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Chelsea Bookout sworn in as Paonia trustee

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Photo by Tamie Meck At the May 10 meeting of the Paonia Town Board, Chelsea Bookout is sworn in as a trustee. In a surprising gesture, former trustee Ross King, who was nominated for the seat, withdrew his name due to controversy surrounding the appointme

In facing a decision between an incumbent board member who was not re-elected and a candidate who narrowly missed being elected, the Paonia Board of Trustees unanimously approved the appointment of Chelsea Bookout as trustee.

Bookout was among nine candidates vying for three board seats in the April 5 election, and was four votes shy of winning a seat. Several citizens and some board members have publicly urged the board to appoint her based on voter preferences. With all members of the current board in their 50s or older, Bookout, 35, represents a younger demographic and working families.

Mayor Pro Tempore Bradford motioned to appoint incumbent Ross King, who lost re-election by fewer than 10 votes, "because he possesses the best qualifications for this position."

Trustee Suzanne Watson and newly elected trustee Bill Brunner expressed support for Bookout. Brunner said the citizens spoke through the election and that not appointing Bookout "denies voters their constitutional right to choose their own representatives."

Newly elected trustee Karen Budinger also expressed support for Bookout.

"I appreciate Dave's confidence in Mr. King," said Brunner, "but in my opinion, to appoint Mr. King to the seat would be the most tone-deaf thing this council could possibly do."

With a possible split vote and division among board members heading into a new session, King approached the lectern and withdrew his name from consideration. "This community has had enough divisiveness," said King. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate your support, Mr. Bradford, Mr. Bear."

Earlier in the meeting, King was appointed as town treasurer. With his appointment ending in a 3-2 vote, "I'm seriously even wondering if I even want to do that," said King.

Bradford, who withdrew his motion, said he understands King's decision, and that the driving force behind his nomination is a 98 percent attendance record, while the balance of the trustees attended 82 percent of meetings. Attendance is a problem, said Bradford, recalling that in 2010-2011, at the height of the embezzlement of more than a half-million dollars from town coffers, more than 20 percent of meetings were canceled due to lack of a quorum.

Bradford said he has no objections to Bookout. "I just thought that Ross brought more to the table at this time."

After her appointment, Bookout said she recognizes the difficult decision the board faced. "I didn't want this to turn into anything negative at all," said Bookout. In speculating why incumbents were voted out, "I just think (voters) wanted somebody they could relate to on the board."

King, who narrowly missed being re-elected in the April election, has 35 years of management and budget experience in the public utilities and non-profit sector and as trustee served on the town finance committee. "He has been critical to financial health of town," said Mayor Charles Stewart during public discussion of King's appointment as treasurer.

Watson and Brunner voted against King's appointment, supporting finance director Cindy Jones. "She's familiar with books and doing a fine job," said Watson.

Town manager Jane Berry explained that the treasurer maintains accounting records, but does not perform the duties of a finance officer. She called the separation of duties "an accounting control," and reminded the board that these controls were not in place during the years the embezzlement took place. "In small municipalities, the segregation of control between those duties is more critical than any other function the town performs," said Berry.

King will be paid $50 per board meeting, identical to trustee compensation, and attend all finance committee meetings. "It's a good deal for town," said Stewart.

Trustees also unanimously approved the reappointment of Bradley Kolman as municipal judge. Kolman has served as town judge for more than 20 years. He currently receives $2,400 annually and handles monthly dockets.

David Marek was reappointed as town attorney. He began work with the town in January 2014, and was appointed to a two-year term in April 2014. The town pays Marek a $1,250 per month retainer, which includes attendance of one board meeting per month and 10 hours of work. Additional hours are billed at $150 per hour.

Trustees voted unanimously to table discussion of the appointment of town clerk until the May 24 meeting. They have until May 26 to make the appointment. The item was on the agenda for an executive session, but was stricken since the board had scheduled a special meeting on Thursday, May 12, for the purpose of holding an executive session to discuss the appointment. The agenda also included discussion of the lawsuit against the town and Berry by former town clerk Barb Peterson, and the appointment of the town clerk, which was also stricken in anticipation of the special meeting.

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