Saturday March 2, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Brattleboro voters will choose two new Selectboard members for one-year seats from a field of six candidates during Tuesday's Town Meeting Day election.

The candidates all have similar ideas on the economy and development, but provided different answers to questions on the River Garden, crime, the use of social media at board meetings and a one-percent sales tax.

We asked the candidates -- John Allen, David Cadran, Ian Kiehle, Donna Macomber, David Schoales and Phil Kramer -- the same questions and their answers are printed below.

John Allen, general contractor

Please list any former town-school committees of commissions you've served on?

Former Selectboard member in 2008 and 2009 and District 2 Town Meeting Representative.

Why are you running this year?

I am running to do what I can to control the tax rate. The tax rate is too high. Elderly people are leaving and young people can't afford to live here. There are no easy solutions but we should be looking at everything that affects the grand list and the tax rate.

Talk about qualities or experiences you would bring to the board?

I served on the Selectboard for two years and my experience is a plus. Being a board member gave me chance to learn how to listen. I also have a good sense of humor, which helps. It's not all doom and gloom. There are thousands of towns across the country going through what we are going through and there is a lot we can do.


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Is there a specific issue or challenge that inspired you to run this year? How do you hope to address this specific challenge?

Growing the grand list is the most important thing the board can do. We need to figure out how to keep people in town and how to create jobs that allow people to work here and live here.

Should the Selectboard expand its use of social media during meetings? What are the advantages or pitfalls of such a move?

I think the board should explore this more. People are working hard and when they come home from work the Selectboard is the last thing they have on their mind. If there is way to get more people involved, while making sure we follow all the rules and regulations I am all for it.

Do you think Brattleboro has a problem with crime (drugs and violence)? If so what can the board do to address it?

We do have a problem here. My kids grew up here and Brattleboro is a much different town than it was when they were growing up. We are the southern-most town along Route 91, and we can't put our heads in the sand and pretend like that doesn't affect us.

Should the town become more involved with the future of the River Garden? Explain your answer?

No. The River Garden is privately owned, and we have no right to tell people what they can do with their property. It is a nice public area, but that is as far as it goes. We don't own it, and we can't afford it. Let them (Building a Better Brattleboro) figure it out.

Thoughts on the tax rate, Grand List and economy?

As a Town Meeting Rep I voted against the police-fire facility. We need a new facility but I don't think this is something we can afford right now.

We have too much affordable housing in town. We have a high rate of free and reduced meals in our schools and this has a trickle-down effect on everything. People come to Vermont because it is easy to get into the system, and we should look at that. Some people don't want to discuss this, but we don't have a middle class anymore. The middle class is the working poor. There is not one culprit, it is a lot of things. We don't have enough jobs here, but we are building more affordable housing. That makes no sense.

Nothing should be off the table. Everything has to be looked at. Services need to be looked at but we also have to grow the grand list. We can't cut our way out of this.

Town Meeting Reps voted down a 1-percent local option tax. Should the Selectboard bring the issue up again? Maybe a town wide vote?

I am still on the fence on this. It affects merchants more than townspeople. We should not give people one more reason to drive to Keene to do their shopping. I don't know if the benefits outweigh the damage that could be done. I don't think we can tax our way out of this problem.

David Cadran, 24, Shareholder Services Coordinator for the Brattleboro Food Co-op

Please list any former town-school committees of commissions you've served on?

Currently serving as Development Review Board Alternate

Why are you running this year?

I am ready to see meaningful change in the way town government is run.

Talk about qualities or experiences you would bring to the board?

I believe that in addition to my work experience, I have the quality of co-operation mixed with a "no-nonsense" attitude that can help take this community forward.

Is there a specific issue or challenge that inspired you to run this year?

Economic development and population decline have gotten me involved. I believe we can grow our economy here and the local government should be more proactive in making that happen.

How do you hope to address this specific challenge?

