BRATTLEBORO — All three open seats on the Selectboard here will see races on Town Meeting Day on Tuesday, March 7.
Incumbent Elizabeth McLoughlin is being challenged by former Selectboard member Richard DeGray for a three-year seat, while incumbent Jessica Gelter is vying with four other candidates for two one-year seats.
In-person voting will take place Tuesday, March 7 at American Legion Post 5, 32 Linden St., from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Absentee ballots must be requested, because — unlike the procedure for November general election — ballots for Town Meeting Day in Brattleboro are not automatically mailed to all active registered voters. Ballots will be available starting Wednesday, Feb. 15.
All voters are encouraged to visit their My Voter Page (mvp.vermont.gov) to update their registration addresses, including their physical and mailing addresses, and to request absentee ballots be mailed.
If you encounter problems logging into your My Voter Page, call Town Clerk Hilary Francis at 802-251-8157. To register to vote, use the online voter registration page at olvr.vermont.gov or call the town clerk.
Here’s a look at the candidates who are on the ballot.
Elizabeth “Liz” McLoughlin (three-year seat)
Elizabeth “Liz” McLoughlin moved to Brattleboro 15 years ago after having visited family here for more than 20 years.
A wife, mother, and a new grandmother, McLoughlin, a town planner, and her husband each own small businesses. She holds a master’s degree with a concentration in housing and has been an environmental planning consultant for four decades.
McLoughlin sees Selectboard service “as a way to give back and support our beloved town,” which she believes hosts a “vibrant” arts culture, “exceptional” park and recreation program, and is “welcoming to all.”
Her first civic engagements were with the former Brattleboro Area Drop-in Center (now Groundworks), working on its Empty Bowls Dinner leadership committee for many years as well as serving on its board. At the same time, she joined the Planning Commission, ultimately serving as chair.
In addition to her time on the Selectboard and Planning Commission, McLoughlin has served as a member of Representative Town Meeting, serving on its Finance Committee. She has also served on the committee that established Perseverence Skatepark and the Windham Regional Commission’s advisory committee on the aesthetics of the Route 91 bridge over the West River.
She has also been a member of the Connecticut River Joint Commission-Wantastiquet Local River Subcommittee, and has served as a commissioner on the Windham Regional Commission.
On the Selectboard she has been clerk, vice chair, and chair.
“I have an in-depth understanding of town operations and the staff — our greatest asset,” McLoughlin told The Commons. “I also understand the budget process and the Selectboard’s duty and responsibility to provide for the needs of the town while respecting the taxpayer burden.”
McLoughlin’s campaign motto, “POW,” stands for “pragmatic, optimistic, and wise,” she says.
She was asked why she wants to run again, especially in the face of so many issues and challenges that often appear insurmountable and take so much time when they are resolvable.
“First, as [President John F. Kennedy] famously said, regarding why we go to the moon, ‘We choose to go to the moon [...] and do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we’re willing to accept,’” McLoughlin answers.
“Second, I run with years of experience on the Selectboard under my belt, with institutional memory to provide consistency for the new Town Manager and with resolve towork toward goals unfinished from the time without a Town Manager.
“We have myriad problems right here in Brattleboro which defy easy solutions. My decades of experience in environmental and town planning give me an understanding of what may be possible to achieve at the town level.
“Years of volunteering on nonprofit and public boards has helped me to understand the difference between a municipal responsibility and a state-funded responsibility. I hope to work for the town and with our legislative delegation on behalf of Brattleboro.”
When asked what she considers the greatest challenges for Brattleboro in the next three years, and what can and should be done in the short- and long-term to address those challenges, McLoughlin cited homelessness and housing; opioid and mental health care/crime, and victimization of the vulnerable; and emergency medical services as top priorities/challenges.
She cites the many federal subsidies and a state program for emergency housing, which helped during the pandemic, will end after March. Yet, she said, still there are those without housing.
While the state Legislature intends to keep the emergency shelter program going with federal pandemic relief money until June, McLoughlin says, “Let’s not just hope [Gov. Phil Scott] signs it; we need to urge him to do so.”
“After that, we need to pay close attention to what the Legislature intends to do to support shelters and housing. How this money comes to Windham County and to Brattleboro is important. Brattleboro is doing what we can to support shelters. Groundworks provides not just housing to people but also case workers needed for support and to find permanent housing.”
