BRATTLEBORO — Ian Goodnow had quite the first year to serve on the Select Board.
“I don’t think I could have chosen a more challenging time to join the Brattleboro Select Board but I’m grateful I ran and was elected,” he said. “COVID-19, the global pandemic, created a number of new challenges that we had to face as a town and having an opportunity to be part of the leadership to address those challenges was a real honor and I’m really grateful for the opportunity.”
While COVID-19 will continue to be something to grapple with on many levels, Goodnow said he’s filled with “a deep sense of optimism” moving forward as the pandemic has forced creative thinking on issues and led to more people being engaged in town government. He said he feels the town can “capitalize on that energy” and “we can do really great things in Brattleboro.”
Just finishing up his one-year term, Goodnow is seeking reelection and a three-year seat in the March 2 election. Rikki Risatti also is running for the position.
Recalling the beginning of the pandemic, Goodnow said the board mandated masks inside of businesses before the governor did. He called the decision “very challenging” as there was a lack of federal guidance at the time. Now, he said, he’s grateful that people accept that wearing masks is critical for the health and safety of the community.
His term was supposed to start after annual Representative Town Meeting in March but the meeting was postponed due to the pandemic. To ensure a smooth transition, David Schoales resigned and Goodnow was appointed.
Several discussions at board meetings focused on the question of holding the annual meeting in some capacity or just going with ballots.
“Those conversations were so important to me for appreciating and supporting the democratic process here in Brattleboro,” he said, adding that he and the board felt ballots wouldn’t be sufficient because it would lack any kind of discussion and possible amendments to articles.
Goodnow commended “the incredible work” by town staff and the moderator for organizing and holding “the very first remote, electronic Representative Town Meeting in Vermont history.”
“That is such an incredible accomplishment,” he said, noting that the Vermont Legislature recently allowed communities to delay annual town meetings or conduct them by ballot except for Brattleboro “because we were so successful.”
He said he’s excited for the upcoming Representative Town Meeting on March 21, which he anticipates being more efficient and effective.
Goodnow said following nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd at police hands in Minneapolis in May and local calls in the community to look at policing, the board committed time and town resources to a thorough review of the Brattleboro Police Department and community safety. That led to a request for proposals, which he felt could have been brought forward faster and would have allowed more time for creating the resulting report from two hired facilitators who collaborated with paid committee members.
“They had a really momentous task and a really truncated time period to complete it,” he said, as the report was due Dec. 31 before budget talks ended.
Goodnow called the project “unique to the time of that moment” but wants to see that much engagement in the future.
“I think in a lot of ways, it was really successful,” he said. “If you’re going to have a review of the [BPD], you need to start with actually listening to the people who are affected by the police, and that’s the beginning. And we have a lot more work to do on that.”
Some of the recommendations from the report are “fairly clear and actionable” but a majority could use some refining, Goodnow said. He anticipates town staff are undertaking that work as they prepare to bring the document back to the board soon.
The next steps for Goodnow involve making “pretty concrete goals” about committing town resources and energy, and having dates in the near future to check in on the progress.
“I don’t want to see things stall out and I think part of that is making sure we prioritize and commit to things sequentially because some of the recommendations in the report are wider scope and have a longer view,” he said. “There’s a lot to it and I’m excited to see how the new board engages in the material, too.”
He fully supports a deeper analysis of traffic stop data following a report showing racial disparities in Brattleboro and across Vermont. He suggested the potential hiring of a consultant to explore the issue.
In the previous election, Goodnow campaigned on bringing a younger perspective to the board. He described being someone at the beginning of their career path who wants to start a family in Brattleboro. He cited this when supporting a proposal to regulate upfront costs tenants can be charged, which the board passed in a 3-2 vote in December.
“I believe fully that the security deposit ordinance is a perfect example of a kind of action that is in line with that position, making it easier for people who want to be here, who aren’t as established, to move into town,” he said. “That’s the kind of thing we need to do to keep Brattleboro alive.”
Conversations about the ordinance over several months at board meetings “showed that this a much larger discussion about housing in Brattleboro and Vermont, and there’s a lot more to it and this is not a solution,” Goodnow said, adding that he’s excited the Planning Services Department will be conducting a housing study in the next six months, and he hopes it will provide a better sense of what housing and the population looks like in Brattleboro. He also supports reviewing the ordinance after a full year to see how it’s going.
Given the big issues the board has tackled this year, Goodnow remembered seeing as many as 100 people logging into the remote meetings at times.
“We’re doing real work for the town — that gives me heart,” he said. “I’m proud of the work I’ve done on the board. I think it’s been a struggle sometimes. I think some of these meetings have gotten very long and I appreciate that criticism, but I also appreciate how much community involvement and participation there has been. I think that is so commendable. It’s one of the reasons I love this town. It’s so exciting to me.”
Goodnow is very passionate about updating the town website, which is being proposed as an article at Representative Town Meeting carrying a $75,000 price tag.
“I see that as a part of a much larger conversation about how the town engages the community and gets people involved,” he said.
He suggested the possibility of holding meetings in a hybrid model when in-person gatherings are allowed again by the state, as more people can access the meeting if it’s also being held online. He believes the hybrid system would promote engagement and lead to more people running for town positions.
A proposal on the March 2 ballot that would give Brattleboro authority to change its charter to allow future charter amendments already approved by the Legislature in another community also has Goodnow’s support.
“We would not have to have that approved again,” he said. “This is a really important step towards town sovereignty and addressing the Dillon’s Rule in this state.”
States with Dillon’s Rule only allow towns to engage in activities specifically sanctioned by the state government. The Legislature would still need to approve the charter change being considered.
Another ballot question asks voters if Brattleboro should allow retail cannabis sales in town. Goodnow said he fully supports it, as it will bring more tax revenue and allow safer products through regulation.
“It’s been something that’s been coming for so long to Vermont,” he said. “I’m from Essex. This is something we’ve been talking about forever it feels like.”
Goodnow noted his amazement at town staff’s work and commitment to the community.
“We in the town of Brattleboro are incredibly lucky to have such a devoted, intelligent and passionate group of people working in our municipal government,” he said, “and it’s been a pleasure to get to work with them. And I think the residents of Brattleboro should take a real comfort in knowing that.”