I have a number of proposals that I'd like to put forward including a temporary local property tax exemption to promote the construction of affordable single-family homes. I also want to look into a 1-percent local option gas tax for new infrastructure spending and creating a tax incentive district in the North End to encourage outside investment like the EB-5 program.

Should the Selectboard expand its use of social media during meetings?

Yes. The town in general should expand their use of Social Media.

What are the advantages or pitfalls of such a move?

There are of course legal and logistical concerns but as a whole this would help citizens to become more engaged with government and connect with them on a real and meaningful level.

Do you think Brattleboro has a problem with crime (drugs and violence)?

On a whole I would not consider Brattleboro to be a crime "hot-spot." We have the same problems that towns of our size are seeing across the country.

If so what can the board do to address it?

The best thing the board can do to address crime is to support organizations that foster a sense of place and community and to properly fund and support police services.

Should the town become more involved with the future of the River Garden? Explain your answer?

I, like many citizens, love the River Garden. I am concerned however that the town does not have the resources at this time to take on this space. I'd like to see what we could do to creatively re-adapt this space into a fiscally stable position. I want to keep the dialogue going on this.

Thoughts on the tax rate, Grand List and economy?

The Grand List is shrinking and the cost of services is increasing. The only way we can afford the services we want without "breaking the banks" of citizens is to grow our tax base. Let's get new residents and businesses in town.

Town Meeting Reps voted down a 1-percent local option tax. Should the Selectboard bring the issue up again? Maybe a town wide vote?

The 1 percent local option sales tax is a non-starter for me. It is a "cost-shift" instead of addressing the very reasons why our tax base is not covering our expenses, it just creates a new tax that further drives people to spend their money in New Hampshire. My 1-percent local option gas tax proposal will fund investments in infrastructure that will grow our economy. It won't cover general expenses like the sales tax proposal. Let's grow the tax base we have here and then we won't need a local option sales tax.

Anything else you want to share?

There are meaningful things that the Selectboard can do to grow our economy and create the kind of community that people want to live in. I am ready to get to work.

Ian Kiehle, 38, stay-at-home dad and freelance videographer

Please list any former town-school committees of commissions you've served on?

I have not served on any former town-school committees or commissions. I did serve on the Brattleboro Community Television board for five years, serving as president for three years.

Why are you running this year?

My wife suggested it, initially. Her approval of me being a Selectboard member is very important to me. My family is my most important constituency. Anyway, it got to be the middle of January, there seemed to be no announced candidates, so I picked up a ballot sheet, collected 30 signatures from registered voters, and dropped off the form that afternoon.

Talk about qualities or experiences you would bring to the board?

I have a strong desire to understand "the big picture" when it comes to a subject I am working on. I think I can educate myself about areas I may not have had previous knowledge or experience with, and then make informed decisions based on what I have learned. I am confident in my ability to communicate clearly -- not only articulating my views or beliefs effectively, but also helping others clarify their views or beliefs -- through intelligent questioning, or sometimes just allowing others to "say their piece." I believe these skills are just as important as a platform or agenda, because Selectboard members need to be flexible in terms of handling all kinds of issues.

Is there a specific issue or challenge that inspired you to run this year?

The reality is that a couple of very contentious issues have already been decided upon and the new Selectboard is going to have do deal with the public reactions to those. I'm speaking about the approval of the skatepark for the Crowell Lot park and the approval of the bond for the police and fire facilities upgrades and expansions.

How do you hope to address this specific challenge?

I'd have to keep an open mind, listen to all sides, encourage dialogue, understand the valid concerns of the parties involved, get to know the issues and their history, and then work with others to see if there are solutions that are acceptable to all ... or most.

Should the Selectboard expand its use of social media during meetings? What are the advantages or pitfalls of such a move?

While it seems fine for others to broadcast Selectboard activities via social media, it does not seem appropriate for the Selectboard itself to use social media for public communication as these media are controlled by private corporations that profit by collecting data on their customers. I do believe that the current town website could use further improvements to help increase communication with town citizens.