She notes many social service agencies and volunteers in town working toward solutions and says the issue is a regional problem.
“I would be remiss if I did not point out that Brattleboro is alone among Windham County towns in providing the infrastructure for those in need among us. Other towns in the region can do more and should not simply rely on the institutions, hard work, and tax dollars of Brattleboro to shoulder this responsibility.
“If a family home burns in a neighboring town, that family is moved to a shelter in Brattleboro, those kids are taken out of that town’s school and disconnected from friends and former neighbors,” McLoughlin says. “Why can’t each town provide for emergency shelter for their townspeople?”
McLoughlin says that in terms of housing policy, town planners and planning commissioners “have significantly reduced barriers to create housing, through zoning changes which are a model to other towns in Vermont.”
“Also, our town has staff to assist in navigating state funding programs to create new housing units, from adding new construction or rehabilitating existing buildings, adding one or two units, or many.”
She says the town allows and has supported creating additional dwelling units within single-family properties for many years.
“In my tenure in the Selectboard, we voted to create a housing inspection program to improve the quality of rental housing,” McLoughlin says. “We need to encourage the creation of new housing units. We need to support the work of both housing nonprofits and independent landlords in this quest for more housing, as housing is needed across the board for all income levels.”
She notes that non-taxpayer-based funding (“program income,” in municipal finance argot) is used in Brattleboro to help fund nonprofit low- and moderate-income housing.
“In the past 12 years, the Selectboard has granted or loaned almost $1 million [from community development programs and funding in accounts administered by the town] to low-income housing, bringing the total investment from all sources, public and private, to $31 million.
“Worker housing is also a particular focus of state and local efforts, as it is critical to allow new people to move here to fill open jobs throughout our town.”
Regarding opioid and mental health care and crime, “alternatives to assist those experiencing mental health crisis, other than the Brattleboro Police Department, should be more readily available,” McLoughlin says, citing this as a recommendation in the final report of the Community Safety Review that the Selectboard commissioned in 2020 in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota,
“State and local mental health providers should be more robust,” she says, adding that state money is needed. “Often, mental health providers are not available when needed: this system needs improvement. Also, there are times when mental health providers do not feel safe in responding to crisis situations.
“This means that the Police Department handles these emergencies. Our Police Department has [been] and continues to be trained in de-escalation and other measures to handle mental health emergencies, but they need and welcome mental health partners.”
McLoughlin says that many suffer from opioid use disorder here and are victimized by criminals, “and we struggle to rid our town of these criminal drug dealers.”
“There are public and nonprofit agencies who assist those experiencing addiction in Brattleboro, and we support and partner with these agencies,” she says.
“Crime in Brattleboro, especially in downtown shops, makes the headlines. However, crime victimizes all of us in our homes and neighborhoods. Criminals especially victimize the vulnerable among us.
“We need to work together to protect ourselves and our neighbors and both work with and support our Police Department. Currently, Brattleboro is hiring more police officers, but it takes time to hire and train new officers. Also, I support a police substation at the Brattleboro Transportation Center, which would assist the Police Department with downtown patrols. I also support public bathrooms to be located there.”
McLoughlin says the town and, particularly, the Selectboard bear the responsibility to provide ambulance service, and that the board “takes this responsibility very seriously.”
“We are currently examining our options to provide this service,” she says. “We have sought professional expertise in the examination of whether our Brattleboro Fire Department, by itself or with an outside ambulance service, is the best option. Our paramount concern is to make surepublic safety is served.”
Asked if there is anything else she’d like voters to know, McLoughlin says she supports the general improvements to Living Memorial Park and using town environmental fund money to pay for them.
“Among the many upgrades at the park, this action will address three environmental sustainability goals: the skating rink will replace the highly toxic refrigerant technology (R22) and transition to a nontoxic natural refrigerant; the new roof will be insulated; and new lights on the upper ball field will be LED, requiring fewer fixtures with the long-term benefit of less energy consumption.”
Richard “Dick” DeGray (three-year seat)
Richard “Dick” DeGray grew up in Adams, Massachusetts, and arrived here more than 40 years ago as a contractor for the former Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Vernon.
Now retired, DeGray volunteers 40 hours a week as the person who started and remains in charge of the myriad flowers planted around town. His wife is owner/proprietor of The Vermont Shop. He has a daughter and two stepsons.
