Orford Selectboard candidates seek to bring end to contentiousness

John Adams (Courtesy photograph)

John Adams (Courtesy photograph)

Terry Straight (Courtesy photograph)

Terry Straight (Courtesy photograph)

By CHRISTINA DOLAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-08-2024 6:01 PM

ORFORD — Old rivalries have resurfaced in this town of 1,200 as four candidates compete for two Selectboard seats at Tuesday’s annual Town Meeting.

In ballot voting, Selectboard Chairman John Adams squares off against longtime Orford resident Larry Taylor for a three-year seat. Incumbent Kevin Follensbee also faces a contested race against challenger Terry Straight for a two-year term on the three-person board.

It has been a turbulent few months in Orford’s civic life.

Conflict with the Selectboard caused a wave of resignations from both the Planning Board and the Fire Department in December and January. Some Orford residents split into factions, and public discourse became so contentious that the town’s Listserv was shut down by Google for violating its content policy.

Last weekend, Orford Police Chief Jason Bachus reported that a campaign sign in Straight’s yard had been hit with two rounds of birdshot from a .410-caliber shotgun.

The incident, which is still under investigation, could result in misdemeanor charges and a civil penalty of up to $1,000 for defacing a political sign, Bachus said Thursday.

Selectboard candidates said they hope to lead Orford toward calmer civic waters.

Straight chaired Orford’s Planning Board for two years before resigning in December. He served as Orford’s fire chief for 10 years before resigning from that role in January. Both resignations were prompted by disagreements with the Selectboard that included attacks on his character, Straight said.

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In a phone interview, Straight said he favors more transparency in Orford’s government, and wants to help create a code of conduct for Selectboard members. “I want to be open and honest on the Selectboard and not have a personal agenda against any department or official,” he said.

Follensbee, who couldn’t be reached for comment, was appointed to the Selectboard last May after the resignation of Jennifer Carter. A retired Lebanon firefighter, he was also appointed as interim fire chief after Straight resigned in January.

In the other race, Adams is running for his fourth three-year term against Taylor.

Adams likens serving as Selectboard chairman to being a middle manager. “You answer to the people but you have to be authorized at the state and local level to do anything,” he said.

He finds satisfaction in “the ability to get things done for the town” and enjoys working with different people and groups, he said. He is particularly pleased by the success of Orford’s efforts to secure broadband access to the town in part by using federal COVID-19 funds.

“This year’s challenges are nothing new,” he said. One persistent difficulty in Orford has been attracting volunteers to serve on municipal committees. After the Planning Board resignations in December, he had to petition the state to appoint enough members to achieve a quorum so that the Board could schedule meetings.

Aging town buildings and the need to consider consolidating library and municipal services under one roof are not new problems, either, Adams said. Neither are unreliable municipal emergency communication and spotty cell service. Adams hopes that the newly-available broadband access will help mitigate some of those challenges.

Taylor said that he’s not much of a politician and is “about 50 years behind the times.” He dislikes the idea of campaigning and is not so much running for office as standing for office.

“There’s enough people that know me and if they want me to serve I’m willing to do that. And if they’re satisfied with the way things are, they should vote that way,” he said in a recent phone interview.

Taylor has lived in Orford since 1966. “I’d like things to go back to the way they were in the past,” he said, “I know it’s not always possible, but for a small town things here have changed rapidly.”

Orford Town Meeting will take place at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 12 in the Rivendell Academy gymnasium. Polls will open for ballot voting at 4 p.m. and close no earlier than 9 p.m.

Christina Dolan can be reached at cdolan@vnews.com or 603-727-3208.