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Audio of Hope Select Board member released in heated snowplowing, road work debate

Phone conversation released on Facebook, to press
By Daniel Dunkle | Aug 27, 2020
Photo by: Daniel Dunkle

Hope — Amy Powers of Hope has released an audio recording, which she says includes Select Board member Bruce Haffner, in which he discusses putting out flyers to oppose an item on the town meeting warrant dealing with roads and says he is going to “take these guys down” concerning some town officials.

Powers mentioned the recording first at the Select Board meeting Aug. 25.

“I am sharing a disturbing audio of a recent conversation between one of our Select Board members, Bruce Haffner, and a citizen of Hope. In this audio, Select Board member Haffner threatens two elected officials and one female town employee,” Powers said on Facebook. “This conversation stems from the process of determining who will plow our roads in the future. There were differing ideas on this topic within the town and that’s ok. What isn’t ok is threatening to ‘take down’ those that disagree with you, especially as an elected official who is supposed to represent the town as whole.”

Haffner responded to an email seeking a comment, saying, “Thanks for your interest. I’ll query the board and see what they’d like released. I suspect the answer will be to wait for the results of the investigation.”

In the phone discussion, Haffner is heard talking to a man who mentions having served on the Select Board in the past.

In the first part of the discussion, Haffner said he distributed 170 flyers door-to-door in Hope prior to the July 14 election, at a cost to himself of $32, calling on people to vote no on Article 6 to “Save Our Roads.”

The article in the town meeting warrant, which was voted on by secret ballot this year, asked residents to approve $528,895 for maintenance and repairs to town roads. A split Select Board had voted 3-2 to put this on the town meeting warrant, according to a sample ballot obtained at the town office Aug. 27. The budget committee recommended a no vote on this item.

According to voting results posted on the town website, the article passed in the election by a vote of 255-213.

Results of that election have been called into question. At the Select Board meeting Aug. 25, Board Chair Sarah Ann Smith issued a statement that there were errors in tabulating the town meeting votes in the election.

In the recorded conversation, the other speaker argues that Haffner, in getting the item voted down, would put the town in a dilemma.

Haffner argues town officials created their own dilemma and complains that they did not decide to have a different format for the town meeting vote than secret ballot. The town had gone that route due to the pandemic.

The other speaker argues too that Haffner is “opening up a can of worms,” that the town cannot simply form its own public works department without first dealing with the fact that it has an elected road commissioner.

Haffner states that some have been “Against me from the beginning, and I’m going to take these guys down.”

The other speaker asks who he means.

Haffner says Town Administrator Samantha Mank, Select Board Vice Chair Brian Powers and Road Commissioner John Monroe.

Aside from that one instance, the conversation is mostly a debate between the two speakers about road maintenance issues. Haffner would like to see an engineer or someone with similar experience in charge of roads.

“From my perspective, this behavior is unacceptable and should not be tolerated in our community,” Powers said on Facebook. “I am also concerned that this individual and his behavior have potentially opened the town to possible lawsuits and complaints. For example, in our society there is no tolerance for a male ‘supervisor’ to threaten a female ‘subordinate’! Why would we tolerate that in Hope? Since we currently do not have a mechanism to remove elected officials, I feel the only appropriate option is a resignation. I also hope that we can come together as a community to implement a legal mechanism to remove elected officials when appropriate.”

She made a very similar statement at the Select Board meeting this week.

The Select Board is in the process of putting together a town committee to look into options for road maintenance including possibly establishing a public works department.

The issue has been discussed in Select Board meetings earlier this summer.

According to the minutes of the July 14 Select Board meeting, Dick Crabtree stated at the meeting that “Many in the town are appalled by the lack of decorum and respect to others on the Board, to bidders on the plowing and more.” He added, “It has been a spectacle.”

Crabtree argued that the flyer sent to residences in Hope about the budget showed a lack of respect to conduct a campaign against the majority vote of the board.

The minutes also note, “Dick was very glad that it was just the five board members and him present.”

In the same minutes, it states, “Brian then noted that Bruce had sent out emails to some members of the Town privately. When Brian was in the office on Monday, one citizen was very upset and came in to complain. Brian contacted the MMA to determine if Bruce’s emails were illegal. The advisor at the MMA noted that the use of the word ‘we’ in Bruce’s email was misleading as to who is ‘we.’ (note from Sarah after the fact to clarify: The other members of the Board were not consulted and did not receive Bruce’s communication from him.)”

Questions were also raised about where Haffner got the email addresses.

“There was a discussion that Bruce should not use email addresses he received as coach of the Chess Club for private political purposes. Sarah pointed out that although the MMA may not consider such usage illegal, different rules apply to school-related activities and with things dealing with children. There was a discussion of assorted complaints over the past couple of weeks.”

The road committee issue was discussed at the June 9 meeting and Mank presented seven names as possible candidates.

“Thom (Ingraham) said he wanted to have a little more time before deciding,” the minutes state. “He said he didn’t know all of the people and wanted to make sure that they are all open and fair minded. He went on to say that maybe we should check with some residents to see who they might like to have on the Roads Committee.”

“...Brian said the purpose is beyond just having a look at creating the Public Works Department. Sarah said that there has been a big push to get this committee going so, the Selectmen can appoint these people now there are seven people who are willing to serve on it and we can add more later.”

The Select Board took no action in that meeting.

On June 12, the minutes state:

“There was a lot of discussion surrounding the roads budget and the work that the Road Commissioner said he was cutting in order to accommodate the winter maintenance. It was very hard to figure out the exact dollar amount for the work because there were some math discrepancies. However, the Selectmen was able to agree that the total budget for roads was $545,120, but how this number was obtained remains in question. The Selectmen consulted with Bill Pearse who came up with a total of $555,120. Dick Crabtree was able to contact John Monroe, the Road Commissioner, who confirmed that the bottom-line total for the Roads budget was $545,120. Bruce asked to call the vote. Wendy made a motion to approve the Roads line for $545,120. It was seconded by Sarah. Motion passed 5-0.”

On June 30, the board met with an attorney to discuss how Select Board members should not work individually, but together as a group, and how they should conduct themselves.

Phone conversation audio
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Comments (1)
Posted by: James Mays | Aug 31, 2020 19:55

I think we can reasonably assume this quasi-illegal audio recording was made by the unnamed "other person" on the audio. The recording was then given to the wife of another Select Board Member for posting online from where Village Soup obtained the recording. One might reasonably inquire why David Dunkle (who wrote the article quoting from the tape) has still not yet performed  the least amount of due diligence to identify this mystery "other person."

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