“I believe it has made a tremendous difference for downtown businesses, residents, and tourists, and the feedback has been outstanding,” DeGray says, adding that part of his inspiration came from the iconic Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. “It’s probably the proudest accomplishment and project I’ve ever worked at.”
DeGray served on the then-Brattleboro Union High School Board for four years and served on the Selectboard for seven years before stepping down in 2013. He subsequently served again for one year, from 2015 to 2016.
He has also volunteered with organizations including Youth Services; the former Reformer Christmas Stocking program, which offered winter clothing; and Hotline for Help, a defunct nonprofit that offered support, information, and referrals to people in crisis. He has delivered Meals on Wheels and spent 24 years overseeing the boys’ and girls’ youth basketball programs for the Recreation Department.
“I think I’ve demonstrated that I love Brattleboro,” says DeGray. “I’m not from here, I am of here, and I like to see all the good our community is about in terms of what it does for people, although not without its blemishes, which we need to continue to work on.”
DeGray says he was “very disappointed” last year when no incumbents were challenged. He thinks the board needs to look at the time that meetings take to help encourage more people to serve.
“I understand finding the time and sometimes it seems these meetings go on forever, and that’s something the board needs to look at so people would be more interested,” he says. “I think that’s a factor why people don’t want to get involved.”
Mostly, DeGray says he believes he can “contribute to the betterment of the community” and so has thrown his hat in the ring.
“There are people who can’t handle running and getting defeated. I’ve run and lost, so I know how that feels. You have to remember it’s not fatal. If people think my opponent is doing a great job and want her back, then so be it. I’m not an unknown commodity, however. People know who Dick DeGray is. If they think I can do a great job, they’ll vote for me.”
DeGray has no qualms about facing the challenges ahead.
“I’m not afraid of any of it at all,” he says. “We have a new town manager, and by ‘new’ I mean no previous ties to the community and no preconceived notions. I think when you have a new piece of paper, there are opportunities there. I would look forward to working with John Potter, the new manager, and I believe we can get things going and hopefully make the community a better and safer place.”
When looking at the challenges that Brattleboro faces, DeGray said that “any issues we have are not insurmountable. In 2011, when I was chair, we had the Brooks House fire and [Tropical Storm] Irene within five months, and we rebounded from those catastrophes. The town came together, provided services — we helped each other out.”
DeGray finds “affordability” the first and foremost challenge for Brattleboro.
“People are having difficulty paying the rents — which are exorbitant, and not only from tax bills, but also water and sewer,” he says.
He believes the town hasn’t had “any significant growth in the past several years.”
“We have to get with our existing businesses and see what their needs are so we don’t have somebody pulling up stakes and we lose several hundred jobs. The last significant growth program, which I was a part of, was Commonwealth Dairy. We helped them out with a tax stabilization agreement, part of which was to create 30 jobs, and I think they are well over 100 at that facility.”
In 2019, VTDigger reported that 150 people work at Commonwealth Dairy; its profile on indeed.com, a recruitment website, claims a range of “201 to 500.”
DeGray believes that the town’s capacity to house the people who work here “is always going to be an issue” and says that it goes hand-in-hand with creating “places for people to work [and] employment opportunities for people to move to town.”
He believes one potential way to help create affordable housing lies in the town’s ownership of “a significant number of properties.”
“We have to come up with a list of buildable lots we own and sell them, with Town Meeting approval, for $1 to contractors who want to build duplexes or triplexes and work with them on permitting costs and maybe even tax stabilization to keep rents lower and create more affordable housing.
“We can’t keep going to state and local government for help. I think there’s a role for us as a community to help with the resources we have in terms of land that could be used to build affordable workforce housing.”
DeGray also recognizes drugs and crime as issues with which to reckon.
“Our retail stores are being used as ATMs for drug-addicted people, and we have a homeless issue and a drug problem,” he says. “I don’t believe homeless people are shoplifters. People who need money are breaking in and looking for strictly cash.
“Merchants aren’t missing product from their stores, only cash. Sometimes they’re taking the whole cash register. And then shop owners have deductibles and they have to replace the glass in their doors. One store downtown was broken into five times.
“I think we have to change our model. I know our police force is understaffed. I don’t believe having a substation in the Transportation Center is the answer. I would rather see us go old school and see officers back on the street along with a social worker, as we had several years ago. That worked pretty good. Having them on the street to help people get what they need.”
