Meet The Candidates, See The Budgets

by Carla Occaso

MONTPELIER — It’s that time of year again, so get ready to grab a sharp pencil and line up to exercise your hard-fought right to vote.

Ballot items 1 and 2 are set aside to determine candidates to fill vacant slots on boards, councils and commissions on Town Meeting Day, March 7 at City Hall. This year’s meeting has no shortage of candidates for the open seats on the Montpelier Board of School Commissioners and the Montpelier City Council.

Three candidates are running to fill two open slots on the board of school commissioners. Bridget Asay is seeking re-election after being elected in 2015. Also running are Ira Shadis and Becky Bowen. All candidates say they want to provide students with the support they need. More information on the candidates can be found on pages four and five.

As for council members, there are seven candidates for three open seats, with one open seat in each of three districts, two of which are contested. Alex Aldrich, Thomas Gram, Joe Kiernan and Rosie Krueger are vying for the District 1 seat to be vacated by Tom Golonka. Golonka said he is leaving because it has been 12 years and he’s ready to move on. Golonka played a leading role with the Public Safety Authority, and is happy with the direction it is going. He also feels that the Housing Trust Fund has been a real success during his time on the council. He noted that a lot has gone on in the past 12 years. “I’ve been involved in a lot of it and hopefully I’ve made a difference.”

Anne Watson, who is council president, seeks re-election for her seat in District 2 in order to make progress on completing city projects and improve housing stock while increasing revenue sources. Also waging a campaign for the seat is Alison Soccodato, who wants to keep tabs on limited resources.

Also, regarding District 3, Ashley Hill, former senatorial candidate, has the race all to herself. The seat is left open by Jessica Edgerly Walsh, who told The Bridge, she is leaving the council to simplify parenting her young children in the evenings. However, Edgerly Walsh said, “The last four years haven’t always been easy, but it has truly been an honor to serve. I’m very much going to miss it.” She’s proud of the following projects she worked to implement/create: A funding source for the bike and pedestrian infrastructure plan, Montpelier in Motion, Montpelier’s Economic Development Corps., and a plan that will bring infrastructure spending on roads, sidewalks, water and sewer to needed levels for sound stewardship.

And finally, running unopposed for re-election is Jake Brown to keep his seat on the cemetery commission. Daniel Dickerson is the only candidate to fill a vacancy on the parks commission vacated by Kip Roberts, who resigned last April. No candidates filed to fill the Central Vermont Public Safety Authority At-Large Board Member slot.

As for the rest of the articles, voters will be asked to approve a $8,762,272 city budget, $20,019,297 school budget and $100,000 ($53,000 from Barre City and $47,000 from the City of Montpelier) for the operating budget of the Central Vermont Public Safety Authority for fiscal year July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018.

Also, monies are requested to compensate the mayor ($3,000), city council members ($1,200 each) and school commissioners ($1,300, chair; $1,000 the rest).

In addition, voters are asked to authorize $3.9 million for the reconstruction of Northfield Street.

A pre-town meeting will be held Thursday, Feb. 16 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Montpelier Senior Activity Center, 58 Barre St.

Candidates (In alphabetical order under category):

School Board of Commissioners:

Bridget Asay

The Bridge: What are your goals for Montpelier’s public school system?

Asay: I want our schools to meet the needs of all students; stimulate our students’ passion for learning; and foster students’ engagement with the local and world community. Some specifics: expanded foreign language instruction, improved science curriculum at UES and a focus on good communication and outreach to the community.

The Bridge: If you had to level fund next year, what would you cut from the school budget?

Asay: Level funding our growing district would hurt our students and undermine one of Montpelier’s strongest assets — its schools. I oppose level funding.

The Bridge: What about your background makes you the best candidate for school board?

Asay: I bring problem-solving skills, a commitment to collaboration and teamwork, legal experience and good communication skills to the Board. As a parent of a middle school student, I have personal experience with the strengths and needs of the district.

Becky Bowen

The Bridge: What are your goals for Montpelier’s public school system?

Bowen: Montpelier’s school system is the city’s best asset for attracting new businesses and taxpayers, and is growing in enrollment. We need to expand our capacity to care for a more diverse student body, to more fully address the needs of those that don’t fall in the top 50 percent of the class, while respecting taxpayer investment.

The Bridge: If you had to level fund next year, what would you cut from the school budget?

Bowen: Without additional information, I don’t have specifics. I do know I would preserve funding for the arts, and services to students that struggle academically.

The Bridge: What about your background makes you the best candidate for school board?

