Running for Office—Montpelier Candidates Make their Pitch

As local races heat up, The Bridge is making every effort to bring you timely information about the seven candidate-race for three seats on the Montpelier City Council. What follows are seven interviews with candidates for Montpelier City Council.

In addition to asking each candidate to contribute some personal information the interviews take up these questions.

  • When are you running for council?
  • How would you address the city’s major problems?
  • How would you strengthen Montpelier’s downtown?
  • Do you favor a tax-supported fitness center?
  • What’s your reaction to a gunman at MHS?
  • What assets exist in Montpelier Here are the seven candidate interviews.

Dona Bate (District One)

Personal information

I moved here 51 summers ago in a VW Beetle pulling a little U-Haul trailer. Coming from the very large Ohio State campus and a very large family, I was looking for small. I also wanted a community where humans and nature were more interconnected, and where I could get involved.

Doyle’s Guest House was home until the first of several apartments. I went on to own four houses in Montpelier in which I raised two sons, who attended Montpelier schools. I now enjoy an 11-year-old granddaughter. I downsized to a condo in 2001, which reduced my expenses and carbon footprint, and increased walking and transit opportunities.

In 2005 I began “debate speaking” [a communications consulting firm], where as a speaker and trainer I can share my love, experience, and the challenges of public speaking with others. I have over 45 years of achievements as presenter, trainer, and group facilitator, as well as being on private and public boards for businesses and non-profits.

I spent nearly 20 years as CEO of Wheels, a regional integrated community transportation system, which gave me an in-depth understanding of complex budgets, grants, and strategic planning. I learned the value of patience in long-term planning—a transit grant I obtained over 20 years ago is the basis for the One Taylor Street multimodal center.

Why are you running?

I’m running to be reelected because I want to do more for safety, service, and sustainability. As a city we must work to keep our citizens safe from physical harm and from harassment. We receive safety services from the police, fire department, and public works, which are committed to the fair, equal treatment of all residents. As a community, we must actively work together to counter racism, to strengthen mutual respect, safety, and the protection of everyone’s civil rights.

How would you address the city’s major problems?

The city has many large infrastructure needs that impact the safety of and service to residents. The council started a steady-state plan five years ago, which put aside a small amount of money every year for repairing some of our crumbling streets. The plan charted a sustainable path to the vision of quality streets and is steadily making it happen.

Meanwhile clever city staff members obtained grants for underground utilities so when streets are dug up, utilities are replaced at same time. These repairs and utility upgrades reduce water leaks. They also make road repair and future water service less expensive, safer, and more sustainable.

Safety, service, and sustainability come together when we examined expensive infrastructure needs, such as the wastewater treatment plan. Much of the original equipment has outlived expectations and needs to be replaced. Do we just replace it at $6 million, or do we upgrade as well as replace it at $9 million and turn wastewater into energy we can use and sell? An upgrade makes the service safer and more sustainable, while supporting the city’s net-zero goal.

How would you strengthen Montpelier’s downtown?

The council has done well in supporting the downtown through its support of Montpelier Alive, the new Economic Development Corporation, and the various downtown housing projects. We need more communication among those groups and with the public at large.

Spending and taxes?

If we are going forward with a new fitness center along the lines of what Jump and Splash is proposing, it needs to be a regional center supported by a combination of private and public dollars.

Your reaction to the situation of a gunman at MHS?

I respect the police department’s process in handling the situation and know that if there is anything they can learn from the situation, they will. This incident was evaluated by an outside state agency, which found that Montpelier Police Department performed according to city police department guidelines and procedures (available on the city’s website).

Are there any assets in Montpelier that are not being taken advantage of?

I want more enjoyment and connection to our rivers, with walkways, benches, and public sculptures. I remember what Margot George did and Harris Webster does with historical downtown walking tours to show off the city’s architecture, and what John Snell does on his walking tree tours. I’m very excited about the current and future proposals for more art in public places.

Numa Haase (District One)

Personal information

I’ve lived in Montpelier for more than 30 years. I’m currently retired after a career mostly in computer programing and web design. I graduated from UVM. I have previously lived in Louisiana, where I was born, as well as Mexico and Quebec. I live here with my wife, two teenage daughters, two cats, and our dog.

When my wife Georgina came here from Mexico 25 years ago, there were few immigrants from other cultures. Over the years this has changed, and now Montpelier has become a much more diverse community with people from many cultures. Georgina has worked for many years with preschoolers at the Child’s Garden. We participate in our local Latino/Spanish group. I also volunteer with local Mexican farmworkers, mostly by interpreting and accompanying them to doctors and dentists, and helping them obtain driver’s licenses.

