PUTNEY—With 100 people attending via Zoom and more wanting to get into the meeting, the Putney Huddle hosted a forum on April 10 to hear from the four people running for a one-year seat and the two vying for the two-year seat on the Selectboard.
Voters at this year’s Annual Town Meeting agreed to add two new members to make a five-member board, thus the need for a special election.
Organizer Laura Chapman apologized that more people could not be on the call, saying the Zoom time had been donated and had a threshold of 100 participants.
Chapman explained further the next day, posting on the Putney Huddle Facebook page that she is “impressed and excited to see this level of engagement” and “heartbroken for those that were denied access.”
“As the organizer for the Putney Huddle, I borrowed a friend’s paid Zoom subscription, which only went up to 100 people, so many apologies to those that couldn’t get in,” Chapman wrote. “My commitment is to increase access to democratic process in this community, so going forward I will take this turnout into consideration and purchase a larger plan.”
She thanked those who have offered to pay for better Zoom access next time and noted that BCTV has recorded the forum and will make its recording available soon.
At the Wednesday, April 20 regular Selectboard meeting, another informational session with candidates will take place beginning at 5:30 p.m., both in person and via Zoom. The Zoom link and instructions for telephone access can be found on the town website in the Selectboard agenda section.
Early voting is happening now during the Town Clerk’s office hours (Mondays through Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.). In-person voting takes place at the fire station on Tuesday, April 26, when polls will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
ARPA money note
Several candidates referred to ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) money. There are caveats to use that federal money.
The Vermont League of Cities & Towns (VLCT) reported that in July, 275 of Vermont’s 281 towns, cities, and villages were asked to decide whether to accept support from the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (CLFRF) that is part of ARPA.
Along with the federal grant award come the complicated rules and conditions that generally accompany federal funding, as well as many ancillary rules that are not yet known.
All 275 municipalities decided to accept that money.
The purpose of the CLFRF/ARPA money is “to provide a substantial infusion of resources to help turn the tide on the pandemic, address its economic fallout, and lay the foundation for a strong and equitable recovery.”
Eligible uses include supporting public health response, addressing negative economic impacts, offering premium pay to essential workers, replacing public sector revenue losses, supporting water and sewer infrastructure, and supporting broadband infrastructure.
Unlike other federal grant awards, this money didn’t follow a highly competitive application process to fund a specific project already identified by the municipality. Instead, the award followed a simple certification — that is, no application — and the first tranche, 50 percent of the total, arrived before projects were identified so use of the money is essentially discretionary.
Municipalities have until Dec. 31, 2024 to “obligate” their money and until Dec. 31, 2026 to actually spend it.
VLCT ARPA Assistance and Coordination Program Director Katie Buckley has counseled all towns, “As you think about all the ways to spend your ARPA money, ask yourselves this: What will you leave behind that is valuable and durable and which will fill your future residents and leaders with civic pride for what you did and how you did it? This is your moment. This will be your legacy.”
Candidates for the one-year seat are Bryce Hodson, Laura Campbell, Peg Alden, and Parry Phillips. Charles Raubicheck and Elizabeth Warner are vying for the two-year seat.
Meg Mott moderated the meeting, and Jack Spanierman culled the questions asked by participants via the chat function of the Zoom. Candidates responded to six questions.
“If you can, listen to each other and reinforce where there’s some overlap and be clear where you disagree,” Mott said at the start.
From start to finish, the event was pacific, without incident or discordant engagement.
Five-minute introductions kicked off the discussion.
Hodson, a lifelong Putney resident, owns a landscaping business and has two children at the Putney Center School. He said he is running, in part, to ensure they have the ability “to stay on our 100 acres.”
“It would be a shame to have to break the 100 acres up,” he said, adding his other reason for running came after he learned that just 600 people out of 2,000 registered voters actually participated in the annual election.
Campbell has lived 16 years at Putney Meadows, some of that time while on a Section Eight housing voucher. She agreed there are “very few people living in affordable housing in our community,” saying she hoped more would in future.
She said that she’s spent 10 months attending every committee and commission meeting she could, “trying to unravel the workings of government in our town.”
