Nate Freeman is a new selectman in Northfield. He was elected at town meeting last month, and it didn't take long for him to start challenging the status quo.
Freeman keeps a blog called Nate's Updates and some of his posts take issue with town decisions, like a recent agreement with Turkey Hill Maple over the use of town-owned forest land for a maple sugaring operation.
The select board discussed the sugaring contract in open session at its February 23 meeting. But Freeman criticized the board for not asking the town's conservation commission to be involved in the conversation.
In a subsequent post, Freeman takes a closer look at ways the town could be more inclusive and more transparent in it's decision making. He wrote:
For me, the issue isn’t about whether trees should be tapped in the Town Forest or not. What I’m seeing here is a systemic problem in how we as a Town govern ourselves and make decisions. There have been controversies and mistakes in the past which were completely preventable if the Board had followed a process using best practices in governance.
Not everyone agrees with Freeman that the current system in in need of repair. Northfield Town Manager Jeff Schulz commented, "The board as a whole is not of that opinion."
Schulz acknowledged the issue "came to a head" over the Turkey Hill Maple lease agreement, but he said the lease was discussed in open session during two select board meetings and the decision was made by a proper vote of the board.
In his blog, Freeman suggests the select board consider the following questions before making future decisions on behalf of the town:
- Is this what the people of Northfield want?
- Do we have the authority to make this decision?
- Do we need to look at state policy?
- How have other communities approached this issue?
- What are some legal issues we haven’t thought of?
- Are there any land mines we might step on?
- Does any board member present a conflict of interest?
Freeman also encourages residents to speak their concerns and become more involved in town governance. His very first blog post invited residents to apply for one of the town's volunteer appointed positions.