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Phil Kramer: Listening, then finding the points of compromise to address change

BRATTLEBORO—Running for the Brattleboro Selectboard is about opening the door to change for Phil Kramer.

“I just want to make a difference,” Kramer said over a bowl of Thai curry soup at The Blue Moose on Feb. 15.

The town could use a different perspective, and it has never heard his, Kramer adds.

Kramer, who is making his first run for the Selectboard, is one of six candidates competing for two one-year seats on the Selectboard.

He has been the owner of Brattleboro Orthotics for 20 years and a part-time pharmacist. He describes himself as creative, forward thinking, intelligent, and free from preconceived ideas.

As a potential town leader, Kramer said he would need to learn the town government’s inner workings before knowing how to proceed.

It would be important to listen first and then figure out how the whole system operates, he said.

Kramer said he brings the same “listen first” to his time serving on a local restorative justice panel.

“[Brattleboro] is a sweet little town,” said Kramer.

If elected to the Selectboard, he hopes to turn his energy toward improving traffic patterns.

“A lot of things piss me off,” said Kramer matter-of-factly about one of the many reasons he wanted to run for the board.

He points to the traffic lights on lower Main Street where Routes 5, 119, and 142 intersect, commonly called “Malfunction Junction.” The intersection should have been a rotary in his opinion.

He describes driving in Brattleboro as a “nightmare” that it doesn’t have to be.

Opening the town to the Connecticut River is another dream of Kramer’s. He envisions constructing a large tunnel to contain the trains that follow the river and siting a whole new portion of Brattleboro in the form of cafes, retail, and walking areas on top of the tunnel.

A realistic dream? This he admits he’s not sure about, but he feels it’s an idea worth considering.

Kramer expressed excitement about the arrival of a downtown campus of the Community College of Vermont and Vermont Technical College at the Brooks House on Main Street.

Kramer admires the education system in Brattleboro. Both of his kids, he said, went to Brattleboro Union High School.

Dealing with change

Kramer anticipates that the biggest challenge of serving on the Selectboard would be change.

Every town service that exists is there because it serves someone, he said. Any kind of change will upset that status quo.

Overall, Kramer said he didn’t have a strategy for how he’d approach resistance to change. The situations will require finding where resistance lies, he said, and then, with compassion, finding the points of compromise, the deal breakers, and then the areas of win-win.

Regarding some of the issues facing Brattleboro, Kramer said of economic development, “That’s challenging.”

Economic development often comes with opposition, he said. It also begs the question: How does someone create the change to expand an economy when many don’t want change?

Young people need a place to hang out, Kramer said of the skatepark slated for the Crowell Lot on Western Avenue, though he said he understands the concerns of people living in the neighborhood.

Kramer believes that the community is facing a long wind-down of Vermont Yankee, regardless of the outcome of the ongoing Certificate of Public Good hearing before the Vermont Public Service Board. The plant will still have a shutdown period, during which the town can decide what to do next.

Sense of community

Kramer decided to learn how to construct orthotics and prosthetics while in pharmacy school. During that time, he worked with a pharmacist fitting knee and back braces.

The experience sparked for Kramer. He decided he would rather funnel his skills to helping people rather than “peddling drugs.”

According to Kramer, who trained in a certificate program at the Prosthetics-Orthotics Center at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, the work stretches his creativity. For each client, he puzzles out how to shift pressure from the painful parts of the human physical system.

The sense of community that pervades the town also sits close to Kramer’s heart. He hopes it never disappears, but worries that it might.

In Kramer’s view, what he describes as a “city element” is dipping its toe in Brattleboro’s waters.

As an example, Kramer said he recently walked passed Experienced Goods, the thrift shop on Flat Street run by Brattleboro Area Hospice. He remembers seeing a man who walked through a door, letting it swing shut on the man behind him.

“Thank you,” said the second man sarcastically.

“I should have slammed it in your face!” said the first man, in what Kramer reported as an angry tone.

Anger. A sense of hostility. People find those elements in downtown Boston, said Kramer.

Compassion, the element that Kramer said Brattleboro needs the most, is why he volunteers on a restorative justice panel.

People make mistakes, he said, and they need a way to reintegrate into their community.

Kramer describes himself to voters as a hard worker who will do what he can to move the town forward. He also counts himself as a good listener, able to build consensus among people.

“I’m offering myself to the town,” said Kramer.

The Selectboard has three open seats, with board members Dick DeGray, Dora Bouboulis, and Christopher Chapman deciding not to seek re-election.

Kramer views this change as an opportunity to serve and be part of a “new Brattleboro.”

Of the diverse pool of candidates, Kramer thinks it will be exciting to see who is voted in — and to see how many people show up to vote, he said, alluding to Brattleboro’s traditionally low voter turnout.

It’s hard to make time for voting, Kramer said, but doing so is an important part of building community and democracy.

“This is our legacy,” said Kramer. “This is the world we’re leaving behind, and if we don’t give it time, it will fall apart.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #191 (Wednesday, February 20, 2013).

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