Candidates for the Rockingham Selectboard met at the Rockingham Free Public Library for a March 13 forum. From left, moderator Steven Crofter, three-year candidate Rick Cowan, and one-year candidates Jamey Berrick, John Dunbar, Bonnie North, Stan Talstra, and Deborah Wright.
Robert F. Smith/The Commons
Candidates for the Rockingham Selectboard met at the Rockingham Free Public Library for a March 13 forum. From left, moderator Steven Crofter, three-year candidate Rick Cowan, and one-year candidates Jamey Berrick, John Dunbar, Bonnie North, Stan Talstra, and Deborah Wright.

Rockingham Selectboard hopefuls make their cases

Election on Tuesday, April 2 also includes three contests for school boards

The five candidates running for two open one-year seats on the Rockingham Selectboard - Jamey Berrick, John Dunbar, Bonnie North, Stan Talstra, and Deborah Wright - held a forum at the Rockingham Free Public Library.

The March 13 forum also included candidate Rick Cowan, who is running unopposed for the three-year seat left vacant by Bonnie North.

Voters will cast their ballots at the polls on Tuesday, April 2 at the Masonic Temple at 61 Westminster St. in Bellows Falls.

If there were common threads among the candidates' platforms, it was the need for transparency in local government, that Rockingham has enjoyed an exciting period of growth and positivity, and that citizen pride in the town's rich history has been a big plus for the community.

The well-preserved, authentic beauty of the town's walkable villages of Bellows Falls and Saxtons River was also frequently mentioned as an asset.

Former board member Susan Hammond attended the meeting and was thanked for her decade of service to the town. The one-year candidates are vying for her former seat.

Jamey Berrick introduced himself as having lived in the community for 34 years, since moving here from Vermont's Northeast Kingdom.

He noted that, though he is now retired, he has a background in construction and electrical generation, and has worked in many different locations over the years. He said he's been involved with various town committees, and considers it part of his civic duty.

Berrick added that being proactive instead of reactive in dealing with issues is one of his goals.

John Dunbar works in the building trades, has lived in Saxtons River for 50 years, and owns rental properties in town. He raised his family here and has served on several town committees, including as a member of the Planning Commission, which will soon release the new town plan.

Dunbar said he has also worked as a teacher, is a weatherization expert, and is part of the Rockingham Development Group.

Bonnie North has lived in Rockingham for 14 years and is an incumbent who has served on numerous local boards and committees. A journalist and publisher, she said she became interested in local politics after relocating from Maryland in 2010.

She is the chair of Rockingham For Progress, and has served on the Planning Commission for four years, as well as on the Selectboard. She said that learning the "nuts and bolts" of running a town "has been an education for me."

Deborah Wright has lived in Bellows Falls for 20 years and has been involved in local politics since 2011. She previously served on the Selectboard and was chair of the Planning Commission, and is a current member of the Bellows Falls Union High School Board.

Wright runs Green Mountain Traffic Control with her husband Cass and family, which has as many as 30 employees during the busy construction season.

Stan Telstra is the candidate who is newest to Vermont, having moved to a new home near Saxtons River from Seattle, Washington, in 2019. Telstra brought a unique perspective in discussing what drew him to move across the country while looking for a new home in southern Vermont and why he finally decided to make Rockingham his home.

He was among the first to note that the numerous walking, hiking, and biking opportunities in the town and its villages was a powerful draw for both residents and visitors. He serves on the town's Bike/Walk Committee, which helps develop trails in the community.

The moderator, Steve Crofter, asked two questions that the candidates had received in advance.

The first addressed how the candidates would balance keeping taxes affordable with providing the services people wanted.

Wright made clear that, while she is consistently tough on budgets, her vision for the town has always been in terms of generations, not just a few years.

"What will the community look like in three generations, or six?" she asked. "It's not just about us."

Telstra said it was necessary to attract businesses, create jobs and grow the housing stock, which would help retain younger citizens, and that his approach would be to work with the Chamber of Commerce.

"Everybody wants everything," North said, explaining the board's dilemma, "but nobody wants to pay for it. It's really hard."

North complimented Town Manager Scott Pickup for his leadership, as did other candidates. North described Pickup as competent, experienced, and patient, helping guide the board to both "look back and ahead" and to ask, "Where will we be in one or five years?"

These are concerns shared by all small communities, Dunbar said, citing a need to be creative in finding ways to increase revenues while decreasing costs.

Dunbar was the first to bring up the idea of consolidating the town's three fire departments, which a recent in-depth study done by outside consultants recommended as a way to cut costs.

Consolidation has been a subject of debate in Rockingham for decades - not only the fire departments but alsothe town's Selectboard and two village trustee boards.

Dunbar said he felt that improving and increasing housing stock was the key to resolving many of the issues facing the town, including attracting businesses.

He noted that Rockingham has some of the oldest buildings in Windham County and that they are expensive to maintain and heat, while building new housing averages around $540,000 per unit.

Berrick also focused on the need for greater cooperation among the town boards, and on the need to look closely into each proposed project, as there are not enough resources to do everything. Putting needs before wants is vital, he said.

When asked to sum up their philosophy and vision for serving as trustees, Talstra said his was to serve the people.

"People are what attracted us to this area," he said. We need to maintain the town's "charm and character while attracting new business."

North referred to her years of working on various boards "promoting progressive growth" and getting people involved to help preserve the town's "unique history."

Dunbar spoke of "always looking for the data involved" when figuring out the difference between "perception and reality" as he considers projects. He added that Rockingham is becoming known for "what a good community this is," but cautioned that "past decisions to put things off are being paid for now."

Berrick declared that he was "not a politician," but wanted to step up and serve the community.

Wright referred again to her comment that she works with one eye focused on what is good for the generations to come.

Several written questions from the audience were addressed by the candidates.

When asked whether they would reopen the recycling center's popular community recycling building, which closed during Covid, most candidates agreed that the former location had not worked out. They agreed they would like to see one somewhere else in town, and mentioned similar locations in nearby towns that could be used.

Another pressing concern raised was the future of law enforcement and emergency services.

Wright agreed that, while Bellows Falls has its own police department, rural Rockingham has a serious need for expanded police coverage.

Talstra said he has been aware of the "very contentious issues" surrounding the police and fire departments and added he was "not sure why." Combining fire departments would be one step in helping solve the issue, he said.

Dunbar also spoke about the need for consolidation and a regional approach to emergency services as in the mutual aid arrangement already being in use.

Berrick described himself as "passionate about public safety," and said that though Saxtons River has a separate contract with the Windham County Sheriff's Department that seems to be working well and Bellows Falls has a "capable police department," there needs to be an ongoing conversation about this topic with all parts of the town.

Falls Area Community Television, the local pubic access station, broadcast the forum live and has it archived at

School races contested

Other contested races on the ballot include Rick Holloway and Priscilla Clough Lambert, who are vying for a three-year term as Rockingham School District director.

Deborah Wright is also running for the remaining year of a two-year term for school director for Union High School District #27, as are Virginia (Ginger) Driscoll, former Bellows Falls Union High School Principal Christopher E. Hodsden Sr., Kim Keefe, Michael P. Stack, and Jason Terry.

Paul J. Obuchowski and Jason Terry are competing for one full three-year term on the board.

This News item by Robert F. Smith was written for The Commons.

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