MENDON — A member of the Select Board said he plans to resign over safety concerns stemming from a long-running dispute between town government and a property owner on Terra Lane.
Bryan Sell was elected to the three-member board in March. On Sept. 7, he sent a letter to the board announcing that he would resign as of Sept. 30.
“It saddens me that my tenure will be cut short by an unfortunate set of circumstances, foremost among them being the safety and wellbeing of my family,” he wrote.
Since at least 2020, Brian Gates, who owns a lot on Terra Lane, has been at odds with the board, town officials and his neighbors over zoning regulations.
Gates has attended several board meetings where his discussions with the board turned into shouting matches that are difficult to follow. At one board meeting, he and his wife left the room after a round of shouting and were followed outside by a Rutland County Sheriff’s deputy.
Sell said that he informed his fellow board members several months ago that he would resign if certain conditions weren’t met.
“One condition was whether one of my fellow selectboard members continued to obstruct, wittingly or otherwise, efforts to find a positive solution to the security threat posed to our town employees,” Sell wrote.
Sell claims that board member Valorie Taylor learned that Gates’ wife, Carol Gates, planned to bring a firearm to a board meeting for personal protection, and that Taylor didn’t tell her fellow board members about this.
“A few weeks earlier, this same selectboard member claimed to be unthreatened when my pregnant wife was stalked by Mr. Gates in an attempt to intimidate me,” Sell wrote.
According to Sell, it was at a meeting in July when Gates allegedly followed his wife into the parking lot outside the town office.
“After receiving a text from Gates saying he would bring an armed wife to the next meeting, I met with two others and Gates at the town hall the next morning,” Taylor stated in an email to the Rutland Herald on Wednesday. “We talked to Gates about an issue that needed to be addressed and also about this text. When confronted about the text, Gates stated that his wife felt she needed protection for herself because of what transpired at the last selectboard meeting. I did ask that law enforcement be present at the next meeting as a precaution for all involved.”
She said that for the past year and a half Gates has been sending her text messages, sometimes dozens over a short period.
“When he wrote this text, I did not feel it was a credible threat, he felt he was harassed at the previous meeting. The text should have been reported properly, and I regret my course of action,” stated Taylor.
She did not name the two people with whom she shared the contents of Gates’ message.
“I’m sorry, this is my mistake, and I will not blame those I did share the information with. I respect their opinion, I should have gone a step further,” she stated.
Gates said Tuesday that Sell is the one who threatened him in the parking lot.
“He told me to stay the (expletive) away from his wife,” said Gates.
“He threatened me again,” said Gates. “He threatened me a couple of times, and then he actually drove through my neighborhood a couple days later. He didn’t say he was going to do anything.”
Gates said he has pending charges in criminal court over names he’s called his neighbors.
He said his issues with the people in his neighborhood stem from some trees he cut in 2020. He claims a firearms ordinance the town tried to pass was targeting him. He said that water from his neighbor’s property is flooding his land and the road. He also has accused the town of withholding public documents from him.
Court records provided to the Herald indicate that Gates’ neighbors have complained about him to police several times. He has a stalking order against him from three neighbors, and has been accused of allegedly violating these orders, as well as some of his release conditions.
“Let me put it this way, I’ve been charged with threatening, I never even did what he (Sell) did. I never did anything, I just called somebody a name. I called Linda, one neighbor, a (expletive) and I called the other neighbor a dirty, nasty, (expletive). And I have charges for that,” said Gates.
He said that he has not been convicted and is defending against the claims.
“I’m actually in the Vermont Supreme Court right now,” he said.
He shared with the Herald a video he recorded of the board meeting during which he claims Sell threatened him. He can be heard accusing Sell of threatening him. The audio track on the video is not of high quality, but Sell can be heard saying, “I’m warning you, don’t do it again.”
“I’ve had guns on me before at a meeting. Concealed,” said Gates on Tuesday, though he said he hasn’t had a gun on him recently. “They took my gun rights away after I squashed the gun ordinance. They come up with tools. My neighbors came up with tools and a way to take them, through the state and through the town. The town helped them.”
He said his release conditions don’t allow him to possess firearms for the time being, though these, he said, do not apply to his wife. He claimed not to know whether his wife has ever brought a gun to a board meeting, but then said he didn’t believe she has.
“I have never brought a gun to a Select Board meeting,” said Carol Gates. She added that she doesn’t plan to do so at the moment but that she does have the right to.
“As soon as I get my rights back, I’ll be carrying 24/7,” said Brian Gates.
Sell said Thursday that “I told him (Gates) to stay the (expletive) away from my wife, and I said it three times.”
He does not remember saying that his remarks were a threat.
“I definitely said, ‘put that in the minutes, put that on record.’ I said I don’t care, because at that point he followed my wife out to the parking lot in an attempt to intimidate me,” said Sell. “I don’t remember saying the word ‘threat’ but I definitely said something to effect of ‘please put it on record and record it in the minutes that I don’t care.’”
Sell said that he hasn’t attended meetings for the past two months — one because he was on vacation, the other for safety reasons. He said he also believes that Gates has asked the town to change the minutes to reflect that Sell allegedly threatened him. If the town does this, he said, he plans to file a lawsuit against it.
Ed Perkins said a lack of skilled tradespeople in Vermont predates the much-discussed recent labor shortage.
“We haven’t hired anybody in about six years,” said Perkins, who runs Ed’s Masonry and Restoration, as he worked his tent at the Vermont Department of Labor’s job fair in Depot Park on Thursday. “It hasn’t been for lack of trying.”
The state is hosting job fairs around the state through the late summer.
Perkins said he’d provide on-the-job training to anyone willing to take on the work.
