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Race for Selectboard narrows

Morlock drops out of race for one-year seat, leaving DeGray and Chapman unopposed

BRATTLEBORO—The three-person race for two one-year terms on the Selectboard has become a two-person race.

William Morlock, husband of Brattleboro Housing Authority Executive Director Chris Hart, has decided to withdraw his bid for a one-year seat.

Morlock’s decision means that current board members Dick DeGray and Christopher Chapman are now running unopposed.

Running for a three-year seat against incumbent David Gartenstein is Kathryn Turnas II, who ran for the board last year.

In an email sent Sunday afternoon, Morlock wrote that “after much thought, I have decided to withdraw from the 2012 Selectboard race.

“The citizens of Brattleboro deserve people who are totally committed and passionate about being on the Selectboard,” he wrote. “I believe that Dick DeGray and Chris Chapman are the two people who fit that description. So please follow me and support them for the two one-year positions on the Selectboard.”

During a phone interview, Morlock, the executive director of the Springfield Housing Authority, said he had joined the race because he wanted to help with the restoration of downtown, particularly the Brooks House.

Community members also asked him to run, he said.

At a recent citizens’ forum, however, DeGray and Chapman’s passion for the job shone bright, said Morlock. His fellow candidates’ dedication prompted Morlock to withdraw.

“The job is hard enough, and you really need that passion to do a good job,” he said.

Candidates speak

Morlock was not in attendance last Friday at the Brattleboro Citizens’ Breakfast program, hosted by Brattleboro Senior Meals and the Brattleboro Senior Center.

All the other candidates were there as coordinator Robert Oeser, who led the session, gave each candidate four minutes to speak, followed by questions from the 30 members of thepublic who showed up.

During her time at the mic, Turnas spoke on the importance of acting on the town’s effluvial erosion plan. The August flooding from Tropical Storm Irene hurt Brattleboro’s most vulnerable, specifically in the trailer parks and low-income housing in Melrose Terrace situated along the Whetstone, she said.

We can’t put “people back in harm’s way,” Turnas said.

The nearly-70-year-old Turnas said she has involved herself in politics since her father dragged her into the Democratic presidential campaigns of Adlai Stevenson in the 1950s.

“I’m excited to be here,” she told the audience, “and even if I don’t win, I won’t go away.”

Turnas, a volunteer at the Senior Center and Brooks Memorial Library, also serves as a Town Meeting member from District 3 and on the Development Review Board. She said she believed the Selectboard should craft the municipal budget around the community’s needs, like the problem of townspeople going hungry.

As someone whose main source of income is Social Security, she said that paying rent and monthly bills leaves less than $100 for living expenses such groceries. That is why she said she regularly uses the food shelf at the Brattleboro Area Drop-in Center.

Budget conversations should also include tax-usage accountability, said Turnas.

“We all complain about paying taxes,” she said. “But the question really is: Are the taxes funding the community we want?”

In a separate interview, Turnas, who has lived in town for seven years, added that she does not love Brattleboro less than people who grew up here do.

DeGray, currently the Selectboard chair, said he had “mixed feelings” about running for another term.

“Last year took an emotional toll,” he said, referring to the April Brooks House fire, two deadly summer shootings, and Tropical Storm Irene. “Serving on the Selectboard is a thankless job.”

But he was quick to add that the town had survived the last year because of the dedication of town employees and the Selectboard’s steady leadership.

DeGray also reminded the public that, despite the traditional scrutiny given the municipal budget, the school budget loaded the tax bill.

DeGray said that only 89 voters, 56 of them from Brattleboro, passed a $29 million school budget at the Brattleboro Union High School budget meeting last Wednesday.

“That’s disappointing,” he said of the turnout. “Your voice counts. Your vote counts.”

When asked what responsibility the board had toward social services, DeGray answered that human services do not fall under the board’s purview.

The Human Services Committee has the “heart-wrenching” job of determining which local organizations and agencies receive funding, he said.

But, he added, affordability in the municipal budget held his concern. DeGray was not sure that final approval for funding of social services like food or subsidized housing in the municipal budget should belong with the Selectboard.

He cautioned that, whenever the town raises taxes, the bottom line increases for everyone.

In a separate interview, DeGray said that he wants the town to have more ways to build revenue. He has supported enacting a 1-percent local-option sales tax to increase the town’s bottom line which, he hopes, might lessen the tax burden on property owners and renters.

He added he wants to talk with Gov. Peter Shumlin about new revenue streams for Connecticut River Valley towns bordering tax-free New Hampshire.

One idea DeGray suggested is charging a fee to people stopping in town to sell items like skis or shoes. These flea-market-type sellers who can camp for a week in a hotel room hawking their wares take money from the local community, he said.

Christopher Chapman, with one year under his belt, said that serving effectively as a board member required responsiveness, respect, effectiveness, and preparation.

Chapman stressed respecting everyone who contacted him with either positive or negative comments. He thought that the current board reflected this quality and hoped the incumbents prevailed.

Voters re-electing the current board members will ensure “keeping the plane straight and level,” he said, adding that he would vote for DeGray.

When asked about the town’s role in caring for the community’s most vulnerable, Chapman responded, “As humans, we are most human when we are humane.”

According to Chapman, he learned to step up for his community from the example of his mother, a social worker, and his father, a judge. He called local government “the purest form of democracy,” adding that “I would love to serve again.”

In a separate interview, incumbent David Gartenstein, completing his first one-year term, said he’s running for a three-year seat because he feels the board’s work is just beginning.

Gartenstein has served in town government for over 15 years on the Development Review Board, the Town School and BUHS boards, and the Selectboard.

“I know how government works,” he said, adding that he wants to continue to work for the town for three more years to help stabilize and support effective management of town government.

According to Gartenstein, he was confronted with many tough community issues during his first year on the Selectboard, from complaints over the Main Street traffic lights to the Brooks House fire, a spike in violent crime, and Tropical Storm Irene.

Gartenstein said he remains aware that the town’s tax burden stands as one of Vermont’s highest. The town must support municipal services as it can afford, he said.

The town should act and ensure that affordable housing is rebuilt, safe and in a place not prone to flooding, he said. But, he added, the projects must also remain within the town’s financial means.

“Serving my community enriches my life,” Gartenstein said. “I want to participate in the process and ensure government holds the best interest for the community.”

“It’s unfortunate that Irene left a disproportionate number of vulnerable community members homeless,” he said, referring to flood damage at affordable-housing areas like Melrose Terrace, Glenn Park, and Mountain View.

Watching Friday’s candidates breakfast was Selectboard member Ken Schneck, who is finishing up the first year of a three-year term.

“This is my only statement to everyone today,” he said.

“Please vote,” he wrote in this reporter’s notebook.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #140 (Wednesday, February 22, 2012).

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