The Waitsfield Select Board appointed Jordan Gonda to fill outgoing board member Darryl Forrest’s term until Town Meeting next March.
Five candidates, Gonda, Pete Mooney, Christine Sullivan, JB Weir and Fred Messer expressed an interest in the seat. They were interviewed via Zoom on December 7.
Gonda is an attorney for the state of Vermont and has served on the planning commission since 2014. She served as vice chair from 2018-2020 and has served on the Mad River Valley Housing Coalition since it was founded in 2019.
Gonda and her husband have a young son and are also in the process of building a house, which led board member Jon Jamieson to ask if she was comfortable taking on the commitment of serving on the board. Gonda told the board she’d given a lot of thought to the issue of applying to fill the position and said she felt comfortable taking on the opportunity to dip her toe in the water, particularly since she’ll serve until Town Meeting and can run for the remaining two years of the three-year term if she chooses.
Peter Mooney retired three years ago after a 35-year career as a partner in a global professional firm. He is a business strategy consultant by background and worked across audit, tax, forensics, regulatory and compliance and other consultative service areas. He is vice chair of the board of trustees of Washington & Jefferson College and chairs the academic affairs committee.
Mooney was asked about what he’d like to work on if appointed and told the board he had a long list.
“How do we drive business development in a way that is compatible with the town; Lawson’s is a good example. Having young people stay in town means they need opportunities to build lives and jobs and careers and housing. We need to make it affordable so we can get some growth,” he said.
Fred Messer is retired from the Vermont Army National Guard. He served as a Waitsfield grand juror from 2016-2018, Waitsfield emergency management director from 2001 to present and Waitsfield health officer from 2019 to present. He served as chair of the local emergency management planning commission from 2006-2008.
“My roots are here. I’d like opportunity to make Waitsfield into something that will be better in the future. I think Waitsfield has a bright future. It has sense of community that most people would die for,” Messer told the board, noting that he is comfortable in leadership roles.
Asked for his thoughts on the town-owned Wait House which needs upkeep and repairs, Messer said “I’d love to tackle that project. I love history.”
Christine Sullivan is a member of the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board and its negotiating and facilities committees. She chaired the board for four years/two terms. Prior to the town’s merging school districts under Act 46, she served as vice chair of the Washington West Act 46 Study Committee. She spent seven years as Waitsfield PTA treasurer and seven years on the board of Spring Hill School.
Sullivan was asked if she’d remain on the school board if appointed to the select board and she said she would. She compared serving on the school board as working at the 30,000-foot level and said having the opportunity to work with the select board would be a little more impactful and meaningful.
Asked what issues she felt would be critical in the next two to three years, Sullivan said she was vocal proponent of completing the town’s sidewalk project and setting aside land for trail systems.
“They are popular and they bring people to our community who spend money while they’re here,” she said.
“Land conservation is important but we also have to find a way to encourage affordable housing to draw more families in,” she added, noting that wastewater capacity is a real impediment for such development.
JB Weir currently works full time for Fayston as planning and zoning administrator as well as select board assistant. He has twice run for select board and currently serves on the Waitsfield Development Review Board. He is president of the board of directors for Neck of the Woods, the Waitsfield nonprofit child care facility.
Weir told the board he was looking to give back to the community by serving on the select board.
“Having worked in municipal government for so long, I’d like to work on the other side,” he said.
Board member Brian Shupe asked Weir for his thoughts on what role the town, and the select board in particular, can play in housing. Weir said the land use regs can be too restrictive and said he thinks The Valley towns should work together on all facets of the housing issue.
“I see this more as a community approach versus town by town,” he said.
Jamieson asked Weir about his service as board chair for Neck of the Woods, noting that attracting young families means providing adequate child care.
“So many people come here to recreate and for those who want to settle down here, it’s difficult. Starts with housing, intertwined with child care plus zoning. Once we can alleviate child care and work on housing we can begin to see change and have younger families stay here. It’s one of my priorities and think it should be priority for all towns in The Valley to get families to plant their roots and stay here,” he said.
After interviewing the candidates, the select board met in executive session before selecting Gonda in open session.