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 The Charlotte News of inquiries that were “inappropriate at best and incendiary or sensationalizing at worst”, detailed his personal struggles instead of answering questions relating to town business, added additional media outlets to the thread after requesting 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 a bizarre, heated exchange.
At the Sept. 27 meeting, Krasnow announced that he would be resigning as the chair of the selectboard 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, immediately 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 own 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 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 pressured the town for transparency surrounding its role in Moore’s resignation and the damage caused to her reputation. Most recently, Bennett penned a Letter to the Editor in the Sept. 23 issue of The Charlotte News requesting accountability from the town.
Kranow responded to Bennett’s opinion piece in an open letter posted on Sept. 24 in Front Porch Forum.
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, The News emailed Krasnow for clarification and comments about several items discussed at the Sept. 27 meeting.
After no response for more than a day, The News editor Brooks wrote an email alerting Krasnow that a reporter for the paper was trying to reach him for comment before going to press. (Krasnow has previously asked The News to reach out to him a second time if he does not respond to inquiries, rather than go to press without including his comments.)
Krasnow finally responded 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 by The News 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 The News, 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, The News again attempted to ask about the Sept. 27 meeting, including why there had been a delay in releasing the town lawyer’s findings on the Moore matter and if an apology would be issued to Moore by the town. The News also inquired about when Krasnow made the decision to resign as chair and when he had informed individual members of the board of his plans.
Krasnow responded that he felt like a “broken record” and described the questions as “inappropriate” “incendiary” and “sensationalizing.”
“What confuses me is that your stories are often balanced, measured and largely accurate,” Krasnow wrote.
Krasnow then copied The Charlotte Bridge editor (and former Charlotte News editor), Chea Evans, on the thread.
In his comments at Monday’s Selectboard meeting, Krasnow had 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 at the meeting. “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 an interview with The News, Selectboard Vice-Chair Frank Tenney said he had been 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 and 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.”
The Charlotte News asked Krasnow and the other selectboard members if the board first learned of his resignation at the Sept. 27 meeting.
In response, McCarren, who previously said she would not comment questions about when board members were informed of Krasnow’s plans, wrote: “This is a personnel matter.”
Krasnow then admitted that he had asked Faulkner if he was willing to assume the role as chair before informing the other board members of his plans to resign.
“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 wrote in his first direct response to the question.
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.”
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 might have been 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 wrote, admonishing The Charlotte News for its efforts to determine if Krasnow chose his successor behind the scenes before informing Vice-Chair Tenney or the other members of the board.