Why are you running?

For the 30 years I’ve been here, I have never run for any political office, so it’s totally new for me. In this time of divisiveness in our country, we need to show that we continue to respect each member of our community. Here in Vermont, we have a tradition of listening to each other and working things out rather than passing restrictive and punitive laws. As a city councilor I promise I will always listen to all sides and try to make the best decisions possible.

How would you address the city’s major problems?

Of course the city has problems, but I don’t look at Montpelier in that way. If we work together we can come up with fresh ideas and solutions.

How would you strengthen Montpelier’s downtown?

I think we could turn Langdon Street into a pedestrian mall, somewhat like Church Street in Burlington. Each time they pave and resurface the streets, the new smooth pavement encourages people to drive too quickly. Under that paving are cobblestones. Why not cobblestone the streets for a block or two downtown? It would be attractive. It would encourage people to slow down. It would be good for tourism.

Spending and tax-supported fitness center?

I think the proposed fitness center is a good idea, and perhaps taxes could help support it. I think the idea of Montpelier participating in this could be a good idea. When my kids were small, we would have loved such a thing. If it’s feasible it might be a good idea. Let’s look into it. It sounds like a good idea.

Your reaction to the situation of a gunman at MHS?

I was saddened by this event. The gunman was a man who had a lot of problems and needed help. And after it was over I had this question: the local and state police are extensively trained to deal with dangerous people in an emergency. They had an hour to figure out what they were going to do. Wasn’t there any other way of containing this man except to shoot him and take his life?

I don’t have the complete facts of the situation, and I don’t think it’s fair to condemn anyone based on partial information.

Do you see any assets in Montpelier that are not being taken advantage of?

Vermont has a town meeting tradition where people meet together and work things out. And that’s an asset. Sometimes I think it might be good to have something like a face-to-face town meeting in Montpelier. I think a face-to-face meeting would be far better than impersonal messages on Front Porch Forum.

I really like Montpelier. It’s full of caring, compassionate people who try to help everyone in the community.

Alex Geller (District Two)

Personal information

I’ve been a public servant for 10 years, so public service is part of who I am. My particular background and experience might be helpful to the council. I have a bachelor’s degree in geology from UVM and a master’s degree in computer science from Boston University. Beyond that, I have spent my career focused on solving problems in the environmental and transportation fields, while also leveraging technology to enhance services to taxpayers and save money. Specifically, I hope to lend my experience in asset management to help Montpelier make better decisions about how we maintain our buildings, roads, bridges, and utilities so we can make our tax dollars go further.

Why are you running?

My wife, Wendy, and I purchased our first home on Kent Street six years ago. Since then we have been methodically moving from room to room renovating our house. Because we couldn’t afford to pay for all this work, we did most of it ourselves and with the help of our community. As the renovations are coming to an end, I thought serving on the council would be a good way to give back.

Beyond my commitment to public service, I would like to make sure that Montpelier is accessible to a diverse demographic of people and that we are doing everything we can to support a strong and sustainable economy.

How would you address the city’s major problems?

I see housing as the biggest problem right now and into the future. Young families are having a difficult time buying their first home and getting onto the property ladder, while seniors are unable to find suitable homes for downsizing. There is no silver bullet, but I would like to see the city incentivize renovation of our current housing stock to meet the needs of today. This could include conversion of large, single-family houses into multi-unit houses, replacement of houses with excessive deferred maintenance, and an emphasis on the need for seniors to be able to age in place when planning these improvements. Prioritizing the revitalization and right sizing of our current neighborhoods before building on open land makes sense, preserves the character of neighborhoods, and keeps Montpelier walkable.

How would you strengthen Montpelier’s downtown? The city needs to attract employers who are offering decent-paying jobs. That will bring in people who will support our downtown. Given how competitive cities have become to attract employers, Montpelier needs to establish itself as location that provides a healthy, active lifestyle with rich culture.

Spending and tax-supported fitness center?

I think we need to understand whether we are adequately maintaining the infrastructure we already have before we decide to fund additional infrastructure projects. I also know that there are opportunities to expand outdoor recreation that would be little to no burden on the taxpayers.

Your reaction to the situation of a gunman at MHS?

First, let me say that as a state employee I cannot comment on how this event was handled. Beyond that, as a private citizen, it was very saddening to learn that we had an individual who was so distressed and prepared to take these actions.

Do you see any assets in Montpelier that are not being taken advantage of?

