By Lisa Loomis
There are four candidates running for the Waitsfield Select Board this year. They include Paul Hartshorn, the current chair, who is running for re-election to a three-year term; Chris Pierson, currently on the board; and Kari Dolan and Jerry Miller, who are challenging Pierson for the two-year term he holds. The candidates will answer questions from The Valley Reporter next week as well.
The Valley Reporter: Why are you running for office now and what qualifies you for this office?
Dolan: I'm running for select board because I care about the people and kids who live and visit Waitsfield. I want to help our economy, which has its roots in agriculture and forestry, recreation, tourism and other services, and maintain and enhance our quality of life. My husband and I have raised two children here. I want to ensure that all of our kids and grandkids will be able to enjoy this special place.
My educational background, work experience in public service and volunteer experience have prepared me for the office. I have a master's degree in public policy and over 20 years of work experience in energy and water resources management in Vermont. My current position at the state of Vermont involves quite a bit of facilitation, partnership building, problem solving and collaboration with a wide range of interested parties and the public. My job also includes managing and budgeting. I was on the planning commission in the 1990s and hold my current planning commission seat since 2009.
Hartshorn: I'm running for re-election because there are several projects that I would like to see completed. Those projects include the town office, Bridge Street, covered bridge, Joslin Hill Road and the town highway garage. We have to practice fiscal responsibility and not pursue projects because they are the chance of a lifetime. We have to be careful how much property we attain by donation or purchase because once it's town property, it's off the tax roll permanently.
I contribute experience and lifelong knowledge to the board. I am a Waitsfield native and have served on the Waitsfield-Fayston Volunteer Fire Department for 57 years. I have also served on the Waitsfield Conservation Commission, Waitsfield Cemetery Commission (three terms), Agricultural Stabilization Committee (three terms), Waitsfield and Harwood school boards and I currently serve on the Winooski Conservation District Committee. My years of dedication and service to Waitsfield provide a good balance of what the town of Waitsfield has evolved from the past to present and for the future.
Miller: I have been attending select board meetings for several years and have come to realize that many decisions reached are not what I feel are best for the community. I have been discussing this with many of our locals and I am hoping being on the board might help accomplish more agreeable solutions.
I have lived in The Valley for 40 years and I have been here long enough to watch the growth of this town and realize its capabilities and limitations. We need to strengthen the foundation of a small town, not a major metropolis.
Pierson: I've occupied this seat for the past two years. I have worked to become intimately involved in past, current and future issues. I've been deeply involved in the decentralized wastewater project. I have chaired the Town Office Design Team. Additionally, I've worked to bring details on projects like the Bridge Street reconstruction project and Joslin Hill to the light of day, that hadn't previously been discussed or were simply overlooked. I've worked to bring a greater level of attention and accountability to the process and detail of project design, bid and construction, in an effort to prevent future cost overruns similar to those in phase one of the sidewalk project. I've made it a point to be inclusive of a broad segment of our community when considering how to proceed on the issues at hand. I have also sat on the Mad River Valley Planning District board and have served on the VDAT advisory board. Privately I've owned and operated a number of businesses that have dealt with regulatory agencies ranging from telecommunications to environmental and substance control.
The Valley Reporter: Do you support change in Waitsfield's charter?
Hartshorn: Waitsfield does not have a town charter currently. I support adopting a town charter because it allows a process for the select board of interviewing candidates and choosing the best qualified candidate for the job of treasurer and town clerk.
Miller: I am against adding to the town charter, because we are not changing it. Although we have been led to believe that having the town clerk appointed by the select board is the norm, this is not true. The other Valley towns' clerks are elected by their voters. Previously, before being put on the ballot, their qualifications are researched and their duties are specified. A lot is expected of a town clerk. We are not changing the charter, we are adding to it. It is unnecessary.
Pierson: Yes. While I understand the concerns that this could be viewed as a power grab by the select board, it couldn't be further from the truth. In order for the town to be approved to become a Charter Town, it must receive voter approval and undergo review by the Legislature. We're not trying to create a new form of government. We're trying to make the structure we have more efficient. The offices of the town clerk and treasurer will still be subject to state statute's governing their respective roles and the handling of elections. Over the past several years Waitsfield has been engaging in a transformation of the town government responsibilities, starting with the water project, then the decentralized wastewater project and various other infrastructure projects. Some of these projects have made the town accountable for the project's success. The treasurer's job has become more skill specific. The two positions have historically overlapped so the effect is also significant on the clerk.
Dolan: First of all, I would like to acknowledge the exceptional work of Waitsfield's clerk and
treasurer – past and present. I also want to thank members of the Waitsfield Budget Committee. The budget committee is recommending that Waitsfield approve a change to the charter that would give the select board the job of appointing the town clerk and treasurer rather than having voters decide.
I was initially hesitant in supporting this change because I strongly believe in democratic principles and the job of voters in determining the makeup of government. I now support this change. It is a reasonable step toward achieving greater assurances regarding the proper management of town resources. The change would provide greater accountability to taxpayers and minimize any future potential conflicts of interest. It minimizes disruption of town functions and provides some job security to the position. Additionally, the change still maintains democratic principles, since voters elect the select board members making the appointment.
The Valley Reporter: What, if anything, do you think Waitsfield should do to improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians on the town's roads?
Miller: Short of eliminating traffic altogether, which is not possible, the most we can do is keep debris off paved roads, keep the shoulders maintained and keep a vigilant watch on the always trying potholes. Lowering the speed limits is also a possibility. Everyone needs to slow down for safety. It provides less stress on the surface and eliminates chances of incidents. We have many large trucks, semis, tankers and loggers in the area and our roads are not major throughways. Those vehicles travel on all our roads, dirt or otherwise, and they need to slow down.
Pierson: The MRVPD was awarded a grant to study this issue. This grant submission was supported by a multi-town and civic group effort. In a community like ours, that is far from fully developed, we possess a unique opportunity to do it better. At the VDAT meetings many people expressed concerns about the speed of traffic in the village. The overwhelming theme from the VDAT recommendations was to implement traffic-calming measures. Making a road that is more conducive to vehicular traffic is not consistent with the desired outcome. Our community suffered a tremendous setback when the Neill farm closed the recreation path along their property. This should be used as a learning lesson. If we hope to develop and maintain such resources, we must respect our neighbors when they allow us access to their properties. I believe this type of development is where we should focus our efforts. For what I consider to be not only an extreme financial expense for widening our roads, but what would amount to the destruction of the character of our neighborhoods. We can achieve a far more valuable pedestrian infrastructure, but it won't happen overnight.
Dolan: Vermont Department of Health is promoting a philosophy called "Complete Streets," which encourages the planning, construction and maintenance of road networks to support all users – automobiles, bicyclists, pedestrians and public transportation. Not every road needs to meet every mode of travel. However, adopting this perspective encourages us as a community to find practical and affordable ways to meet our needs. Keeping our roads safe and friendly to pedestrians and cyclists encourages exercise, enhances our experience while walking and biking around town and improves safety. We live in a beautiful town with vibrant commercial areas surrounded by farmlands and mountains and serviced by a network of different classes of road. Our character makes us a special place to live and a popular year-round tourist destination. We will need to work together to find a balanced approach to ensure that the investments we make to improve our road network also maintain our rural heritage.
Hartshorn: I would support more police patrols on the town roads, more information for safety, and equal courtesy on the roads for pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles. I do not support converting our small-town country roads into huge boulevards. I would like to maintain the character of the small-town countryside Waitsfield is known for. I would like to see some new traffic calming measures integrated such as solar light safety speed signs, "share the road with bicycle" signs and pedestrian signs to complement police presence.