Three vie for town clerk position in Vernon

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VERNON >> A radio personality, an assistant town clerk and a paralegal walk into a bar.

Just kidding. They're all on the ballot in Vernon where a town clerk will be elected at annual Town Meeting Day on March 1.

There's WTSA News Director Tim Arsenault, a native of Vernon whose given a lot of thought to running throughout the past several months. He has served as town moderator for 17 years.

"I got really serious about putting things in motion for it this past summer," said Arsenault, who described his participation as chairman of the town's Board of Civil Authority as going off flawlessly. "My two goals are to make sure people get top-flight service and treat everyone equally."

He was in that position for seven years and justice of the peace for 13 years. For 16 years, he's served as moderator for the Brattleboro Union High School District.

Although his voice will not be on air due to campaign rules set forth by the Federal Communications Commission, he believes his career in radio will help. He will continue to play a supportive role at the station but will not be covering anything that could be a conflict of interest.

"One thing I can tell you as a journalist is that you know how to look for information," he said. "That's what people are looking for at the clerk's office. It really is the gate keeper for a small town."

The Vermont Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame welcomed Arsenault in 2014. That same year, he was named Person of the Year by Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce.

Nancy Gassett decided to run for town clerk after working in the office. She said no else has the training she does.

"I just feel responsible to run," said Gassett, who was an auditor in Vernon when she became familiar with "government workings" and the financial system in place.

Gassett got to know Town Clerk Susan Miller, who asked her to cover for her when Miller had experienced health issues, causing her to go on leave for a medical procedure. She was expected to be back in 12 weeks but health complications have not allowed for that. Her term is up in March.

Sworn in as an assistant in June, Gassett started training. She said she enjoys serving people and meeting their needs.

"By election, I'll have nine months of hands-on training in the actual town clerk's office," she said. "I've learned where everything is to be able to function. I just believe you can't walk in that office with no training whatsoever and do justice to it. You're dealing with the towns records, land and other vital records. There are statutes that direct everything."

The position is one requiring someone who is "very detail-oriented," according to Gassett. She said she has a "strong conviction" to open government, freedom of information and access to records.

Before Miller, there were two long-time clerks — one serving from 1976 to 1990 and the next serving for over 20 years — and Gassett said this has caused people to take the town clerk's office for granted. Miller was an assistant clerk for 11 years before taking on the position.

"I think we have a responsibility to have someone to be in there to protect and function in that position in the next generation. If I get elected I plan to find someone of the next generation and train them so they're ready to take over," said Gassett, who previous volunteered in various capacities, drove a school bus and home schooled her son. She has lived in Vernon since 1989. "My husband is a native Vermonter. His family has roots on the Arsenault Farm on Pond Road. His grandfather was a diver on the Vernon dam. I'm here through marriage. I love this town."

Assistant Town Clerk Aina Lindquist and Miller are endorsing Gassett for the March 1 election. Because Lindquist is not a Vernon resident, she cannot run.

Melissa Ferris, who has been on the town's Recreation Department Board of Directors for nearly five-and-a-half years, previously gave thought to running for other official positions.

"I decided now is the right time," said Ferris, a paralegal since 2012. "When this opportunity arose, I decided that this would be a great time for me to jump into this with my experience with working in a law office and electronic record keeping and my customer service experience."

Having spent 25 years in the medical field, Ferris said her entire career has been about assisting people. She learned early on that there are always ways to help someone.

One of Ferris and her husband's favorite activities is volunteering at basketball games for the Recreation Department. She has also coached little league and taught for two years within the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union.

Being town clerk, Ferris said, would allow her the opportunity to "get to really know people coming in and out of the office.

"They reach out to you to help them find documents," she said.

Ferris and her family moved to Vernon in 2010. She was originally from the Adirondack area of upstate New York. But she came to Brattleboro in 2002 for educational opportunities available through Brattleboro Memorial Hospital and said she loves the area. She was named Citizen of the Year by the Brattleboro Police Department in 2008.

Hoping to give back to the community, Ferris said her family has become invested in Vernon after being so welcomed.

"My mother-in-law came from New Jersey and she built such a community here and the community here really embraced her. I came from New York and Vermont embraced me. My husband's been in Vermont for 20 years. But we've been embraced," she said.

Ferris said she would stand for collaboration, a sense of community in the Town Hall and accessibility. She thinks voters are "invigorated" this election since they'll have choices on the ballot for the position.

"Win, lose or draw, at least this gets people talking," she said. "This gives some awareness and it shows that community and the people in it are interested in working towards a bit of change."

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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