-by Carla Occaso
MONTPELIER — City councilors appointed Jean Olson, a District 2 resident who lives on Hubbard Street, to replace outgoing council member Thierry Guerlain during an executive session at the beginning of their meeting May 27. Guerlain’s resignation became effective at the end of the meeting.
Guerlain had announced his resignation at the end of April. He had been on the council since March 2012 representing District 2, which is north of the Winooski River and roughly east of downtown. He said he is resigning because he is moving to Florida.
Prior to announcing the appointment, council members heard from two candidates, Olson and Ethan Parke. Both have lived in Montpelier for many years, but Olson has lived here about twice as long, since 1969 compared to Parke, who has lived in town since 1992. Those present at the meeting said both candidates were excellent, but that Jean’s experience better fitted the position. Olson has done many things, including coordinating the state E-9-1-1 System from the legislation and funding mechanism to establishing the system, sitting on the board of trustees (including as chair) of the Kellogg Hubbard Library as it underwent expansion, trustee of the Barre Opera House, teaching and fundraising.
“My husband George and I moved here in 1969 and we have loved this city ever since. At that time we were among the youngest, now we are among the retired cohort,” Olson said. “My husband and I are committed to live in Montpelier into the foreseeable future. I do plan to run for election in March.” Olson said she is particularly interested in housing and economic development. “This is an exciting time for Montpelier. We have the momentum of a great deal of positive energy in town.”
Parke said he lives on Towne Hill Road and has a background working in advocating for affordable housing and conservation. After saying he joins Olson in the ranks of the “older cohort,” he explained one of his reasons for wanting to be on the council. “One of the things we have to get serious about is affordable housing. We have to think about where the people who work in the restaurants, or clean the state offices in the hotels or work at Shaw’s or the coop. Where do those people live? If you are making $12 per hour, it is pretty tough to afford a two bedroom apartment in Montpelier that might be $1,000 per month, so a lot of those people are living in communities that are five, 10, 20, 50 miles away and commuting, burning up gasoline, contributing to pollution, contributing to the parking problem, contributing to the traffic problem … so it makes more sense to me to figure out where we can house some people from the lower income brackets,” Parke said. He also said open spaces and parks are very important.
Parke has worked as the director of conservation assessment and analysis for the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, the director of the Vermont Farm Viability Enhancement Program, land acquisition specialist, dairy farmer, newspaper and radio reporter. He has also held several municipal posts in Montpelier and in Irasburg as well as having sat on several boards.
After the two candidates presented their ideas, various people stood up to support one or the other candidate. Claire Benedict, owner of Bear Pond Books, spoke up for Olson, saying “her work is varied and deep and very community oriented.”
While Page Guertin, member of Citizens to Protect Berlin Pond, spoke up for Parke, saying “a new progressive voice on the council might be a nice addition.”
Others spoke up as well, many saying both candidates were good candidates. Town Manager Bill Fraser said Olson will be sworn in at the next meeting and will be called on in the event of an emergency before the next meeting rather than Guerlain.