DALTON — Surfacing from a dive into a conflict roiling Town Hall, Robert W. Bishop Jr. saw four possible remedies. Disbanding the Green Dalton Committee or leaving it alone were two of them.
Or, he told fellow board members Monday, the town could replace members or move to put the committee’s grant-funded environmental work largely in the hands of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.
All those options would be designed to resolve friction that Bishop blamed on miscommunication but that other board members believe goes deeper, and warrants concerted action.
After discussion Monday, the board didn’t take any of those steps, opting instead to make it clear to the committee’s leaders, in a coming sit-down, that the panel should stick to its agenda and improve relations with Town Hall employees.
The issue arose after department heads in Dalton called in January for the committee to be dissolved, citing derogatory comments and oppositional attitudes among some of its members. One member’s public comments, in particular, had come in for criticism.
“I really don’t have a lot of confidence in our Select Board being competent to make decisions and get stuff done, I’m sorry to say,” Cheryl Rose, a founding member of the Green Dalton Committee, said before the meeting officially began, according to a recording reviewed by The Eagle. “Anything that takes any kind of thought process, they defer to a consultant.”
Bishop said he wants to find a way to keep the seven-year-old committee going, arguing that it’s hard enough to recruit volunteers and that dismissing a panel wholesale would send a bad message.
“We can’t get enough people to get involved with our committees now,” Bishop said. “I know people are upset. It’s kind of like a heartfelt situation. These people have a lot of skills, and I just don’t want to brush them away.”
Others urged the panel to send a clear message. Board member Daniel Esko said that the green panel should be reminded to remain focused on its work — and said the time might have come for new hands.
“Maybe it is time for some healthy turnover on the committee,” Esko said. “It gets new ideas and new people into these boards.”
Member John F. Boyle urged Bishop to take stronger action than simply talking, and he predicted that problems between the panel and town employees would resurface.
“I don’t think this is a good idea to sweep this under the rug and dump it on the BRPC,” Boyle said, referring to the planning commission.
“This is not going to go away. This is not a miscommunication,” he said, indicating that he sides with the eight Town Hall employees who signed a petition asking for the committee to be disbanded.
“They expect some type of action to be taken,” Boyle said of those employees. “Hardworking people who come to their job in Town Hall shouldn’t have to put up with this.”
Town Planner Rebecca Slick, who started the petition, joined the board’s Zoom call Monday night. She confirmed that she initially proposed to Bishop that the planning commission be tapped to administer a grant related to the green panel’s work. The commission itself had offered its services in exchange for receiving a 10 percent administrative fee.
When pressed on whether she supported that as an alternative to the petition’s demand, Slick suggested that the situation had grown worse since she made the suggestion.
“Things have obviously gotten way more out of hand since I talked with you,” Slick said.
The Jan. 14 petition said that conflict with the committee had become a distraction that shouldn’t be passed on to a new town manager, Tom Hutcheson, when he starts work in late April.
“We can all agree these issues have been consuming many of us in negative ways and as Town employees we do need to move in a positive way and work together with our new Town Manager,” the petition said.
In an earlier interview, Rose said the Green Dalton Committee has felt boxed in and wanted greater rein.
“We were willing to do more work but weren’t allowed to, to make things happen. We just felt that things have moved more slowly than they needed to,” she said. “We never really had overt friction, but we let off steam at our meetings about our frustration.”
Rose also serves as chair of the Conservation Commission, on which Bishop sits.
Marc Strout, another Select Board member, joined calls to make it clear that the Green Dalton Committee should stick to its agenda and avoid creating conflict with other town employees.
Bishop and Boyle plan to meet with Joe Fish, the current chair of the green panel, and with Richard Hall, its vice chairman.
Hall took a minute during the public comment period to ask that the committee be retained.
“I hope the board keeps the green committee in some form,” Hall said. “We’re all big people and we should be able to get past that.”