BELLOWS FALLS -- Three people vying for seats on the Rockingham Selectboard touted their professional and life experience Monday during a public forum held to give residents a chance to grill the candidates on their qualifications and intentions.
Tom MacPhee, the current Rockingham Selectboard chairman, Susan Hammond, a Selectboard member, and Deborah Wright, a former Bellows Falls village trustee, appealed to the dozen or so people in the Rockingham Town Hall Lower Theatre during the forum, which lasted less than an hour and was broadcast on television and the Internet. All three expressed their love for the town and encouraged their fellow citizens to vote for them on Tuesday, March 4.
Candidate Stefan Golec was unable to attend due to a work obligation. He, MacPhee, Hammond and Wright are in the race for a pair of one-year terms while Selectboard member Peter Golec, who also did not attend the forum, is running unopposed for a three-year seat.
Hammond explained she was born and raised in Rockingham and graduated from Bellows Falls Union High School in 1983 and though she spent nearly 25 years living abroad, she always called Rockingham her home.
"I came here whenever I could and stayed as long as I could. I was fortunate enough to be able to move back in 2006 when I started my own nonprofit that focuses on the long-term impacts of war," she said. "I bought a house across the street from my parents in Bartonsville, and I've lived in many places around the world, but I can say honestly that there is no other place I would rather be than here in Rockingham."
MacPhee said he has decided to run for another year on the Selectboard for multiple reasons, including TransCanada's appeal of an evaluation a state-hired gave of the company's hydroelectric generation facility in Bellows Falls. Vermont's appraiser reported the Mill Street facility has a value of just more than $108 million. But TransCanada believes the figure is actually lower and made a claim stating as much. The lower the facility's appraisal, the less the corporation will have to pay in taxes. MacPhee said 23 percent of TransCanada's taxes go to the town and 41 percent go to the village. He mentioned the appeal will likely go to court this year.
Wright, who is also a Rockingham Free Public Library trustee and is running for re-election, said she -- unlike Hammond and MacPhee -- grew up elsewhere and chose to move to Rockingham. She started Green Mountain Traffic Control more than 10 years ago and the blue-collar business has strengthened her already strong background of hard work, she said.
When asked to name their favorite aspect of Rockingham, MacPhee and Hammond said it is the Rockingham Recreation Center while Wright said she loves Rockingham Old Home Days the most.
A question from the audience asked the candidates why voters should elect them, instead of their opponents. Wright said she has lived on both coasts of the United States, has a Type A personality and always "double and triple checks" everything. Hammond acknowledged she is the least vocal of all sitting Selectboard members and said that is because she feels it is her duty to listen to all arguments and process all information before making a decision. She also said her experience of running a non-profit organization has taught her how to "stretch every dime." MacPhee, now finishing his tenth year on the Selectboard, said his experience makes him a strong candidate.
The candidates were also asked to justify certain votes they made on the Selectboard or explain how they would have voted had they been a member. The topics included not accepting recommendation from the library trustees and the issue of a merger between the village of Bellows Falls and the town of Rockingham.
Steve Fuller and David Buckley stepped down from the library trustee board last year and the Selectboard, in both instances, opted not to accept the trustee board's nomination for replacement, instead going with Ray Massucco and Elayne Clift, respectively. MacPhee and Hammond said they did not abide by the library trustees' recommendation because Massucco and Clift were far more qualified than the recommended individuals. Personalities have been known to clash at meetings of the library trustees, but MacPhee and Hammond said their decisions were not personal.
Wright said the Selectboard broke a 100-year tradition by not accepting the library trustees' recommendations and called the moves "unprecedented." She said it was the equivalent of "telling the library trustees they don't know what they're doing."
Regarding the issue of a merger between Bellows Falls and Rockingham, Hammond and MacPhee were two of the three Selectboard members to vote against including in the 2014 Town Warning an article that would have prohibited its members from taking any action regarding a merger until 2017.
Several town and village residents, including Wright, felt the decision showed a lack of respect for the roughly 6 percent of registered voters who signed a petition to get the article onto the warrant. Wright said the process was moving too quickly and she would have tried to halt it and would have voted in favor of the article prohibiting any action for three years.
At a joint board meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 7, the village trustees voted 3-2 not to form a committee to explore the possibility of a merger. Stefan Golec, Andrew Smith and Colin James voted for the motion to delay formation and Charlie Hunter and Village President Roger Riccio opposed it. Golec told the Reformer he was unhappy with the lack of transparency the municipal government showed during merger debate.
"I'm pretty proud of my Board of Trustees to say, ‘Enough is enough,'" he said, adding that he is not entirely opposed to a merger and that he will listen to all opinions about the matter.
Polls will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Masonic Temple on Westminster Street.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.