Bowen: After decades managing financial and human resources, I’m comfortable with budget numbers and efficient investment in the future. I’m closely connected to the community, and work as the Human Resources Director at Central Vermont home health. My two African-American children have gone through the Montpelier schools, graduating this year and next. I hope I have your vote on March 7.

Ira Shadis

The Bridge: What are your goals for Montpelier’s public school system?

Shadis: I want to make sure that our school system continues to meet the needs of our students, with a focus on building strong relationships between the schools and the broader community.

The Bridge: If you had to level fund next year, what would you cut from the school budget?

Shadis: Should a mandate come down to freeze the budget, I will work to ensure that we still find ways to invest strongly in our students. We need to continue to provide supportive services to those who need them most.

The Bridge: What about your background makes you the best candidate for school board?

Shadis: We need to build relationships with our young people that provide them avenues to be valued citizens. I am in the same boat as our students. I am young and I am determined to be a part of this town.

District 1

Alex Aldrich

The Bridge: What are your goals for the city?

Aldrich: In my experience it is always tempting to make decisions based on short-term returns. My primary goal is to be a voice for insisting that decisions always take into consideration the long-term impact on the city’s attractive landscape, its walkability, its affordability and its quality of life. Many people I have met claim to have “the answer” for what Montpelier needs to do (next). For me, the first step is to listen and understand. The rest will follow.

The Bridge: Are you committed to work constructively with city administrators?

Aldrich: Yes, of course I am committed to working constructively with the city’s administrators. I can’t claim to know them all at this time, but I believe they are professional and care deeply about Montpelier.

The Bridge: What about your background makes you the best candidate for city council?

Aldrich: First, let me say that “being the best candidate for city council” is a stretch for me. I’ll take being the best candidate in District 1! Perhaps what sets me apart is the amount of traveling I have done all over the state (and to a lesser degree, the region) during the past 20 years, observing and participating in projects and programs that have done so much to help communities identify their own strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. Governing is not an easy job; it gets messy and difficult. And quite often the general public does not like change (of any kind) because, short term, it causes dislocation or economic suffering. But there are countless examples in Vermont of towns and communities that have experienced a renaissance because they have identified their communities’ core values and made decisions in full view of the public that reflect those values.

Thomas Gram

The Bridge: What are your goals for the city?

Gram: My two major goals are seeking alternative sources of revenue to keep our essential city services funded while slowing the growth of property taxes; and continuing the push toward sustainability with a focus on helping low income residents lower carbon footprints and energy costs, while keeping externalities in mind and favoring appropriate technologies.

The Bridge: Are you committed to work constructively with city administrators?

Gram: Bill Fraser has been a competent, tenured city employee who’s worked for the city in an efficient and non-partisan way for a long career. I see no reason to change that in his case.

More importantly, if I see that any major decision about the city’s staffing is being discussed, I will do my utmost to ensure that that discussion happens in a way that is public and accountable. The disregard for the spirit, and perhaps even the letter of Vermont’s open meetings law, by a few city officials surprised and disturbed many of Montpelier’s residents. I was glad to see both representatives of District 1 were not implicated in that. District 1 voters expect accountability and adherence to the spirit of the law from their representatives, and I will absolutely continue to uphold those values as councilor.

The Bridge: What about your background makes you the best candidate for city council?

Gram: I may be young and inexperienced, but there are a few aspects which make me an important voice on the council. The first is that city policy discussions often revolve around how to keep young people here and reach out and engage people with lower incomes. As a young person with low income, I can provide some essential perspective and insight on those issues and ensure that discussions of vibrancy and affordability go beyond simple lip service.

The second issue is that I’m a chemistry student with a significant interest and knowledge base around appropriate technology and sustainability.

Joe Kiernan

The Bridge: What are your goals for the city?

Kiernan: My short term goals for the city would be to look at options for affordable residential development and work with developers to makes sure the city can provide them with the necessary infrastructure to make such development more economically feasible. The biggest issue facing the city today is a stagnated population due to high taxes and a lack of affordable housing. My long term goal for the city would be to increase the population by 500 to 1000 residents. With so much of Montpelier’s taxable properties occupied by government and non-profit organizations, it is vital that the city increase its residential population to help supplement its tax income. This is the most straightforward and effective means of eventually lowering the property taxes experienced by residents of Montpelier.

The Bridge: Are you committed to work constructively with city administrators?

Kiernan: I am committed to working constructively with all city administrators. Any progress the city may hope to achieve would be made more difficult without cooperation between the city council and the city staff. Specifically regarding the city manager, I have not been given any concrete reasons for the mayor’s decision to attempt to remove him from his position, which I feel is unacceptable. However, I am also committed to looking at the facts and making an informed decision on what is best for the city.