Do you think Brattleboro has a problem with crime (drugs and violence)? If so what can the board do to address it?

Just from reading the Reformer's police log over many years, there always seems to be many DUIs and drug possession arrests. I don't have the data to say that those have increased over time. If elected, I would seek a sit-down conversation with Police Chief Wrinn, Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark and State Police Brattleboro Station Commander Lt. Paul Favreau and any other interested Selectboard members to get a "big picture" overview of criminal justice trends.

Should the town become more involved with the future of the River Garden? Explain your answer?

Yes. The fact that Building a Better Brattleboro is dependent on the town to exist and it's BABB's current responsibility to maintain the River Garden, means that the town is already involved. I believe that because both federal and state tax money was used to make the River Garden a public space, the town has an obligation to ensure that it remains so.

Thoughts on the tax rate, Grand List and economy?

Selectboard candidate for the three-year seat Spoon Agave articulated clearly during a recent forum that Brattleboro is in a situation of having one of the highest tax rates in the state, and also having some of the lowest incomes in the state. The challenge for any Selectboard is going to be how to balance the desire for services with the realities of how to pay for them. I am up for that challenge.

Town Meeting Reps voted down a 1-percent local option tax. Should the Selectboard bring the issue up again? Maybe a town wide vote?

I am personally against the 1-percent local option tax. Our local businesses already have to deal with the fact that we border with tax-free New Hampshire (as many radio ads tout).

Anything else you want to share?

I am really impressed with the caliber of candidates in this year's race. I would be proud to serve alongside any of the other one-year candidates who I have been able to learn about during the two public forums that have been sponsored by the Brattleboro Citizen's Breakfast and the League of Women Voters

Donna Macomber, 53, Executive Co-Director of the Women's

Freedom Center

Please list any former town-school committees of commissions you've served on?

I have been on a number of boards previously. This would be my first town assignment.

Why are you running this year?

Trusted intimates have encouraged me to run. There were three positions on the Selectboard and not much interest from the community when I picked up my petition from the town clerk's office. Fortunately, that has changed. The voters should have a choice, be able to assess qualifications, commitment, where each candidate stands on issues of importance.

Talk about qualities or experiences you would bring to the board?

I am deeply rooted in the Brattleboro community, have a sharp skill set, a deep interest and sense of commitment, a quiet ego. I am a stellar listener, am not easily thrown by challenge or conflict, am accustomed to working within a budget and with deadlines. I think I can bring good presence and qualities to the Selectboard, and I like to be challenged. Although I was asked frequently, "are you out of your mind?" when I was gathering signatures, I think I am quite sane. I always appreciate the opportunity to work with others, and to learn new things.

Is there a specific issue or challenge that inspired you to run this year? How do you hope to address this specific challenge?

I am interested in school safety, housing, visioning ways to keep taxes from a steep rise, public safety (particularly in light of the pedestrian accidents. I want to see the skate park built in a central and safe location, and for that to be embraced by neighbors and members of the community. The town needs to be creative in relocating some folks in the flood zones. Irene made us think, re-evaluate a few things. Brattleboro is well positioned to be proactive and thoughtful going forward.

Should the Selectboard expand its use of social media during meetings? What are the advantages or pitfalls of such a move?

The Selectboard should increase its accessibility to the community, become slightly more receptive and intentional to community input. That is likely to result in the use of more social media.

Do you think Brattleboro has a problem with crime (drugs and violence)? If so what can the board do to address it?

I don't think Brattleboro's drug problem is more pronounced than other Vermont towns. I do not think it is the role or the expertise of the Selectboard to tackle this particular arena.

Should the town become more involved with the future of the River Garden? Explain your answer?

The River Garden is an exquisite space. I haven't spoken with anyone who wants to lose it as a gathering place, a sweet spot for public events. At the same time, it seems unlikely the town can afford to take it over, or be responsible for oversight. We need to put our heads together, visualize all the different possibilities. If we do that, I feel confident the solution will arise.