“It’s been so animating attending the town meetings that serving on them must be even more powerful,” Campbell said, noting conversations with people of various socioeconomic visions and circumstances and her work on the Wilson Wetland Stewardship Committee.
Parry has lived in town nearly all his life and has three children, two currently at Putney Central and one poised to attend next year.
He said he’s running “because not a lot of young people are trying to be on the board. I’m very new to all of it, but I just want to make a difference in my town.”
Alden has worked at Landmark College for more than 20 years and currently is a professor of anthropology and a program coordinator there.
“I think it’s the right time for me to serve Putney and for Putney to have me serve,” she said, noting her role as a single mother.
Full-time work has prevented her from serving sooner in this capacity, but Alden said that she has volunteered for many organizations when she could.
She said she’s become “much more committed to government as a way of caring for one another” and wants to do that here.
“Going from three to five [board members], I think there’s going to be a lot of changes, and I think I’ve got some good skills to help with those changes,” she said, adding that “like everywhere, I think Putney’s got a lot of tension right now.”
Alden said she wants to help bridge differences and heal. “I think it’s a time to come together and do that,” she said, noting she sees both “challenges and opportunities.”
Raubicheck, a retired lawyer and adjunct professor, has served on numerous boards, including his current commitments: the board of Groundworks Collaborative, a nonprofit in Brattleboro, and the Development Review Board, for the town.
When living in New York City, he served on the board at Riverside Church, an interdenominational, interracial, international, open, welcoming, and affirming church and congregation in Manhattan.
“I’m running because I want to contribute to this very special community,” Raubicheck said. “I have broad board experience. I also think I would bring balanced judgment to this job.”
Warner, who came to town to attend The Putney School, said she found “a sense of community” here and learned to garden and cook, parlaying that into a 23-year catering business.
She said she has “a tremendous amount of experience” in food management, ski management, and patient and elder advocacy and is aware of and understands “the silver tsunami,” an expression sometimes used to describe the unprecedented increase in the number of older people in the world.
Warner says she sees “a lot of siloing of information and money” and that “we have a chance to build in a really inclusive way.” She cited that the meeting could hold only so many as an example of the town’s “failure to communicate in an inclusive way.”
She said Putney needs “more opportunities for engagement and a really good plan for growing this town.” She noted the recent influx to the region of evacuees from Afghanistan, a program that she said started without a plan.
“We are being shortsighted,” she said, adding she wants to help the community “engage in more collaboration.”
“We are poised and in a place where we can do so much better for the future of this town,” Warner said.
Questions and responses
The candidates were asked to name three things they would like to see improved in town. Here’s what they said:
• Alden: She would like to see the change from three to five board members to happen “smoothly and cooperatively,” adding that “diversity and inclusion” is a goal for her. She added that the town’s potentially “getting a lot of money from the American Rescue Plan Act” and said that she would work “to use that money collaboratively.”
• Phillips: He noted the need for better policing, saying, “we’re not a priority” for the Windham County Sheriff’s Office, which provides law-enforcement services to the town under contract.
He also wants the town to “come together more and be more inclusive so that everyone in town can be a part,” saying “businesses in town are directed at certain people.” Admitting that he doesn’t shop here but in Brattleboro, Phillips said the town “needs more things everyone can shop for here to keep money in town.”
• Campbell: She wishes that the town website be made “more informative, updated, and accessible.” She said she’d like to see fewer of the same people chairing multiple committees. Her third wish is that the town would “pay attention to our water source, the wetlands, which are at risk.”
• Hodson: He wishes to see improvement of infrastructure, he said, adding that as a lifelong resident, he “knows everybody.” He reported that operators of the town wastewater treatment plant have told him that the current system “can handle” the proposed Windham & Windsor Housing Trust affordable housing complex, “but that will cap it” and that the town “won’t be able to develop more” until infrastructure is improved.
He also would like to see accessible and open natural areas, including new green space and a park downtown.
• Warner: She would like “thoughtful use of ARPA money,” better website accessibility, and “engaging an urban planner to craft a strategic plan for the best possible development of affordable housing, business, and infrastructure.” She also believes zoning changes should be approved by Australian ballot.
