Two vie for Ferrisburgh board
FERRISBURGH — Although races for town offices are few and far between in Addison County’s northwestern quadrant, Ferrisburgh voters have a choice between two candidates for the town selectboard: incumbent Bob Jenkins and challenger Kurt Plank.
Jenkins, originally appointed to the board to fill a vacancy, is running for election for the second time. Plank is seeking office for the first time.
Jenkins, a 66-year-old contracting consultant, has lived in Ferrisburgh for 44 years. He has spent 40 of those years as a member of the Ferrisburgh Volunteer Fire Department, 18 as its chief.
Plank, 52, has lived in Ferrisburgh since 1993 and lived in Charlotte for 10 years prior to that. He worked as a carpenter and contractor for 30 years before founding North Station Mill Work on Old Hollow Road, which produces custom hardwood moldings and flooring.
Plank is a former board member of the Rokeby Museum and the Charlotte Children’s Center, and a member of Friends of Ferrisburgh for Responsible Growth, which has been involved in town zoning and planning issues, notably in opposing the proposed Champlain Oil Co. (COCO) Route 7 gas station, convenience store and fast-food eatery.
Both candidates emphasized their communication skills as a major qualification for office.
“I know all the people in this town,” Jenkins said. “I moved here 44 years ago … They know they can talk to me.”
Plank said he was in Charlotte when that town faced some of the same issues that have potential to divide Ferrisburgh now, including development pressure from Chittenden County and an influx of newcomers. He believes selectmen have not always listened carefully enough to all residents’ concerns, something he pledged to do.
“I think because of my past experience in Charlotte, and my ability to talk to people and listen to their responses, that I can help the community to work together even though they may feel divided,” Plank said.
“We all live in this community out of choice, heritage or both. And I feel that the present selectboard right now has in some matters been acting in an entrenched manner, and we need members of the board that are open to … looking at what Ferrisburgh can be in the future … Ferrisburgh can be a community where everyone can feel proud of where they live and know they have leadership that will listen to diverse ideas and constituents.”
For an example of not truly welcoming public feedback, Plank cited a time that he represented the Friends and sought town funds to survey Route 7 residents about their opinions on highway zoning, the results of which the group planned to give to the planning commission during its zoning re-write. He said selectmen made a too-quick decision that private mailings should not be sent out on town letterhead, and did not understand the public purpose.
“I feel the selectboard needs to be open-minded and work with many of the community members and understand what their interests and goals are for this community,” he said.
But Jenkins said he believes he has always heard selectboard visitors out during what he sees as overall not that complicated a task.
“We’re not big government,” Jenkins said. “It’s a small town. It’s not a big deal. You listen to everybody, and then you make a decision. For the most part, if you think things through and give yourself time, things usually come out all right.”
Plank said his Friends membership and opposition to the COCO plan does not mean he is anti-business. He would just as soon not drive to Vergennes or Shelburne for hardware and would like to see Ferrisburgh develop a commercial center — with appropriate zoning.
“It doesn’t mean I want to see everything in this town shut down. It means I want to see our zoning properly interpreted and enforced,” he said.
Jenkins said simply he has no concrete plans for another term other than to work for the general good.
“I don’t have an agenda at all. I’m here to make the town better if I can,” he said.
Plank acknowledged that he does not typically take “neutral positions” on issues, but said he would listen to residents and represent their interests.
“I am certainly willing to hear both sides of everything,” he said. “And if elected as a selectman, I would take that responsibility seriously.”
Jenkins said his decision to seek another two years on the selectboard came down to his desire to keep serving.
“I’ve always been community-minded,” he said. “I’ve always given to the community. I’ve always liked being able to help.”
Reporter Andy Kirkaldy is at [email protected].