DeGray says the state has to help here by providing money for “detoxification for addiction” and that the community needs to find more shelters or “assist Groundworks to expand the model they currently have to get people off the street.”
“And Washington needs to be a part of this solution,” he says, noting every state has a drug problem and he doesn’t believe any are getting the extent of federal help needed.
Having sufficient law enforcement and taking care of all emergency personnel are related areas of concern for DeGray.
“We’re down eight or nine officers, and that’s difficult and stressful on our existing force,” he says. “People forget our officers — police, fire, [EMS] — walk into some pretty horrific scenes, and we need to take care of them because those people are also family people.
“I’m a fan of making sure we’re taking care of our first responders in every way we can. We certainly need more manpower, but that doesn’t make horrific situations go away. These people need time off and counseling if they need it. I’m not saying that’s not happening, but I want to make sure it is happening if they need it.”
As far as providing emergency medical services for the community, DeGray says that “where we are” is “in the land of we-don’t-know-what’s-going-to-happen.”
Admitting he may not know exactly what happened with the Brattleboro Fire Department and Rescue Inc., DeGray says that if it works out that the fire department permanently takes over providing emergency medical services, “I’m OK with that.”
He says he’s concerned “with the numbers and the potential impact on taxpayers,” but that he’s also concerned about not having Rescue Inc. as the town’s mutual aid partner, relying instead on services from another town.
“If somebody’s having a heart attack and we have to call mutual aid, we have somebody right in town 5 miles away,” DeGray says of Rescue Inc., noting that when people have health issues, response time is critical.
“Whatever we have to do to reestablish our relationship with Rescue, it is paramount for Brattleboro residents to have that relationship working,” he says.
Asked if he has anything else to say to voters, DeGray says, “I trust them and strongly encourage them to come out and vote.”
“Let’s do something different this year and have the highest turnout ever for a local election,” he says.
Jessica “Jess” Gelter (one-year seat)
A nonprofit executive, working artist, and mother, Selectboard incumbent Jessica “Jess” Gelter grew up “all over the Northeast,” graduating from Brattleboro Union High School in 2003 and going on to Boston University.
While she currently owns a home next to the cemetery where her grandparents and great-grandparents are buried, Gelter doesn’t believe length of residency should give a person “any more right to a voice or elected office than another.”
“Many folks new to this community care about it very much, and we all work hard to understand not just its history, but also its present,” she says.
Prior to being elected for two one-year terms on the Selectboard, Gelter served on the Planning Commission, where she helped update the master plan and zoning bylaws and selected contractors for projects such as the downtown redesign and town housing plan, among other work.
“Something I am proud of during my time on the Planning Commission was that we worked collaboratively to develop a set of values to help us guide our decisions with a firm grounding in equity,” she says.
She also served as a Representative Town Meeting member in 2021, just before taking a seat on the Selectboard.
Gelter says that during the past two years the Selectboard “has tackled a lot, or has started to tackle a lot.”
“ A progressive friend who had served on the Selectboard told me, ‘It takes too long to get anything done. I didn’t have the patience.’ But I’m patient. I want at least another year to see through some of the things we are working on.”
For Gelter, those things include establishing a plan for American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and Community Safety funds; helping new Town Manager John Potter “settle in”; managing “whatever transition is on the horizon” for emergency medical service in town; making the Transportation Center a safe place; developing solutions to prevent downtown break-ins; and setting up a structure to tackle the housing crisis.
“One of my more municipally nerdy goals is to direct the town manager to create a long-term facilities capital investment plan,” Gelter says, noting the existing capital equipment plan for significant town purchases like plows and firetrucks. By allocating money to these purchases before they are needed, that plan has significantly reduced the need for the town to service debt.
“What I’m hoping for is a long-term view on what our buildings and facilities will need as far as upkeep, renovation, and major investment. That way we can better understand our long-term schedule for taking out bonds for these big-ticket items.
“This year it was hard to say ‘yes’ to the investments at Memorial Park when we don’t really know what’s up next or when. Providing that context to future Selectboard members is important so we don’t end up in a tough situation.”
As an example, Gelter says, “corners were cut in the past, leaders tried to save the taxpayers money, but it means our Transportation Center is in need of work far sooner than it should’ve been, and many are rethinking the cost-cutting measure of moving the police station out to Black Mountain Road.