• Raubicheck: Downtown revitalization is important to him, he said, noting empty shops and the recent move of Antidote Books to Brattleboro. He welcomes folks from affordable housing and wants to develop new businesses. He wishes for better speed limit enforcement on his street, Westville Road, and says that “traffic rules downtown could be better enforced.”
Another question addressed the affordable housing challenge in Putney and what steps candidates would take to address it.
• Raubicheck: To him, “the state has a policy, irrespective” of where affordable housing is located, and “Putney has a population that can’t always afford a higher rent.”
He believes the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust is “working with the town” and noted that the project has established plans, that it had undergone a public hearing, and that the Putney Development Review Board, of which he a member, has granted a permit.
He acknowledges “a number of folks not in favor,” but said “the town needs to attract and broaden its social and economic base by having this project.” Raubicheck called it the “right thing to do” and “something that is noble,” adding he believes all present have “great heart and good intentions.”
• Warner: She said one of the problems related to the housing issue is that the same management organization with which many have difficulties is involved in all projects. She believes in building “cottage clusters of affordable homes and identifying land and in-fill sites to develop” and working toward “alternative options more geared to home ownership and senior housing as well.”
• Hodson: “I’m not opposed to newcomers, but if that makes people in our town not able to be a citizen anymore, that’s upsetting,” he said. Hodson believes the town “isn’t ready to support a lot of new people if the infrastructure is not up to par,” but said that he supports affordable housing.
He said the planned 25 units “isn’t going to solve the whole problem,” and asked, “Where do the next ones go?” He said it is unlikely new housing could be built in Dummerston or another neighboring town without the infrastructure to support an influx of people.
• Campbell: Affordable housing is a critical need, she said, adding she “supports meeting the challenge.” Campbell said that the green space in town — where the community garden is and where the 25-unit housing building is proposed — signifies what’s important to people and that she doesn’t want “contention over it.”
She believes the choice of this location has “created unnecessary alarm and conflict” and “an alternative has to be found.”
Campbell doesn’t believe the town is “quite prepared” and said, “Haste makes waste.” She doesn’t want to “ruin what we have that is very precious” while still providing housing.
• Phillips: There is a great need, he said, and he supports affordable housing but would like it built elsewhere. He suggested the 11 acres owned by the Putney Inn and the trailer park, where there is a Windham & Windsor Housing Trust (WWHT) site with six trailers that are “falling down” that could be replaced with viable housing.
• Alden: She is “really proud” of the current WWHT prospective project. “I’m excited about it,” she said, adding that what she would think about it as a Selectboard member “doesn’t really matter,” as it “isn’t going to be my decision.”
She said the Selectboard should look more at “who can help us move forward in a positive way.”
When asked what personal quality they thought is essential to serve on the board, candidates said the following:
• Alden: Community spirit, the ability to bridge differences, budgeting abilities, and creative problem solving, are key, said Alden, adding, “I’m eager to bring them to town.”
• Phillips: He tries to talk with as many folks as he can when he drops his kids off at school, Phillips said, citing the importance of one’s ability to listen and respond quickly and respectfully, being friendly, and taking all views into consideration.
• Campbell: Courage and trusting one’s own perceptions are vital, she said. “I have witnessed women in meetings being dismissed, being told what they’ve brought up is not relevant, being told they’ll be called on later,” she added, noting that “it takes tremendous courage to make one’s voice heard.”
• Hodson: The candidate listed a number of qualities as important, including being diverse and a good listener, hearing all points of view before making a decision, making sure information is disseminated, and being able to budget.
• Warner: Fiduciary responsibility to the town when making decisions is key, she said, describing herself as empathic, a good listener, and “pretty vocal and engaged.”
She said the town needs more involvement by all types of people and that she has “tried [her] best to engage in the process here and be as courageous as possible” but has “found some difficulties getting messages across and questions answered” and she hopes that “can be improved.”
• Raubicheck: He cited balanced judgment and an even-keeled temperament and approach to weigh all input before making decisions.
On diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, what would the candidates like to see?
