Monday February 25, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Brattleboro has not had a race for Town Moderator in more than two decades, but with long time moderator Tim O'Connor announcing that he will be not running again this year two residents have thrown their hats into the ring: Doug Cox and Lawrin Crispe.

Here are profiles of each of them.

Doug Cox

Doug Cox is an internationally known violin maker who lives in West Brattleboro and has been a Town Meeting Representative for 20 years.

After serving for two decades Cox says he want to become moderator to help improve the meetings and make sure everyone who wants to take part has a voice.

"I love Brattleboro and the richness and diversity of its people and cultures; and I love democracy with all its quirks and idiosyncrasies, and the very human messiness and passion of the democratic process," he said. "I see Town Meeting as a place where these come together in a way that embodies who we are as a community and how we relate to each other. As a student of Brattleboro's Representative Town Meeting, and other forms of participatory governance, I feel I have much to offer, and much to learn from the moderator's position."

Cox is a founding member of the town's Arts Committee, where he has served since 2008, and occasionally attends Selectboard, Planning Commission and Agriculture Committee meetings.


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After serving as a town meeting rep for 20 years Cox says the attendance of Brattleboro's annual meeting is encouraging and he thinks the representative form of government works for a town like Brattleboro.

Brattleboro is the only town in Vermont that has the representative form of town meeting.

"I feel Brattleboro's Representative Town Meeting is very successful in that the elected body provides a continuity of experience and perspective, and in many ways does a better job of representing the breadth of population and interests than would an open, voluntary attendance town meeting in our community," he said. "The attendance record of Town Meeting members is remarkable. Brattleboro's Town Meeting is a wonderful study in human nature and the challenges of living together and taking collective responsibility for our community."

If Cox is elected he says he will not serve as long as O'Connor, probably about six to eight years, and while he says he would not suggest major changes, Cox does want to leave a mark on the process if voters elect him.

"I feel uplifted about Brattleboro after most Town Meetings, and I hope that all who participate will leave with some sense of growth and accomplishment from the proceedings, and with stronger respect for each other and the democratic process," he said. "The biggest challenge is to help focus discussion so that full and careful consideration is not compromised by the need to get home and walk the dog. By broadening the voices making initial motions, I think we might reduce the feeling that there is an "us and them" relationship with the School Board and Select Board."

Cox says he would want to continue the pre-meeting training sessions for new town meeting members and make sure outside voices are welcomed into the meeting when appropriate.

He also says he wants to attend the Vermont League of Cities and Towns pre-town meeting session, and meet with other moderators in Connecticut and Massachusetts, where the representative method of town meeting is more common.

"I will provide an atmosphere that is efficient and inclusive," he says. "I hope that atmosphere will encourage more folks to run for town meeting member. It is a great institution and a great experience. All who are interested in democracy and the future of Brattleboro should have a chance to serve their neighbors in this way."

Lawrin Crispe

Crispe is a Brattleboro attorney who works at Crispe & Crispe, the firm his grandfather started in 1914.

It is the oldest continually-operating, family-run legal firm in Vermont.

Crispe has also served as a town meeting rep for more than 20 years and he says his long experience attending Brattleboro Representative Town Meetings encouraged him to run after O'Connor announced that he would not seek re-election this year.

"I welcome an opportunity to contribute to the democratic process in a way in which I believe I am qualified," he said. "As a Town Meeting member for many years I have had an opportunity to observe how the meeting is run, and am familiar with the procedural and parliamentary issues which the moderator must be able to address."

Crispe spent several years as chairman of the Town Finance Committee. In 2012 town meeting representatives elected him Pro Tem Moderator when O'Connor was ill.

He has also served on the Brattleboro Housing Authority Board, as well as the Police and Fire Space Needs Committee.

After attending town meetings in Newfane, where he grew up, Crispe says the representative form of town government works for a town like Brattleboro.

"I believe the Brattleboro representative system works and provides the community with a democratic voice and competent governance," Crispe said. "Town Meeting representatives in Brattleboro seem to have a higher standard of preparation than in towns where town meeting is open to the general population. The commitment to attend informational sessions leads to greater knowledge which hopefully leads to better decisions."

Crispe also commended O'Connor on his long run as town moderator, saying O'Connor ran orderly meetings where everyone was given a chance to speak and felt as though their voice was important.

He said his experience as an attorney, as well as his time serving as Assistant Secretary of the Vermont Senate, have made him familiar with parliamentary process and with directing conversation and debate.

"I have observed Mr. O'Connor over the last two decades and admire his ability to conduct an orderly meeting while remaining fair and impartial. I would hope to do the same," he said. "As a local lawyer I deal with state and municipal law on a routine basis. Many years ago I served as Assistant Secretary of the Vermont Senate where my duties included advising members on procedural and parliamentary issues. I have also served on several public and private boards and committees including in the capacity as chairperson. I am familiar with the moderator's responsibilities."

Crispe says he will refresh his knowledge of Robert's Rule of Order, as well as the Brattleboro Charter if he is elected.

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