Thoughts on the tax rate, Grand List and economy?

I am concerned about the tax rates in Brattleboro. So many of our community members are struggling financially. Food is expensive. Housing continues to go up. Gas, and the cost of heating. People are stretched in a multitude of ways. As a Selectboard member, I will do my best to make respectful financial decisions, to bring balanced thinking to all of the valid needs. I visited the fire department, the police department. I talked with folks about needed changes. We are a reasonable people, and with creativity and commitment, we will move forward in a positive direction.

Town Meeting Reps voted down a 1-percent local option tax. Should the Selectboard bring the issue up again? Maybe a townwide vote?

I would suggest putting the 1-percent local option tax to a townwide vote.

Anything else you want to share?

As a Selectboard member, I will do my absolute best. I am certain to make mistakes, and to learn from them. I'm approachable and open minded. I think that is a good thing. I look forward to serving.

David Schoales, 66,

woodworker

Please list any former town-school committees of commissions you've served on?

Town School Board

Why are you running this year?

I am concerned about the future and whether we will have a strong enough community and local economy to weather the challenges ahead. This might be an opportunity to be part of a more collaborative board that could work together toward strengthening our community and economy.

Talk about qualities or experiences you would bring to the board?

I have served on many boards through the years, including school boards here and in Jericho and on the board of the Vermont School Boards Association. I have been in leadership roles in private and public institutions, including manager and president of the farmers' market.

I do not pretend to have an answer for all the questions our town faces, but I can guarantee that any board I am part of will listen to citizens and work diligently to present opposing viewpoints. There will be no manipulation or back-room deals. I will insist on maintaining a respectful dialogue on all issues. I decided to run for Selectboard because I believe a new board may make this possible.

Is there a specific issue or challenge that inspired you to run this year?

We need to focus on providing opportunities for our children to find meaningful work by getting broad, sustained engagement in finding new revenues rather than continuing the self-destructive "cut, cut, cut" approach to the services we want and need. Our schools are doing a great job of preparing our students. Now it's time for the town to follow through by attracting investment in the energy, communications and health fields to provide good jobs.

How do you hope to address this specific challenge?

We need to get the town involved in solar energy generation. The current state law assures a premium for locally generated electricity which could save us thousands of dollars, stabilize our electricity costs and raise revenue that could be used to offer electricity credits to businesses interested in locating or expanding in town. The school board has already developed a model for purchasing net metering credits that will lead to private construction of a new solar array, 10 new jobs, and thousands of dollars in new revenue for the school district. Every municipal entity should be doing this. I would like to make employing Brattleboro citizens a feature of any contract the town enters that will result in a contractor hiring new employees. If the project is large enough, I would like to see the contract include an apprenticeship program for recent Windham Career Center graduates. I support preferences for local businesses in any contract awards.

Should the Selectboard expand its use of social media during meetings? What are the advantages or pitfalls of such a move?

I don't know how that would work. I would like to see the town develop a more active system of providing the public with information and notices. The current passive system where people have to negotiate a static website can be improved for sure. It takes a commitment to complete transparency -- a direction I believe we will move if I am elected. The public will be more informed and involved. I don't see a downside to openness.

Do you think Brattleboro has a problem with crime (drugs and violence)? If so what can the board do to address it?

Yes. Every community in the United States does. The only cure for these social ills is economic opportunity. As long as we have an underclass, we will have violence and crime. That's why I advocate local hiring for local contracts. Very little can be done by the police without a significant investment in an undercover police squad. My understanding is that we rely on the state and federal authorities for drug enforcement. I plan to find out more about this as I see it as a serious threat to our young people.

Should the town become more involved with the future of the River Garden? Explain your answer?

Yes. The River Garden has become an important public resource. If it is to continue, the town will have to play a larger role. I propose a townwide information project and referendum to get approval to take over management and maintenance until a long-term sustainability plan can be developed. The two colleges coming to town may make this much easier in the future.