“There is such a thing as healthy debt, and I think its important that future Selectboard members understand how that debt for major facilities projects is used to provide services to the town in the long-term.”
Gelter believes Brattleboro’s greatest challenges are housing, EMS and other safety systems, crime prevention, and adequate mental health support systems.
In sum, she cites the following as ways to address these issues:
“Using board time to hold community conversations to raise community awareness.
“Investing money from ARPA and the Community Safety Fund in both temporary and long-term solutions and having a clear system in place so that if we have or set aside additional funds to these purposes we have a systematic way to distribute them to projects appropriately.
“Hearing from folks who are most impacted and responding with understanding and empathy.
“Working collaboratively as a board through a deliberative process, asking good questions, digging for more information, and coming out with well-researched solutions.”
“I am not an expert in any of these areas,” Gelter says. “I’m pretty sure none of my fellow Selectboard members are, either. We’re not going to be able to slap down a solution and say, ‘This is how we fix things.’ We share ideas, we hire town staff who have expertise, we talk through solutions, and we figure it out together. We are growing towards being a more safe, more welcoming, more fertile place for everyone.”
Gelter also sees climate change as an issue for which a host of entities have a role and responsibility.
“Every individual, every town, every state, every country has a role to play in changing how society approaches caring for the planet,” she says. “I am proud of the work Brattleboro is doing to transition towards being a more climate-friendly organization.
“It is my goal to continue to push the town in that direction by providing opportunities for public discussion about climate-change-related topics, encouraging individual action, and approving investment in climate-friendly purchases and facilities improvements. This is an existential issue and will impact everything we do in the near and far future, from housing to health care.”
Peter “Fish” Case (one-year seat)
Longtime Reformer columnist and Great Eastern Radio General Manager Peter “Fish” Case moved to Brattleboro from Wilmington about 35 years ago. He is a Town Meeting representative for District 2 and has served on many nonprofit boards. He has been vice president of Groundworks Collaborative, chaired the Windham County Relay for Life, and served on the boards of Girls on the Run and the Boys & Girls Club. He is current president of Black Mountain Assisted Family Living.
Asked if he felt he would change his affiliations and/or outspoken media persona if elected, the candidate says he would not.
“I have no intention of changing anything,” Case says. “My approach to everything is with common sense and reason. It doesn’t always connect with everyone, but what does?
“The huge amount of support I’m seeing right now from Brattleboro voters is because of who I am and my outspoken nature. My ability to message and convey issues is strong and, as far as I can tell, missing from our current board. I have a platform that allows and affords me an opportunity to inform. When appropriate, I will; when it’s not appropriate, I won’t.
“I want to take what I feel is a good situation and good board and try and make it better.”
Case says he’s running because he feels the current board “is strong, and I can make it stronger.”
“My strengths are in messaging and communications — making complex things easy to unpack and explain,” he says. “I am a strong decision maker, and I can act quickly when needed. Sometimes decisions need to take some time; I, too, can bring that skill set to this board.”
Case says serving this community is something “I’ve always done and will continue to do.”
“I believe that public service is an honor, and I hope that in March the people of Brattleboro see fit to allow me to serve them. My motto is, ‘There are no problems, only solutions.’ We have to be able to chat these things through and bring actionable ideas forward. A majority of these things can be vetted through committees and decisions can be made during meetings.”
Brattleboro is looking at a “refacing,” says Case.
“It’s a great community with wonderful, caring people — you can’t really ask for better —but it also has a darker side, as we’ve seen recently with a rash of break-ins and ongoing drug problems,” he says. “There are many ways to deal with these issues and none of them are simple — nor will getting everyone to understand those issues.
“Messaging will be a big part of how this town moves forward. People need to feel safe in Brattleboro again. That is Brattleboro’s biggest challenge, with housing close behind it.”
Making the needed changes, Case says, “starts with conversations and collaboration.”
“Those conversations shouldn’t take place on Tuesday nights. They should be handled by committees so conversations don’t get hijacked into something unintended — even when well-intended.
“Whether it’s long-term or short-term, focus and planning will help guide these conversations into things the board can act on,” Case says.
Samuel “Sam” Stevens (one-year seat)
Samuel “Sam” Stevens is a Brattleboro native who majored in parks and forest resources at Unity College in Maine and then completed his B.A. in political science at the University of Vermont. He has been a town meeting representative and serves on the Cemetery Committee. This is his first run for Selectboard.