The Bridge: What about your background makes you the best candidate for city council?

Kiernan: My professional experience includes working as a contractor, environmental consultant and civil engineer. These are areas of expertise which are underrepresented on the current council. During my time in construction I worked on several projects for the City of Montpelier and have intimate knowledge of the challenges that will be facing our public works and engineering departments in the near future. With approximately a third of our city budget going to public works, having an experienced voice on the council would be invaluable in helping the City make informed decisions.

Mary Rose “Rosie” Krueger

The Bridge: What are your goals for the city?

Krueger: I want everybody who wants to live here to be able to, while still maintaining the things that make the community a great place to live. We want to have full services, plus some nice extras on top of that. But we also need to ensure that the property tax weight of these nice things isn’t so heavy that only the wealthy can live here. The role of the council is to balance these two needs. I am prepared to make these difficult choices.

The Bridge: Are you committed to work constructively with city administrators?

Krueger: Absolutely. I understand that the current council is planning to renew the city manager’s contract prior to election day. I don’t think there is anything to be gained at this point by rehashing that decision.

The Bridge: What about your background makes you the best candidate for city council?

Krueger: We need city councilors who can think critically about proposed and existing spending and policies, and decide if they actually are the most efficient and effective way to get us where we want to go. As a legislative staffer on Capitol Hill, and now at the State, I am always thinking about how different regulations affect everyone involved; if they cause unnecessary hardship; and if there is a better way to get there. In addition to these public policy skills, I have experience with both public bidding and program management from my work with school nutrition programs. Finally, I have direct experience building a new energy-efficient home in the city — including working with Montpelier’s building code requirements, understanding green building principles and managing budgets and subcontractors. For two years, I worked a full-time job while building a house — I know how to work hard, and I know how to get stuff done!

District 2

Alison Soccodato

The Bridge: What are your goals for the city?

Soccodato: I will strive to have an effective council that communicates well with each other and is engaged with constituents. We need to be proactive in soliciting feedback.

The Bridge: Are you committed to work constructively with city administrators?

Soccodato: I view the Council and administrators as partners. The Council is responsible for setting the strategy, with input from administrators, and the administrators execute. To be successful, we need to work together.

The Bridge: What about your background makes you the best candidate for city council?

Soccodato: My background as a budget analyst and project manager will help us to use our limited resources wisely. In these positions, I developed tools to monitor and improve performance while leading stakeholders with competing priorities.

Anne Watson, Incumbent

The Bridge: What are your goals for the city?

Watson: Let’s make progress toward net-zero energy. That includes finding parking solutions, improving our wastewater system, completing One Taylor Street and the bike path. Let’s increase and improve Montpelier’s housing stock, while finding sources of revenue other than taxpayers.

The Bridge: Are you committed to work constructively with city administrators?

Watson: I have been vocal in my support of Bill Fraser, and I look forward to working with him and the rest of the city staff. The quality of Bill’s work continues to be good, as he’s responsive to the requests of council.

The Bridge: What about your background makes you the best candidate for city council?

Watson: With five years experience on the council, I’m familiar with city’s systems, players, issues and opportunities. My background in physics allowed me to co-write the request for proposal that landed the city a contract for one megawatt of solar electricity, at no cost to taxpayers. As a teacher, I am committed to fostering community and equitable processes.

District 3

Ashley Hill

The Bridge: What about your background makes you the best candidate for city council?

Hill: As a Council member, I will be committed to expanding affordable housing opportunities, focusing on environmental issues and continuing our investment into infrastructure development. I look forward to working with our friends, neighbors, community partners and municipal employees to create comprehensive solutions to the challenges facing our city.

The Bridge: Are you committed to continue working constructively with current city administrators?

Hill: Absolutely! I look forward to working with Bill in the upcoming session to tackle affordable housing, economic development, environmental sustainability and infrastructure development projects. Bill has served our city and our Council well over the years, and I look forward to continuing our relationship as we all collaborate on these difficult issues to create lasting solutions for our city!

The Bridge: What about your background makes you the best candidate for city council?

Hill: I currently serve our state as a prosecutor and am profoundly proud to have the opportunity to work with our city to find innovative solutions to challenges in our community in the criminal legal system. I look forward to using my social and economic justice advocacy skills to work with area experts on affordable housing issues, environmental resource issues and infrastructure development.


Jake Brown is running for re-election on the cemetery commission and Daniel Dickerson is running for parks commission.

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