By Katy Savage
Two Pittsfield Select Board members are trying to oust the third board member.
Select Board chair Charles Piso and board member Matt Corron took a vote of no confidence in Select Board member Ann Keundig at a special meeting Thursday, Jan. 2, and requested her to resign immediately.
“Ann’s conduct has been unprofessional and at times has been in contradiction to the town policies of confidentiality with regard to personal issues and has resulted in a serious complaint being brought against the town,” Board chair Piso said in a prepared statement at the meeting.
He said Keundig has created a “hostile” work environment for the town clerk/treasurer that’s made it difficult for the town to function properly.
The vote stems from an October complaint from Town Clerk/ Treasurer Tricia Fryer. Fryer said Keundig was “harassing” her by asking questions about several purchases Fryer had made, including a new laptop, new flowers for the outside entrance of the town offices and new garbage and recycling baskets and T-shirts for town constables.
“Everything that comes out of my mouth or I do is challenged by her, with words, a roll of her eye or sighs,” Fryer wrote in the complaint, which was sent to Piso and Corron. “I told her that we are never going to agree on things because I feel she is trying to set me up to fail.”
The tension escalated last week when Keundig said she asked the town clerk why she submitted two invoices for her salary. Keundig said she was later told the two invoices were for vacation time.
Fryer took over for Town Clerk/Treasurer Patricia Haskins, who retired after 30 years in August 2018 with about two years left of her 3-year term.
The board appointed Fryer to serve until the next election on Town Meeting Day in 2019, at which time Fryer was elected to serve the remainder of Haskins’ term. Fryer said she plans to run for the position again in March.
“She’s done an extraordinarily good job,” Piso said in an interview after the meeting.
Soon after she started, Piso said Fyer had to take on federal paperwork from flood damage in April 2019.
“For some reason I feel Ann feels threatened by the fact that we have a strong town clerk,” Piso said.
State law says the Select Board must authorize all expenditures by signing orders for the treasurer to draw funds, but Piso said the town has a policy that says the town clerk/treasurer only needs Select Board authority to purchase items that cost more than $5,000.
“There’s no ‘mother may I’ about money in the general fund,” Piso said. “There’s been nothing over $5,000.”
Keundig has been on the board for two years and has one year left of her three-year term.
Keundig said she has a right to ask the town clerk questions about finances as both a resident of the town and a Select Board member.
“I can understand why someone who has no experience in public office might feel intimidated by public scrutiny of their decisions,” Keundig wrote in a statement. “But what I find troubling is the Select Board chair’s response to her complaints.”
Elected officials can’t be removed from office unless a town has provisions for removing an officer, according to Vermont law.
Keundig said she won’t resign from the board and won’t stop reviewing purchase orders.
Piso, who called the complaint “serious”, said he was concerned the board could be liable for Keundig’s actions.
Piso said after the meeting that the board will conduct a full investigation of Keundig’s actions under a town policy that was established in July 2019 to address complaints against public officers or employees.
“It’s difficult to do things like this when friends are involved,” said Piso, who encouraged Keundig to run for the board seat. “Obviously it’s not going very well.”
Piso accused Keundig of having an issue with the current and previous town clerk for overstepping their boundaries and acting as a town managers.
About 10 residents attended the meeting on Thursday, though the town violated Open Meeting Law by not warning the meeting on the town website—a requirement for towns that have websites.
Keundig also accused the board of improperly using executive session to discuss the issue between Keundig and the town clerk/treasurer.
“I know some people believe this board is dysfunctional, but I believe we have already made some important accomplishments and can achieve many more in the future,” Keundig said in a statement.