• Raubicheck: Noting his time at Riverside Church in New York City, he said that such measures are “very important to me.” He suggested visiting businesses and institutions in town to explain the importance and to learn how they will “foster equity inclusion in their business practices.”
• Warner: For her, diversity efforts need to be expanded. She is glad that the town has a diversity committee and encourages the town to produce homes “where people can raise families and be connected to the community and home ownership for all.”
• Hodson: He believes the town “definitely” needs to do more in terms of inclusion and noted that “not everyone has a chance to sit on committees, even.” He suggested perhaps more, better, and more efficient “outreach” to ask community members to volunteer.
• Campbell: At first saying, “I’m stumped,” she added, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a developer allotted apartments” to various diverse delineations of families.
• Phillips: “I think everybody should be included; everybody’s opinions matter,” he said. He added that he’s not sure how to get more people involved but that “people also need to want to be involved in what the town is doing.”
• Alden: The question is “really complicated,” she said, because it involves “every aspect of our community” and “so many elements of who we are.” She doesn’t have a quick solution but said she is “really proud” the town has a diversity committee and looks forward to working with those folks.
Regarding expertise in budgeting/financing:
• Hodson: He has run his own landscaping business for 25 years and knows how to “be responsible with your money, when to borrow money, making sure you have a nest egg.” He wants to be sure the town puts money aside for projects known to be coming down the road.
He asked, “what about bringing storefronts back? Why are there so many dilapidated/rundown storefronts?” he asked, suggesting that “maybe the town should help.” Noting the Putney Craft Tour has no storefront, he suggested that maybe the town could help find one, as the annual event is a tourist draw. He also noted the lack of take-out food options in town.
• Campbell: Her expertise includes that she is “debt-free and solvent” and able to handle the copious paperwork that goes with living in affordable housing. “It’s quite astonishing,” she said of the level of paperwork. She admitted being “out of [her] depth” regarding municipal budgeting.
• Phillips: He owns his house and shops where goods are cheaper to save money, noting there are not a lot of options in Putney and that the Putney Food Co-op is expensive for him and others.
“What you need and can afford, and what you’d like to have and can afford — it takes a lot of thought,” he said.
• Alden: Saying she has had “quite a lot” of fiscal experience, she noted managing “a very large federal grant” at Landmark and designing and managing dozens of budgets “across countries and currencies.”
• Raubicheck: He not only served on several law firms’ management committees but also dealt with finances in a Brooklyn cooperative apartment building where he lived and served as president of the board.
• Warner: She ran a successful catering business and bought a 200-year-old house that needed work and renovated it while working in addition to helping clients budget their catering needs.
She has worked in skiing and retail management and “experienced many multi-million budgets,” she said, as well as being an experienced fundraiser for many groups she has helped shepherd from being in the red to success.
How do they recommend the town use any ARPA money?
• Warner: She suggested cleaning up the brownfields site across from the Basketville building, looking at what’s needed for the wastewater treatment plant and water hook-up, plus finding “opportunities for planning housing strategically for the best interest of the whole town.”
• Raubicheck: He agrees with “wise, creative, strategic use” of funds and suggests one such use would be to bring more business to town, revitalizing the downtown “in a creative way.”
He noted that Guilford has established a process through which citizens can submit ideas to a committee, which reviews them and makes recommendations to the Selectboard, whose members make the ultimate decision on which projects to ask the state and federal government to finance.
• Alden: She said she is “more excited about the chance [the ARPA funding] gives us as a community to decide together what to do” rather than her individual ideas about how to spend the money.
• Phillips: “Make a playground, because there’s nowhere for children to play but the schoolyard,” he suggested, adding that funding could “improve the town and the people in it.”
• Campbell: She has a “vision” to use the money to expand the current community garden and “plant some trees and have a playground and welcome people to Putney,” all the while looking for alternative locations for affordable housing.
• Hodson: He agreed with Alden “that the community should decide,” and said he’s looked at what other towns have decided. He thinks funding for a playground and programs to give the downtown a shot in the arm would be great.
He also advocates saving for the future.
“The first thing I would say is put money in the bank,” he said.