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Arsenault wins town clerk job in Vernon

VERNON—The new town clerk is a familiar face.

Voters on Tuesday elected Tim Arsenault to serve a three-year term as town clerk, giving the longtime public servant the nod over clerk candidates Melissa Ferris and Nancy Gassett.

Current Town Clerk Susan Miller did not seek re-election.

Arsenault has served as town moderator for 17 years and as a justice of the peace for 13 years; for the past seven years, he has chaired the Board of Civil Authority. Using the surname Johnson, he also is a longtime local broadcaster.

He said he will bring communication skills, professional ethics, and a “very high level of customer service” to the clerk’s job.

He was emotional after hearing the results of a clear, convincing endorsement by the voters: Arsenault gained 593 votes compared to Ferris’s 156 and Gassett’s 115.

“This town means a lot to me, and that’s why I got into this,” he said. “I just want to make sure that we find a sustainable path and make sure we do it in a way that we can all get together as a town.”

Selectboard races

The town clerk contest was not the only race of note on ballots Tuesday.

Voters also chose three Selectboard members: Incumbent Sandra Harris (630 votes) beat out Bronna Zlochiver (201) for a three-year term, while incumbent Josh Unruh (573) bested Zlochiver (202) to serve the remaining two years of an unexpired three-year term on the board. Zlochiver campaigned for both seats; had she won both, she would have had to choose one.

Steve Skibniowsky ran unopposed for the final available Selectboard seat, a two-year term. He received 719 votes.

Also on Tuesday’s ballot was consideration of Vernon Elementary School’s 2016-17 budget, proposed by the school board at $4.36 million. That equates to education spending of $14,720 per equalized pupil, which officials said is 8.9 percent lower than the current year’s rate.

Voters OK’d the school budget with 596 in favor and 288 against.

Endorsement in Town Report

It was the town clerk race that made headlines just a week before the election, as residents and officials realized that the recently issued 2015 town report featured an endorsement for Gassett’s candidacy.

When Miller went on medical leave last year, Gassett had been appointed as assistant town clerk. The clerk’s section of the town report notes that, “at the time of the 2016 election, Nancy will have had nine months of the hands-on training and experiences that are a necessity to effectively function” in the office.

“We all agree that the office is best served by a person with strong administrative capabilities and a focussed attention to details,” the report said. “Nancy possesses these qualities.”

The document also says Miller and Acting Town Clerk Aina Lindquist “are both endorsing Nancy as the best choice to be the next Vernon town clerk.”

Those statements led to concerns about the report’s effect on the election, and the town attorney advised that the document not be allowed near the polls. At a Feb. 24 meeting, Selectboard Chairwoman Chris Howe called for Gassett to drop out of the race.

Gassett did not leave the race. In her candidacy statement, she emphasized her work in the clerk’s office, saying she had “enjoyed learning the systems and procedures that make up the challenging workload.”

While Arsenault doesn’t have that experience in the clerk’s office, he said his professional experience and his past town service will make a difference.

“I have a track record of service to this community and a record for doing things right,” he said. “I’m very proud of that, and I’m humbled that people decided to put me in this spot.”

Arsenault also will continue to serve as town and school moderator. He wasn’t on the ballot for either position but received 237 write-in votes for the town post and 133 for the school post.

He said he has confirmed with the Vermont Secretary of State’s office that serving both as town clerk and moderator is not a conflict.

“I guess the people appreciate my service as moderator enough to want me back in, and I’m glad to do it,” Arsenault said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #346 (Wednesday, March 2, 2016). This story appeared on page C4.

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