Thoughts on the tax rate, Grand List and economy?

As Adam Smith said, "The subjects of every state should contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities." We need to expand the Grand List by attracting investment in the area where we have the greatest unemployment. There are empty buildings and spaces on Flat, Elm, and Birge Streets that could be developed to provide jobs people could walk to. The Selectboard should help get the Brooks House project under way. We need to spend as much time brainstorming ideas for new revenues as we do combing through budgets looking for fat. There is no fat left.

Town Meeting Reps voted down a 1-percent local option tax. Should the Selectboard bring the issue up again? Maybe a townwide vote?

I would support a townwide vote after a town meeting where all sides are able to present their case.

Anything else you want to share?

I would like to see improved communication between the town departments, the Selectboard, and the public, with the goal of creating a system that is continually assessing its efforts and improving. We should use electronic media more effectively. One idea is to follow a successful business model and set up a "bureaucracy buster" blog for town employees to offer suggestions on how their work could be done more effectively. Our town representative government works as we designed it to work. The design did not include making sure reps were in regular contact with their constituents. This needs to be improved, and I will support more and better use of communications technology so citizens can access information about town issues and make their views known to their elected reps.

Phil Kramer, 55, Pharmacist/Orthotist Prosthetist

Please list any former town-school committees of commissions you've served on?

I have served on a Restorative Justice panel at the Brattleboro Community Justice Center.

Why are you running this year?

I am running for Selectboard at this time because I want to make a difference. These are trying times for our community, our country and our world. The decisions we make today will have a lasting impact on Brattleboro's future. With three of the five Selectboard seats open this year, it is a great opportunity to be part of the new blood that will help shape the future.

Talk about qualities or experiences you would bring to the board?

I have the capacity to listen, to hear what other people have to say. Listening is one of the greatest tools to minimize conflict and confrontation. My years in the Restorative Justice program have helped to improve my listening skills. I have an understanding of what it takes to run a business in Brattleboro. I have been running my private practice, Brattleboro Orthotics and Prosthetics, here in town for 20 years. I have a great capacity to solve problems. The nature of my practice is to problem solve, I design and create orthopedic devices to help diminish the impact of physical disabilities. This creative problem solving has extended into many realms, and I intend to bring this skill to our town as we move to the future.

I have also worked here in town as a pharmacist for many of the last 20 years, and the knowledge and skill I have gained form that role have provided me with many gifts.

Should the Selectboard expand its use of social media during meetings? What are the advantages or pitfalls of such a move?

Anything that makes the town government more transparent will serve the people of Brattleboro.

Do you think Brattleboro has a problem with crime (drugs and violence)? If so what can the board do to address it?

I believe that Brattleboro does have a problem with crime. This is not simply a local issue, it is a national issue. Young people need to have a creative way to express themselves and find connection with others. I would like to see more after school programs offered. I think there should be more police foot patrol presence downtown.

Should the town become more involved with the future of the River Garden? Explain your answer?

The River Garden is a challenging question. It is a privately owned property and to the best of my knowledge the Selectboard at this time has no legal standing in determining its fate. My desire is that it continue to be a resource for the people of Brattleboro, another gateway to the Connecticut River. As a selectman I would do all that I could to keep it as a public resource

Thoughts on the tax rate, Grand List and economy?

We need money to run the town and nobody likes to pay taxes. The property tax rate in Brattleboro is quite high and I do not feel that it should be raised. Expanding the Grand List would serve the community. I would like to see an emphasis on local economies. We need a paradigm shift in our thoughts on how and where we spend our money. Buying and producing locally will increase employment, increase tax base and keep our money local.

Town Meeting Reps voted down a 1-percent local option tax. Should the Selectboard bring the issue up again? Maybe a town wide vote?

I do not believe that this is the best route to raise revenues, but I have no objection to a townwide vote.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.