Masks not mandated at polls in Ferrisburgh

FERRISBURGH — After a discussion likely to play out around other selectboard and council tables around Vermont in the weeks to come, the Ferrisburgh selectboard on Tuesday stopped short of requiring town residents to wear masks when they cast votes in upcoming August and November elections.

They did however say the town’s election materials would make it clear residents should wear masks to protect their health and the safety of the town’s paid and volunteer poll workers.

“We’ll strongly recommend masks in our announcements going forward,” said Board Chairwoman Jessica James at the conclusion of the discussion.

Board members and Justice of the Peace Jean Richardson, who raised the issue at the recommendation of the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office, made it clear they preferred residents to wear masks. 

“Make it as strongly worded as possible,” said Richardson. 

Although she noted some Chittenden County towns had mandated masks, she also said she agreed with board members that it was not necessarily a good idea to mandate masks for residents if it meant curtailing their right to vote in some cases.

“I’m not asking for it, but I wanted to make sure it (the issue) was raised,” Richardson said.

One issue, Selectman Jim Benoit said, is the town would be putting itself in a “precarious position” if it were to deny residents their right to vote for refusal to wear a mask. 

Benoit was one of several, including Selectman Chris Campbell, who advocated for strong recommendations for mask wearing. 

Campbell said he was also concerned about the potential for conflict at the polling station if a mask mandate were in place.  

“My concern is you are going to fight about it when people come,” he said.

Board members and Town Clerk Pam Cousino said the town would also be encouraging early voting by mail. 

And Cousino said she believed the problem of mask refusal would be minimal on voting days because of the strong response to last week’s mailing of early-voting/absentee ballots. Cousino said 300 applications had already been received at the town office.

“I really don’t think this will be too much of an issue,” she said.

OTHER BUSINESS

In other notable business the board engaged in a lengthy discussion with resident Tim Davis about neglected and/or possibly condemnable buildings in town, with Davis listing about 10, many on the Route 7 corridor. 

The board was reluctant to wade into the thorny issue of what to do with properties that are simply neglected, but said it would work with Davis on an update of town Board of Health regulations to better enforce violations.

Selectman Clark Hinsdale also updated the board on ongoing discussions with Vergennes representatives on the greater cooperation between the two communities on their shared economic future, talks he described as productive and cordial. 

It did sound like negotiations over lands Ferrisburgh believes — based on the original 18th-century charter that created Vergennes — should belong to the town still have potential for at least a little disagreement, according to Hinsdale. 

He reported that developments such as Shaw’s Supermarket appear to be in Ferrisburgh based on mapping, but that city representatives would probably be reluctant to part with that area. 

A greater amount of territory on the city’s west side, particularly the area through which the proposed alternate truck route would run, appears to have been incorrectly assigned to Vergennes, Hinsdale said. 

The truck route is expected to open that now-vacant land for development, and Hinsdale suggested Ferrisburgh focus on that area in ongoing discussions with Vergennes.

“The future development that may be done, we need to be in on that,” he said. 

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