Stevens says he’s running “because there are a number of issues that I’m concerned about, and I would like to have a seat at the table if and when those items are discussed.”
“The presence of a plethora of issues and challenges only reinforces, in my mind, that there is good to be done in this community and, if everyone does their part, a lot of good can be done,” he says.
“I’m stepping up to the plate. I believe that having observed the process of the Selectboard and having studied the political process academically both give me a reasonable base in performing the duties of the position, although this will naturally be a learning opportunity for me, also.”
Stevens said that homelessness, increased crime, and an increasing drug problem are the “three hot topics right now.”
“I also think that the increasing cost of living and lack of affordable housing in Brattleboro are important. An important issue for me, personally, is how to make Brattleboro attractive to young people as a place to live, work, and build a stable and thriving life. A more near-term issue is the relationship the town is going to have with emergency services.”
“The Selectboard doesn’t really have the ability to dramatically change the issues,” he continues. “Rather, they are there to assist agencies, businesses, and the public in various ways as a means to those ends.
“I would like to be available to listen in on opinions and provide whatever assistance can be offered to causes that will, even in small ways, help make Brattleboro an even better place to live.”
Spoon Agave (one-year seat)
Spoon Agave has been a Brattleboro resident for 34 years. He has served on the Selectboard, town School Board, Planning Commission, Development Review Board, Traffic and Safety Committee, Finance Committee, and — to him, most important — the last Charter Revision Commission, where, he says, “I studied diligently and in great depth the structure of municipal government and its relationship and embodiment within a democracy.”
Agave has chaired several of those groups, including the Charter Revision. He has been a Town Meeting representative for nearly 25 years.
“I’m 76 and have spent my entire life reading, inquiring, and investigating every subject under the sun, with emphasis on American history, labor history, human rights, worker rights, and democracy,” Agave says, adding that he is a high school graduate, Vietnam infantry veteran, and retired truck driver.
“As a person of modest means, I am also among the half of our population that rents and recently experienced the difficult and exceedingly costly problem of needing to relocate.”
Agave says he’s running again now “because I am qualified, capable, and motivated to deal with the immensity of our challenges; because I feel a sense of responsibility to all the people and life that comes after me.”
“I am afraid, like all of us are, but I have to have the courage to face whatever may be in store for us. Perhaps if I can show some courage, a few others who are fearful will draw themselves up and join the fight for our lives,” he says.
When asked about the greatest challenges for Brattleboro in the next three years and what he thinks can and should be done in the short and long terms to address those issues, Agave takes a philosophical approach, citing a “moral responsibility” and “the foundation of human sustainability” at root.
“The challenges are here right now and are only going to intensify,” he says. “The challenges are from this moment until forever. Nothing ends or starts in three years. The challenge is to collectively, as a community, admit we are in trouble so that we can begin talking about why and then what to do about it. Nobody is going to fix anything for us. The circle of responsibility starts with each one of us and radiates outwards.
“We have to talk honestly about why the number of homeless is so large and growing, it seems, every day. We have to talk about why we cannot find enough people to protect our community.”
Agave says finding “the techniques and channels to converse within” is needed.
“We have to ask ourselves: what does it mean to be a community? Are we going to be 12,000 people working together with purpose or 12,000 individuals acting alone, or in gangs, to try and survive?”
“Sustainability and community are necessarily and inextricably bound, two sides of the same coin,” he says. “Community and all its parts — housing, food security, safety, health care, recreation, the creative culture — all must exist within the context of sustainability.”
Agave says the town charter is the mandate to address “the common good” of all citizens and that to plan for the town’s future “should be a primary objective for our Selectboard.”
“I am seeking your vote to take a seat on the Selectboard to focus its attention on our future,” he says. “A future that everyone is worried about. It isn’t possible to choose a path to the future without some agreement about the road we are on now.
Agave says it has “never been more immediately urgent” to hold a “community dialogue. . . formal conversation” about the future.
“We need a place to talk as a community about our hopes and fears and concerns,” he says. “It is a conversation that should have begun long ago. At the same time, we are faced with very difficult problems in housing and homelessness, crime, police understaffing, and health care. We need solutions based on deeper understanding, sound information, community dialogue and involvement, and action plans set in motion with timetables. We need experienced, confident, and proactive leadership.
