Kate O’Connor
Kate O'Connor
Monday February 25, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- There are two candidates -- Ben Spoon Agave and Kate O'Connor -- running for an open three-year seat on the Selectboard.

We asked them the same questions and here are their responses.

Ben Spoon Agave

List any town-school committees or commissions on which you have you served?

Selectboard, Town Finance Committee, Development Review Board, Charter Revision Commission, Planning Commission, Board of Civil Authority, Traffic and Safety Committee, Former Bus Advisory Committee (ex-officio), Town Meeting Member.

Why are you running this year?

I am running because town government has difficult and complex problems, because I have very deep and broad experience in town government and because I love the work.

Spoon Agave
Spoon Agave
I will provide the expertise to make a good town better.

What qualities or experiences you would bring to the board?

My experience, which will enable me to hit the ground running, is especially important at this time because we may have, with three positions about to change hands, the most inexperienced Selectboard in memory. There may be as little as four years aggregate experience between all five members after this election. The history and knowledge that I bring from a previous year of experience on this board and 15 more years working in almost all aspects of civic affairs may be critical.

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 not running just to see if I like the job. I am not running just to make a contribution to the town. I am running because there is a dire need of experience and vision. The knowledge required to do this job well takes several years to learn and become even moderately effective. I intend to stay with it as many years as it takes and the community will permit. Since I am retired I can put in as many hours as necessary. If six or seven hours is enough for some weeks, fine. If the job needs nine or 10 hours per week then that's what I'll do. To do less would be a disservice to the town.

The challenge this year is extraordinary. Through a series of recent decisions the residents of Brattleboro are facing, potentially, as much as a 40-cent tax increase over the next two years.

From day one the budget must be in the forefront of every consideration and decision. The Selectboard cannot wait until late next October when the next budget is written. If the Selectboard waits until then its hands are tied because there is no time left to do anything but make dramatic cuts. Every member of the Selectboard is going to have to work hard to fully understand municipal finances. The Selectboard needs to cease living from day to day. Resources are scarce and getting scarcer, with one magnificent exception: we have enormous human capital. It can and must be engaged.

Planning is the key. Selectboard can't afford to wait until Friday to find out what the issues will be the following Tuesday. We have to look at next year, the year after and 10 and 20 years down the pike. Planning provides most of the efficiency on a municipal scale. For example, it is my opinion that better master planning for infrastructure might have reduced the Police/Fire facilities project by several million dollars.

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

I think that before another element is added to meetings the Board has to do considerable work examining the effectiveness and productiveness of what it is now. That said, what may be much more important is employing the Internet to communicate with and engage the public all the time, not merely during meetings. I will raise the subject of creating an information stream that would go out to every citizen who wishes to receive information electronically on a frequent basis.

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

Police stats aren't indicating a severe or growing drug problem.

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

The Selectboard should find a way to gauge the depth of citizen interest.

Thoughts on the tax rate, Grand List and economy?

There should definitely be some internal education on microeconomics such as the definition of growth, the impact of the CPI (Consumer Price Index) and COLA (cost of living), and how interest rates affect a community on all levels. Understanding supply and demand is important to understanding business activity.

The Selectboard needs to have at hand the most up-to-date data on unemployment, income levels, housing activity etc.

Suffice it to say I'm not into buzzwords, empty phrases and pandering. I intend to focus intently on the job of Selectboard member. Learn everything I possibly can and provide real and effective leadership. I want to excite the community with new ideas and concrete action. It's the only way to restore hope.

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

No one has expressed to me an interest in reopening the sales tax issue.

Kate O'Connor

List any town-school committees of commissions on which you have served?

Town Meeting Representative (District 3), Vice President, Building a Better Brattleboro Board of Directors, Brattleboro Goes Fourth Committee (July 4th parade organizing committee)

Why are you running this year?

When the seats on the board became available I thought it was a good opportunity to give back to my hometown. As anyone who lives here knows we are a community of passionate individuals and while we may have diverse opinions, we come together in times of crisis. It would be an honor for me to work on behalf of the people of Brattleboro.

What qualities or experiences you would bring to the board?

I consider myself to be thoughtful, pragmatic and a good listener. I was born and raised in Brattleboro, so I have a good sense of the history of the community, and the opportunities and challenges we face. I know what it's like to serve on a board. I am currently a member of two boards that deal with policy issues: Building a Better Brattleboro on the local level and the Community Development Block Grant Board on the state level (I was first appointed by the governor to serve on this board eight years ago).

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

Many people in Brattleboro are worried that our town is or is becoming a place where they can't afford to live or where their children won't be able to afford to live in the future. Brattleboro is a great community. I have been able to live here and I would like others to have that same opportunity.

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

We should be open to any ideas that make Selectboard meetings available to more of our citizens.

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

Yes, I think we do have a crime problem in town, but, unfortunately, it's a problem not unique to Brattleboro. I think the most important thing we can do is to continue to support local law enforcement officials in their efforts to combat the problem.

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

I am the vice president of the board of Building a Better Brattleboro, the organization that owns the River Garden. The River Garden is a prominent piece of downtown, but operating the facility comes with challenges. The BABB board has worked hard over the past few years to make the River Garden financially sound; however, our revenues continue to fall short of our expenses. Personally, I don't think the town should assume ownership and/or management of the River Garden. Our town budget is already stretched thin and I don't believe it's appropriate to shift the burden of operating the facility onto the backs of Brattleboro taxpayers.

Thoughts on the tax rate, Grand List and economy?

The number one challenge we have is making Brattleboro a place where people can afford to live. Our Grand List is shrinking; our population growth is stagnant; and we are growing older - all of which contribute to the affordability issue. Solutions to the problem include: (1) We need to increase the Grand List by focusing on economic development. While we need to attract new businesses, the most important thing we can do is support our existing businesses. They have shown a commitment to the area and will stay and grow if we can help meet their needs. We need to think regionally. We should support SeVEDS in its efforts to develop a Windham County economic development plan. (2) We must support the Brooks House redevelopment project. It will have a positive impact not only on downtown, but on the entire community. (3) We must explore other sources of revenue. We need to work with the legislature and the governor to see if there are options that towns like Brattleboro (regional hubs) can use to help pay for essential services.

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

I don't think the increase in the sales tax should be explored at the present time. The issue was decided in October when town meeting representatives overwhelmingly voted against the idea.

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