Yes, absolutely, our rivers. We have beautiful rivers flowing through downtown, and we do all we can to forget that they’re there. I think we need to embrace the rivers by creating opportunities to enjoy them responsibly. River access points, small parks, and a white water park are all opportunities to embrace and respect our natural environment.

Another asset is the land that the city owns between the North Branch Nature Center and North Street. We can leverage that ownership by having the local mountain bike chapter build mountain bike trails. That would draw visitors to support our economy and provide a great return on investment for the city.

Ben Eastwood (District Two)

Personal information

I’ve lived in town for seven years and served on the Conservation Commission for several years. I’m a stay-at-home dad, and I’m building a community maker space on Barre Street, called “Make Do.” I’ve been involved as a community organizer on campaigns such as GMO labeling and protecting the Winooski River.

Why are you running?

I think Montpelier is a great city to live in, and I want it to continue to be a great city. I have five kids and I want to work to build a just, inclusive, and sustainable community in which they will want to stay. I want to strengthen our commitment to being a sanctuary city by ensuring everyone feels safe here, regardless of race, gender, or immigration status.

One of the issues near and dear to me is water quality–protecting Berlin Pond, where we get our drinking water, as well as updating our water mains. We also need to update our storm-water system so we don’t contaminate our rivers whenever we have a storm.

As a former EMT who has responded to house fires, I support the policy Anne Watson and Rosie Krueger put forward with Fire Chief Gowans requiring sprinklers for new single-family homes. This could save lives, reduce property damage and increase firefighter safety. I think of bedridden seniors who can’t get out or children who might hide in a closet if an alarm goes off who could be saved by sprinklers. This could also save money on insurance and would allow us to grow without needing to increase the size of our fire department.

How would you address the city’s major problems?

We’ve been cutting funding for social programs while giving huge handouts to businesses without ensuring those investments will pay off for the community. For example, we put over $400,000 into a railroad crossing and other improvements for the distillery without even making sure it would create jobs that pay a living wage. Meanwhile, the city council has tried to cut needed funding to the community fund, which is supposed to fund things like the housing trust and women’s shelter. If these organizations cannot get the funding they need, they must gather an onerous number of signatures to put it on the ballot or they might not be able to continue functioning. Cutting $500 or $1,000 from a small organization won’t make a dent in our budget, but might mean a loss of services people depend on.

How would you strengthen Montpelier’s downtown?

I think one of the things we can do is improve our transportation infrastructure and create more ways for people to get downtown without needing to drive and park

There were some ideas for the Taylor Street project, a public gathering space, a big space for the farmers’ market. This would have brought people downtown. Instead, it’s becoming a big parking lot and some more housing, which isn’t the best use of that land. I’m really excited about the farmers’ market on State Street. That could be good for downtown businesses. And I’d like to make Langdon Street a walking-shopping area. That would draw people downtown and give people the opportunity to start small businesses.

Spending and tax-supported center?

I think a new recreation center could provide families with more opportunities for recreation downtown and could bring people into town. I think affordable housing should be supported. I think we need to make sure our tax money helps build the whole community.

Your reaction to the situation of a gunman at MHS?

As a parent with students who were in the school that day, I’m thankful that no students or bystanders were hurt. It’s a tragedy. That gunman was the son of a beloved teacher who served our community for years. She deserves a transparent accounting of what happened. I’m not looking to armchair quarterback what happened there, but looking ahead, it is clear that we need to build a committee that works with Chief Facos and the City Manager to provide community guidance and oversight and to ensure transparency to restore trust in the police. I believe Chief Facos wants to engage the community and has taken some positive first steps, but we have no community oversight at this point.

Do you see any assets in Montpelier that are not being taken advantage of?

We are a city of rivers and we have no direct access to the water. We have no way to get down to and relate to the river, touch the water, and get our feet wet. There has been talk about a whitewater park, which could provide recreation opportunities and improve the health of the river. I think that’s another way we could draw people to town. Right now our bike path is a path to nowhere. I’d like to see a more comprehensive system of bike and walking trails that connect our neighborhoods to our parks and downtown. I would also like to see at least the top of Sabin’s pasture protected as a park.

Conor Casey (District Two)

Personal information

I moved to town about 13 years ago with my wife. We’ve always found Montpelier to be a magical place. The community has given us so much and I certainly feel a commitment to giving back. I’m currently executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, but I worked with organized labor for over a decade. I started my career working with Senator Ted Kennedy in Boston. That gave me a good sense of what it means to be a public servant.

Why are you running?