“It’s manual labor — there’s no lying about it,” he said. “You work outside. You work in bad weather. It really is an art form. At the end of the day, you can see what you’ve made.”
You also get paid between $16 and $18 an hour, he said.
Elizabeth Gould, office manager at VMS Construction, said carpenters are in high demand, and her company would be able to take on more work if it had more carpenters.
“The construction industry is very hopping with jobs,” she said. “We don’t take jobs that we can’t do.”
At least one company says it has weathered the labor shortage well.
“2021 was a record-breaking year for Carris Reels,” said Jason Cable, an HR generalist, who was staffing the manufacturer’s table. “As a result, we have added to our headcount. We have come and gone with some recruiting challenges, but right now we’re in a pretty good spot.”
Cable said the company’s employee-owned nature makes it attractive to workers.
Sabrina Deweerdt, of Vermont County Store, said they were doing well filling positions that could work from home, but in-person jobs at their stores and in their shipping center were proving more difficult.
“When the packages ship slower, we get more calls from customers asking where their order is,” she said. “It affects that whole process.”
Those jobs, Deweerdt said, start at around $15 an hour.
“It’s been a long process coming out of COVID, but I have noticed in the last two months we’ve had an uptick,” said Michele Hunter, recruiting for Berkshire Bank. “We have been incredibly short, and now I’d say we’re just very short.”
The work is “fast-paced,” Hunter said, and the bank needs people who can interact with customers and understand their needs.
Pay, depending on position and branch, starts around $17 to $18 an hour.
“Really, we have all positions available,” said Jessica DeGraaf, recruiting for The Pines at Rutland Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation. “We are looking for people who have a heart to take care of people.”
DeGraaf said someone who wants to become an LNA, for example, can get a job at The Pines as a unit assistant, and then the facility will put the employee though the next certification class.
On-the-job training also was central to UBC Millwrights, which was not a company like most of the other recruiters in the park on Thursday, but an industrial mechanics union that assigns its members to contractors. Recruiter Randy Lambert said no training is needed to join — the union offers a full apprenticeship program.
“Basically, fresh out of high school — GED or a high school diploma is a requirement — you sign up to do apprenticeship four weeks a year,” he said.
Most of the training, though, takes place not in the apprenticeship sessions but on the job with the contractors to which the apprentice its assigned. A first-year apprentice makes around $20 an hour, Lambert said, while acquiring journeyman status after about four years, which boosts pay to around $30 an hour.
“A lot of our contractors only need you for two or three weeks,” he said. “Then they can lay you off, send you back to us. ... What a lot of members like is the flexibility. ... We really can’t complain. Business is up. There’s definitely a lot of jobs.”
In January, Rep. Robert “Bob” Helm will end his tenure in the Vermont Legislature after 32 years of service, entering a new chapter of his life: retirement.
Helm, who represents the towns of Castleton, Hubbardton, Fair Haven and West Haven in the Rutland-3 district in the House of Representatives and has served on the House Appropriations Committee for the past 20 years, said it’s simply his time to move on.
“It’s a relief to some degree; however, I’ll also miss some parts of it. That’s what I expected. There’s a lot of people that I really learned to like a lot, and I’ll miss them, but there’s a lot of (things) that I won’t miss,” Helm said.
A Republican, Helm is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who was raised in Fair Haven. He first assumed office in 1991 after some prodding from friends and neighbors convinced him to take a shot at politics.
“I never thought of (running for the Legislature) in my life. I talked it over with my wife, and she said, ‘Well, you sure can gripe about it; I think you ought to try it,’” Helm said. “Before you know it, I was in, and away we went. I never had any thoughts of staying there any more than a couple of terms, three tops, but you get kind of suckered into it. Anyways, here I am, 32 years later.”
In his tenure with the Appropriations Committee, Helm has worked with a variety of state departments and agencies, including arts, transportation, military, and fish and wildlife. Prior to Appropriations, Helm served as the chair of the state Fish and Wildlife Department.
Rep. Charles “Butch” Shaw, R-Rutland-6, who has known Helm since he became a legislator in 2011, described his colleague as a “workaholic” and shared his deep admiration of Helm’s dedication to his constituents.
“There’s a lot of historical knowledge that is leaving the building (with Helm). He can go back those many years and remember legislation that was passed and not passed. Somebody could say something and he’d say, ‘Oh yeah, I can remember in 1994, we did this, this, this and this,’” Shaw said. “His nose was to the grindstone (and) he had great conviction for what he was doing. I consider him a very good legislator.”
For the past eight years, Shaw, Helm and Sen. Brian Collamore, R-Rutland, have roomed in the same house in Montpelier while lawmakers were in session. Helm and Shaw roomed together for four years before Collamore won his seat and joined them in Montpelier.
Collamore fondly recalled sitting in the State House with Helm throughout those years, laughing and chatting over their morning cups of coffee. He added that Helm’s “salt-of-the-Earth” demeanor makes him incredibly easy to get along with.
“His work ethic is strong. He’s always thinking about people back home, and how we can help them and make life better,” Collamore said. “I just wish him the absolute best. I’m sure he’ll continue to prosper and enjoy his time.”
Looking to in the future, Helm said his winter may be quiet, but once spring rolls around again, he’ll be outdoors planting, mowing, spending time with his family and not worrying about what’s going on in the State House.
“I grow and sell Christmas trees, so that’ll keep me busy until the turn of the year. I worry about the winter months — January, February and March. I’ve got to start reading more, I think. I’ll start following the Legislature and I’ll even call (legislators) now and then and make a real jerk out of myself on one issue or another,” Helm said with a chuckle. “They’ve got to know somebody’s watching them!”
Two second-half goals led Mount St. Joseph boys soccer past Proctor on Wednesday. B1