City council candidates to share their views

VERGENNES — Vergennes American Legion Post 14 will host a Thursday evening forum for the half-dozen candidates seeking three seats on the city council in what is the most crowded race since 2007.
The forum, to be moderated by local insurance agent Michael Donnelly, will begin at 7:30 p.m.
Challengers William Benton, Renny Perry and Nelson Sears are seeking slots on the council now held by multi-term incumbent Aldermen David Austin, Lowell Bertrand and Clara “Ziggy” Comeau.
The race for the council is only the third time voters will have a choice in an aldermen’s race on Town Meeting Day in the past seven years. There were no contests for the city council in 2005, 2006, and in any of the past three Marches.
In 2008, Austin, Bertrand and Comeau were elected in a four-way contest.
In 2007, Michael Daniels, then an incumbent alderman, successfully challenged incumbent mayor April Jin for her job, and five council candidates vied for three council seats: The winners were Diane Lanpher, now one of the city’s two representatives in the Vermont House; Randy Ouellette, now the deputy mayor; and Christine Collette, who decided not to run for re-election a year ago.
The 2007 council ballot was the most crowded in recent memory, and Post 14 also hosted a candidates forum prior to that election.
By late last week, Benton, Perry, Sears, Bertrand and Comeau said they planned to attend the forum. Austin did not respond before Friday’s deadline for this article to requests to confirm whether he planned to participate.
Austin, a downtown business and property owner, first won election to the city council in 2004. He is also a former member of the city’s planning and zoning boards.
Benton is a real estate appraiser, the Middlebury town assessor, and a downtown Vergennes property owner. Born and raised in Vergennes, he lived in Waltham for a number of years before moving back several years ago to Vergennes. 
As well as the Vergennes Partnership, he has served or is serving on the Addison County Regional Planning Commission; the Vergennes Board of Listers; the Bixby Library board, which he served as chairman; the Friends of the Vergennes Opera House; Boys and Girls Club of Greater Vergennes board; and the Vergennes Union High School Community Resource Council.
Bertrand won election to the council in 2008 as a political newcomer; he acknowledged a limited civic background before running for a seat and winning re-election.
A Goodrich Aerospace employee, Bertrand works in what the company calls “configuration management,” which he described as making “sure we follow proper procedures when we release drawings … and documents to clients.” 
Comeau, a real estate broker and downtown property owner, was first appointed to the city council in 2005 after unsuccessfully running for a seat. Since then, Comeau, who also spent a half-dozen years on the city’s planning and zoning boards, has won three races to retain her office.
Perry, a Massachusetts native and former resident of Maine and New Hampshire, served a half-dozen-year tenure as the Vergennes city manager that ended in 2008. He left that post to become Vermont’s director of trial court operations, a job he still holds.
Perry also worked as the city manager in Dover and Rochester, N.H., and Brewer, Maine, in all gaining 20 years of experience as a city manager, including his Vergennes stint. He also served on the city council in Dover and the town council in Hooksett, N.H., and was elected to one term as the mayor of Dover, a city of about 30,000.
Sears is a fifth-generation Vermonter and 1975 Vergennes Union High School graduate who has lived and worked in Miami, Chicago and Costa Rica, with jobs including adult education teacher, actor, substance abuse counselor, and public relations, marketing and community outreach professional.
He said he currently has three missions: caring for his elderly mother; serving as the office manager at the University of Vermont’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Advocate Center; and taking graduate classes in Higher Education Leadership at UVM. Sears belongs to the UVM President’s Staff Council.
Vergennes voters on Town Meeting Day will also choose a Vergennes Union Elementary School director: Susan Ferland is challenging incumbent Cheryl Brinkman.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].   

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