I think we’re at a transition point in Montpelier. There are many exciting projects in the pipeline. They need to be implemented in a way that maintains the charm and the character of the city. I think I would an effective councilor in advocating for what I believe in. This past year I’ve taken an interest in volunteering for the Community Justice Center. That sparked a desire to do more.

How would you address the city’s major problems?

First, I’d say that Montpelier is in many ways an oasis. We have a big heart as a community. We take care of each other. That said, we’re not immune from problems facing the rest of the state, such as community members who suffer from addiction. I think we have a lack of affordable housing. I think we need to make investments to give people the opportunities they need to succeed.

How would you strengthen Montpelier’s downtown?

Business leaders are suggesting that Montpelier’s tourism numbers are down. So we need to identify exactly why. Certainly the empty storefronts in towns could be put to good use. And we need to think of ways to revitalize our downtown. I will be the biggest advocate for Montpelier.

Spending and tax-supported fitness center?

I would always consider a request to raise revenues for a good project. But I would do it thoughtfully and with due diligence. For example, I learned today that the police force at some times only has one officer on patrol. Over the past few years they had a decrease from 20 officers to 16. One thing I would look at is maybe adding a couple of officers to the force to ensure public safety.

Your reaction to the situation of a gunman at MHS?

I think our city has a heavy heart about what happened a few weeks ago. From what I saw I believe the officers did everything they could for a peaceful resolution. Nonetheless, it’s tragic whenever a life is lost. It points to the need for better mental health treatment across the state.

Do you see any assets in Montpelier that are not being taken advantage of?

For being the smallest state capital in America, I believe Montpelier can hold its own with any major city: be it restaurants, two movie theaters, a vibrant music scene. This small city has so much to offer. We need to do more to promote what is going on in Montpelier. Montpelier Alive does a very good job. But they may need more resources to help promote our city across the state and region.

Glen Coburn Hutcheson (District Three)

Personal information

I’m an artist and picture framer. I’ve worked full-time at The Drawing Board since 2013. Before that, I worked counter service jobs at the Skinny Pancake and the old Rhapsody Cafe. I moved from Brooklyn to Montpelier nine years ago to join my domestic partner, Kate Stephenson. My major recent project is The Front, Montpelier’s cooperative gallery, which grew out of my studio occupancy of the storefront at 6 Barre Street. The Front offers space to our 16 members to show and sell work, and hosts receptions and talks for the community. We make most decisions by consensus, a style I learned first at Haverford College, which was founded on Quaker principles of community.

Why are you running?

I think that everyone ought to contribute when they can to local democratic government, and I have time and energy to spare. My experience in service jobs and working with the artists of The Front has helped me recognize that I really enjoy listening, talking, and getting projects done, all of which has prepared me to serve on the city council. Democracy works better when more voices are heard, so I want to increase the council’s ongoing interaction with citizens. I’d like to have constant conversations with residents, starting by hosting a weekly coffee-and-talk in downtown cafes, and scheduled, open, walk-and-talk wanders around the city.

How would you address the city’s major problems?

We’re dealing with a lot of society-wide problems: lack of good jobs, permanent expensive war, climate change, and everything else. Some problems specific to us are that we’re a small town with the responsibilities and expectations of a capital city, that we’re frequently flooded, and that we don’t have enough housing, especially for people with fewer resources. I’m in favor of building more affordable housing and making better use of what we have; I want to increase our ability to deal with flooding, and I’d like to explore ways to better share the work of hosting state government.

How would you strengthen Montpelier’s downtown? I’m not sure we’ve caught up to the fact that Montpelier, with its talent and central location, is a food-and-drink destination for people from as far away as Boston and New York. We could do more to encourage and promote our local producers and venues. Also, I’m a dedicated pedestrian, so I’d like us to continue to improve walking access to and from all parts of town. For instance, it’d be nice to have an easier walking connection from National Life to downtown shops and restaurants.

 

I’m not afraid of spending for good projects, but a new fitness center isn’t at the top of my list of priorities. As far as I can tell, the city is doing a good job of maintaining a consistent, high level of services.

Your reaction to the situation of a gunman at MHS?

That was a tragedy. I have a hard time imagining what it’s like to be in the position of a police officer in that situation. I really wish it had ended differently.

Does Montpelier have assets that are not being taken advantage of?

