BRATTLEBORO—Election season has begun in Brattleboro, and prospective candidates are taking out nomination papers to run for office.
However, the longest-serving town official has decided not to seek re-election after 22 years on the job.
Tim O’Connor, Town Moderator since 1991, said he is not running this year.
“It’s time for a change,” said O’Connor, who turned 76 last month and retired from his legal practice in 2011.
Also not seeking re-election are two members of the Selectboard: Chair Dick DeGray, who has been on the board since 2005, and Dora Bouboulis, who has served since 2007.
DeGray is finishing up a term in the one-year seat, while Bouboulis is finishing up a three-year term.
O’Connor, who succeeded Ralph Chapman as moderator, said he had wanted to stick to a six-year limit on the job, as Chapman did.
“I didn’t figure to be in there this long,” said O’Connor. “But last year, I had a little health scare at Town Meeting, and that got me concerned. It’s a good time to leave now, I think.”
Running Brattleboro’s Representative Town Meeting came naturally to O’Connor, given that the longtime attorney had been the presiding judge in the former Brattleboro Municipal Court from 1964 to 1967 and was Speaker of the Vermont House from 1975 to 1980.
“The first quality you need to have is to be fair and have an attitude of fairness,” he said. “And you have to abide by the rules to maintain that sense of fairness.”
Mastering the ins-and-out of Robert’s Rules of Order is one thing, but O’Connor said trying to keep a meeting on track when passions run hot can be tough.
“The toughest meetings are the ones with financial articles,” O’Connor said. “You can discuss those articles all you want, but by law, you have to vote on them as they appear on the warrant. You can’t amend them.”
He offered last fall’s Special Town Meeting as a example. “You can talk about whether we need a new fire station, but the vote has to be taken on the numbers that are on the warrant,” he said.
Although he is stepping down from his role as moderator, O’Connor said he plans to run as a town meeting member from District 3.
“I still love going to Town Meeting, but now I won’t be the one calling the shots,” he said.
“We’re losing a good man,” said Charles Cummings, a District 1 town meeting member who has served with O’Connor for many years.
Cummings, also a retired lawyer, started his law practice in 1957 while O’Connor was in law school.
O’Connor stood out in Cummings’ mind as a stellar town moderator due to his “great integrity,” honesty, ability to interpret the meeting rules so that everyone who wanted to be heard could speak, and his uncanny ability to remember all the members’ names.
“When he recognized you, he recognized you by name,” said Cummings. “We’re very lucky to have had him. He never forgot why he was there.”
Cummings remembers O’Connor as a moderator who remained always courteous and held his temper despite some charged meetings.
O’Connor “never acted as a leader,” said Cummings. Instead, he brought out the best in everyone participating in the meeting.
“He moderated,” said Cummings.
Cummings said Brattleboro is a better place because O’Connor brought together people on opposite sides of often passionate arguments.
“He is a native Brattleborian,” said Cummings, who counted this trait as an asset to the town and O’Connor’s ability to serve as moderator.
For the next town moderator blessed — or cursed — to fill O’Connor’s large shoes, Cummings said “always consider the group of people before you represent the people of Brattleboro and need to be heard.”
As well, he advised, keep an open ear, be courteous, don’t take things personally, and know Robert’s Rules of Order cover-to-cover to avoid being “run over” by others who think they know the meeting rules but don’t.
Cummings, by his count, has served as a town meeting member since meetings started in 1959, attending all but a couple of years. This year, however, Cummings said he likely will step down.
“The world we live in is a world of change,” he said. “And when you get older, it’s hard to change. So, get out of the way."
In addition to DeGray’s and Bouboulis’ decisions not to seek re-election, there could be a third vacancy on the Selectboard. Chris Chapman hasn’t yet said whether he will seek re-election to his one-year seat on the board.
Voters also will elect three members to the town School Board, as the three-year term of Jill Stahl Tyler and the two, one-year terms of David Schoales and Mark Truhan are expiring.
A three-year seat on the Brattleboro Union High School Board, now held by Robert Woodworth, is also on the ballot.
Prospective candidates for these and other races on the March 5 ballot must take out nomination papers by Jan. 21 and file them with Town Clerk Annette Cappy by Jan. 28.
Nomination papers for town-wide office need the signatures of at least 30 registered Brattleboro voters. Town Meeting Members need at least 10 valid signatures from registered voters in their district.
The BUHS Annual Meeting is set for Feb. 12, and the annual Representative Town and School District Meeting takes place March 23.