the dark about Krasnow’s plans while others were tipped off sooner.
“I just believe the Selectboard should be transparent within the board and with the public. I don’t see that happening all of the time,” Tenney said.
“This process has been a real disappointment from the days of John Hammer’s community reporting,” Krasnow admonished Brooks in an email after she asked him to provide “a straight answer” about when each board member was informed of his plans to resign.
“The feeling of disappointment is very mutual, Matt,” Brooks responded.