“I can fill potholes with the best of ’em, and they will get filled. But today we need a lot more than that,” Agave says.
Franz Reichsman (one-year seat)
Franz Reichsman has years of experience in Representative Town Meeting, including chairing its finance committee for five years. He served as medical director of all EMS providers and ambulance crews in Cheshire County, New Hampshire, for seven years. He has a medical degree, was an emergency department doctor for 30 years, and has a master’s degree in public health with focus on epidemiology and biostatistics.
He cites a quote from Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran — “Work is love made visible” — adding he’s modified it for municipal government.
“The budget is love made visible,” Reichsman says.
“Managing the tax burden and the expenditures of the town is where values and priorities become real. One often hears the word ‘values’ in political discussion, but what does it mean?” he says.
“To me, it simply means the things we value, the things we want more of. If you want to see our values and know where things are headed in Brattleboro, and if you want to influence that direction, look to the budget for knowledge and inspiration.”
Reichsman said he believes he has “the ability and the background to be helpful in this mix of people and ideas. That’s why I’m running. I’m comfortable crunching numbers and looking at data. I think those things would be helpful on the Selectboard.”
He also believes the issues that Brattleboro, and thus the Selectboard, face are many, but not “insurmountable.”
“We have surmounted many such issues in the past, and we are in the process of surmounting others right now,” he says. “We have in place the systems and the people we need to do a lot of surmounting.”
Reichsman says he recognizes that it takes “hard work and dedication on the part of many people and groups to accomplish the goals our community has identified as important.”
“Look around,” he adds. “Those people, paid and unpaid, individually and in groups, are participating every day in the processes of public affairs and town government, often going well beyond what’s required of them, all in order to actualize the things we need and want for our town.
“The Selectboard, along with the town administration and Representative Town Meeting, are key actualizers. Working through the questions, and sometimes through differences and disagreements, has built Brattleboro into a caring, somewhat free-wheeling, and generally awesome place to live. That’s why we live here. Let’s do the work that’s needed to keep it that way.”
Reichsman says it seems to him that several areas needing to be addressed are “well known,” and highlights three.
About future provision for emergency medical services in Brattleboro, he says, “The process has not gone smoothly thus far, and it’s not completely clear what outcomes are politically achievable at this point.
“It looks to me like we’re likely to continue the current arrangement with Golden Cross Ambulance for another year, and then decide on the longer-term picture.”
He says that decisions must be “both medical and financial” in nature and that the “immediate next step” will be further assessment of the report from AP Triton, a consulting firm that the town engaged to analyze its EMS options in the aftermath of the breakdown of the town’s relationship with longtime EMS provider Rescue Inc.
“Over the next year, good decisions must be made with regard to providing emergency medical services in Brattleboro,” Reichsman says. “Also, whatever else happens, the relationship between the town and Rescue Inc. must be repaired, if not for the purposes of reinstating Rescue as our primary EMS provider, then for the purpose of mutual aid when any component of the existing system is overstressed.”
Having a backup ambulance come from 20 miles away, says Reichsman, “is not acceptable when there’s a person in need and ambulances and crews are available a few hundred yards away. Repairing the relationship will require a sustained effort and goodwill from both sides.”
Reichsman says the escalation of vandalism and break-ins — “the flagrant abuse of businesses in town” — is a high priority and that it is “intolerable for owners and employees in our town to be subjected to this type of criminal activity.”
“I think security cameras in strategic locations have proven effective in identifying and bringing to justice systems those responsible,” he says.
“A discussion of the causes and the prevention of crime quickly gets complicated, but our commitment to public safety must include addressing this issue. It is imperative that we continue the community-based discussion of safety issues and that we include all members of the community in that discussion.”
Reichsman also considers homelessness as a priority.
“I fear we are on the cusp of a dramatic increase in the number of unsheltered people in Brattleboro, as the statewide program of providing housing in hotel rooms comes to an end,” he says.
“The excellent local efforts of Groundworks and its supporters have helped tremendously, but they’re likely to be overwhelmed when those in the hotels are, all of a sudden, back on the street.
“If and when that happens, the town must be ready with a plan for addressing the needs that arise. Crucially, those needs are not exclusively for walls and a roof. There are many associated needs to consider in the unhoused population of our town.
Reichsman also believes that “community voices, law enforcement, and the court system all have crucial roles to play” in addressing Brattleboro’s future.