Yes! The rivers are huge assets that we mostly ignore or treat only as liabilities. Even if they’re less used for energy and transport than they were in the past, we could make them a focus for recreation. Also, as I said before, our food producers and venues are underrated. And I know from personal experience that we have a real concentration of artists without enough outlets: when I first opened the 6 Barre Street storefront space to sell my paintings, most of the people coming in were artists looking for a place to show their own work. That led eventually to the formation of The Front, where I’m one of 16 members, and we still have more artists asking to join than wall space to accommodate them.

Craig McDermott (District Three)

Personal information

I am 34 years old and a lifelong resident of Montpelier. I am a parent and an avid participant and contributing member of this great Montpelier community. I have spent nearly my entire life in Montpelier, only leaving to attend college and work for short periods. I plan to live the remainder of my life here and continue to be a participant in local government. I attended schools in Montpelier and went to Lyndon State College, where I served in student government. I am self-employed and have ample free time to serve on city council. I genuinely enjoy attending city council meetings.

My wife and I have been partners for a decade. I have a 7-year-old son and a 9-year-old daughter. I am a Montpelier basketball coach and baseball coach, and I donate a lot of time in officiating Montpelier baseball games.

Why are you running?

I’m running for city council because I have interests in the city’s success and its future. I enjoy serving others and providing assistance, and I am committed to making sure this community is strong and remains healthy. Whether it’s bringing up my two children within this community or building opportunities for middle-class workers to find meaningful employment here, protecting the amazing and tranquil way of life we already have, or ensuring that the history and appearance of our downtown remain pristine into the future, I am motivated and qualified to leave a better Montpelier for the next generation and to inspire others to become active in doing the same.

I want to do more for the people of this city by finding meaningful solutions to common issues, such as affordability and the cost of living. Lowering the burden of citizens’ tax liabilities and controlling the existing tax rate are top priorities. Creating new business growth and tax revenue opportunities is a vital part of the equation when looking for solutions to the cost of living in a wonderful place like Montpelier.

Solving issues that face our transportation infrastructure—the declining quality of our roads and growing downtown traffic congestion—is another major reason why I am inspired to run. There needs to be someone in city council who will be vocal about our needs as a city and unafraid to waive our municipal flag in front of those we depend on at the state house! I will emphatically do so with vigor and pride.

How would you address the city’s major problems?

I wouldn’t necessarily call them problems; they’re challenges. One of them is affordability. What does it cost for people to live and stay above water financially?

One of the factors I’m interested in is the lack of high-quality jobs in the state. We need to grow our middle class, and this will only happen if you have an environment that’s friendly to business, not overly regulated, and incentivized. That goes back to the cost of living and taxes. If you have a thriving business community in your municipality, your taxes will go down because you have more people contributing.

The road crew does a great job at plowing and salting, but we have potholes in many places. I think we could do a better job of addressing the infrastructure issues. Let’s get the state involved in fixing some of those roads. As a city councilor, I would be vocal on some of those issues. Let’s take care of the roads. I think everyone in town can relate to that. We need to be pro-active about fixing some of these things.

How would you strengthen Montpelier’s downtown?

What I’d like to see for downtown is a busy, well-populated, and well-balanced area where people can relax, have fun, and work. Let’s protect that balance that makes Montpelier such a great place to live while we make adjustments to long-term growth in a sustainable manner.

We need to do something about the large numbers of flat empty spaces in our city. There are lots of parking lots in Montpelier. These spaces are already paved. We can build around these spaces, above these spaces, and below them and still park the same amount of cars as long as we use due diligence and devote the time and energy to making sure the vision that has made Montpelier a great place to live remains. That’s an attainable goal.

Spending and tax-supported fitness center?

I would have to speak to my constituents before I know what I’d do with that. My commitment would be to the voters who elected me. I would not put forward any initiative or put my support behind any tax plan without the support of the voters.

Your reaction to the situation of a gunman at MHS?

That was a sad and a very unfortunate situation. I know my 7-year-old went to school where the mother of the deceased taught. We were heartbroken for her loss. The police were there to do a job. They were doing their job. They were just trying to do what was right. It was unfortunate.

Do you see any assets in Montpelier that are not being taken advantage of?

I think we have a fantastic future. There’s a real possibility that Montpelier could be a premier destination for people to come and do business. I think places like Montpelier are going to be more attractive to more folks moving forward. I don’t think Montpelier is being marketed as efficiently as it could be: the community, the beautiful atmosphere, the low crime rate, especially the wonderful public schools, the fantastic teachers in our city’s public schools, our neighborhoods. We could take better advantage of those things. If we did a better job at exploiting our positives and generated an advantageous marketing campaign for our business climate, we would have a fair amount of influx to our population, and our citizens would experience some badly needed tax relief

 

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