Windsor official resigns from three posts

By Mike Donoghue, Standard Correspondent

WINDSOR — Embattled public official Amy McMullen has resigned from her three positions in local government: as Windsor town clerk, as a recently re-elected Mount Ascutney School Board member and as the newly appointed school district clerk.

McMullen, who came under public fire for her performance on Town Meeting Day, told the Vermont Standard in a phone interview this week that she was stepping away from the three posts immediately.

She declined to share her resignation letters, which are public records under Vermont law. The town and school district later released them with the school district posting her letter on its website.

McMullen wrote in each resignation letter that her decision came “after many hours of contemplation” and she thought it was in the best interest of the school district and the town.

The resignations come after a rocky month in which McMullen has acknowledged her performance on Town Meeting Day was below her usual standards and understands people are unhappy.

“I sincerely apologize for my poor judgment of being present at the polls at Town Meeting. I sincerely apologize to teachers and staff and any residents who were distressed or felt coerced by my presence,” she said.

McMullen, who was up for re-election to the school board on March 7, was criticized for standing by the school ballot box during the day as residents attempted to vote.

There also were concerns about McMullen reportedly counting and helping to tally the school votes when she was in a contested race on the ballot.

Windsor Selectboard member and Windsor County Sheriff Ryan Palmer said after counting the town ballots, he jumped in at the last minute to help the school district, which lacked adequate neutral staffing for its count. He said he was one of four people, including McMullen involved in hand counting the ballots. They were broken into pairs: two men in one group and two women in the other to count, he said.

In her resignation letter to the school district, McMullen said she had heard from both local residents and from selectboard members in Windsor calling into question her performance.

“I learned that people do not feel this was a fair and free election,” McMullen wrote in her letter leaving the two school posts.

“My actions created a loss of trust from parents, teachers and staff and other members of the community and I believe that any actions of the board with me serving will be tainted by the outcome of the election,” she said.

McMullen added she thought, “There is too much good work to be accomplished by the board and there are enough challenges without me added to them.”

Nobody has made a claim of any possible fraud in the election. 

Initially, it looked like McMullen might try to weather the storm.

“In hindsight, I see the poor judgment of being present for the duration of the day. And if I find myself in a similar situation in the future, I will assign someone to serve in my place,” she said at the March 13 school board meeting.

McMullen, as town clerk, stepped in to do last-minute double duty because the Mount Ascutney School Board had failed to appoint a district clerk to both prepare and oversee its election, officials said.

Election night results showed McMullen defeating first-time candidate Kaitlyn Gould, 252-234. After several flaws were raised about the election process and ballot security, Gould asked for a recount. The recount showed McMullen winning 255-222, but questions remained.

No explanation was offered for the jump from an 18-vote margin on Town Meeting Day to an eventual 33-vote win in the recount. McMullen gained 3 votes and Gould lost 12. Officials noted the inadequate number of school district election workers available to count ballots on Town Meeting Day was among the flaws.

McMullen thanked the 255 residents that voted for her and repeated an apology she had offered during a school board meeting March 13 a few days before the recount.

She wrote she heard the concerns expressed by local residents, Misty Boutin, Molly Matteson, Daniel Worts and Gould at the school board meeting two weeks ago.

When reached by phone Tuesday, Gould said she remains interested in serving on the school board, which oversees education in Windsor and West Windsor. 

The Mount Ascutney School Board plans to have a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday April 3. The board expects to discuss trying to fill the opening, including drafting a job description and decide where to advertise the post. 

The posted agenda for April 3 does not list the now-vacant school clerk’s post for discussion.

McMullen was appointed to fill the school clerk vacancy during the March 13 meeting. The school board budgets $50 a year for the post that is responsible for following all election laws for the month leading up to any vote and to oversee balloting and counting.

School Board Chair Elizabeth Burrows said her district has had trouble filling the slot through the years. Interim Superintendent Christine Bourne said nearby Hartland has a $4,000 annual stipend.

Meanwhile, In her letter to Windsor Municipal Manager Thomas Marsh, McMullen wrote “My presence at the polls for Town Meeting was poor judgment on my part and was a breach of trust that will cast shadows on all of my work for the town going forward.”

Marsh said Tuesday the town would begin studying its options, but no immediate action was planned. With no elections expected until next March, there was no rush to fill the slot.

Marsh said an announcement about the resignation as town clerk was planned for the selectboard meeting later that night.

Chair Jeffrey Johnson read McMullen’s letter into the public record at the meeting and the four board members, including Palmer complimented McMullen for her 5 years of service.

Marsh said a few years ago Windsor adjusted the office to provide for a part-time elected town clerk to handle some municipal duties, including elections. The town also appointed an assistant clerk trained to record land transfers, to issue birth, death, marriage and dog licenses and to handle other statutory duties.

McMullen was paid $14,205 for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2022, according to the latest annual town report. Assistant Town Clerk Riley White handles the day-to-day operations in the office, which is open about 28 hours a week.

Any replacement named to succeed McMullen as town clerk would serve until Town Meeting Day 2024 when her 3-year term would have ended.

McMullen, who serves as the librarian for the Cavendish-Fletcher Community Library, would come in about one day a week for her town work in Windsor, Marsh said.

Marsh has said he put the blame for the various election errors, including the failure to properly warn the public vote, on the school board.

“It went from the time when they should have posted the meeting to the time ballots should have been secured…,” he said, outlining the three weeks of problems.

“Not one step was done correctly,” Marsh said at a selectboard meeting two weeks ago.

He said there were also concerns that the school ballots that were cast had been left unsecured in the town clerk’s office. Blank ballots also had been left unsecured on top of them, he said.

Burrows, as the school board chair, and Bourne, as the interim superintendent, have said there is a process the district can use to validate its mistake-filled election. The board would be asked, possibly at an April 19 meeting, to vote on a motion that says it believes all the errors were inadvertent and caused by oversight.