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B'field chair walks out/'I'm done here'
BUCKFIELD — Citing two years of abuse at the hands of residents, selectboard Chair Robin Buswell abruptly quit his position in the middle of the board's Tuesday night meeting.
"I've taken abuse for two-and-a-half years," Buswell said to fellow board members and an audience of fewer than 10 residents.
"I've lived here 62 years of my life and I've never taken the abuse I've taken [here] anywhere. There are people that are coming into town that have been here a short time that are telling me what I should do? Well I'll tell you what I'm going to do – Robin's done," he remarked, before passing responsibility to recently-elected Vice Chair Warren Wright.
Despite requests to reconsider from Wright and Selectwoman Martha Catevenis, Buswell packed up his things and left the meeting.
Buswell's abrupt departure immediately followed the walk-out of two residents who criticized the board's recent vote to restore sick-time benefits to town employees to eight hours per month after halving it in early February.
During the meeting, Vivian Wadas and Penny Horsfall expressed their concern that they did not know the board would be reconsidering its action and felt they were not given an opportunity to voice their concerns.
Horsfall said residents were making sacrifices as they faced cuts to pay and benefits and town employee benefits hit already-stretched family finances.
Current procedure allows two periods for public comments during the selectmen's meeting – one at the beginning, for items on the agenda and one later for future agenda items.
Town Manager Dana Lee said it could be difficult to forecast whether an agenda item would result in a significant vote, but agreed people should be allowed to speak if they hadn't used the public comments section because they anticipated no significant action.
Wadas, who attended the meeting when the sick-time was reconsidered, said she would have offered her concerns to the board but didn't want to break procedure.
She became so frustrated during the meeting that she removed herself from the room, Wadas said, because she would not be able to speak without sounding negative.
She suggested the sick leave vote was not the first time the board had reversed its position without advance warning or giving time for public comments.
"Two years of being on the board, Vivian, I cannot remember one time that I haven't given you the floor when you've asked for it," Buswell said.
Before moving onto other agenda items, Buswell remarked, "I guess we've been taken to the wood shed," prompting Wadas and Horsfall to leave the meeting.
Immediately following their departure, Buswell began packing his things.
"My life is too important to me to waste it on this," Buswell said, as he put on his coat and hat.
"I am done. You guys can play ... You don't let people like that run your community."
In the parking lot immediately after he left the building, Buswell said he would not be returning to the board.
"I love this town and I'm very proud of what my family has done in it," Buswell said.
Buswell, who iterated his 62 years in Buckfield, said consistent criticism from relatively recent arrivals to Buckfield, particularly Wadas, had finally broken his patience.
Wadas is a frequent and often vocal attendee at selectboard meetings.
Following the meeting, Lee said he didn't know if a special election would be held for Buswell's seat, which was up in June.
Considering the time that would go into organizing a special election, Catavenis and Wright suggested the board could operate with two members until the June.
Nomination papers for the seat will be available at the town office March 15 and the filing deadline is April 30. Election for municipal officers is scheduled for June 11.