Five veterans seek three city council seats

VERGENNES — Vergennes voters on March 4 will choose from a field of five experienced candidates for three two-year terms on the city council.
They include two elected incumbents, one of whom has served a decade on the board and the other who is the former city manager; an appointed incumbent who is a former Panton selectwoman; a challenger who is a former alderman and city mayor; and a candidate who is a former alderman and current member of the Vergennes Development Review Board.
They are, alphabetically:
• Ziggy Comeau, a real estate broker who was first appointed to the board in 2005 and has won re-election ever since. She has also served on the city’s zoning board.
• Michael Daniels, a longtime Vergennes Fire Department member and a recently retired state employee. He served several years on the city council this past decade before stepping down, and then returned to politics to serve six years as Vergennes mayor, from 2007 to 2013.
• Lynn Donnelly, a real estate broker and former Panton selectwoman who is active in the Vergennes Rotary Club and St. Peter’s Catholic Church. She was appointed to the city council in April to fill a vacancy created when Mayor Bill Benton, then on the council, was elected mayor this past March.
• Peter Garon, who is the Northlands Job Corps’ human resources manager, a Vergennes Area Rescue Squad and city DRB member, and a former member of the Milton school and St. Albans zoning boards. Garon was elected to the council in 2011 on his third try, but failed to win re-election this past March.
• Renny Perry, who served a half-dozen years as the Vergennes city manager this past decade, has served as city manager in two other states, was elected as an alderman and mayor of Dover, N.H., and recently became the vice president of the Vergennes Partnership. Currently a special assistant to the Vermont court administrator, he plans to retire in August. He was elected to the council in 2012.
They were each asked asked why they chose to run, if they had any specific concerns or issues they would like to address if elected, and why Vergennes residents should vote for them.
Daniels said his recent retirement made his decision to return to city politics easier.
“I just feel like I have some more time to run for the council,” he said, adding, “I just miss the council and want to get back on it.”
Donnelly said she planned to run again when she put her name up to be appointed this past spring. She said she believes Vergennes and its council are both thriving, and she wants to do her part to maintain that status quo.
“I actually think the city is doing very well,” Donnelly said. “I just want to be on a board that continues to put the city first.”
Garon said he enjoyed his two years on the council, and that other residents urged him to consider another run.
“After the last election I had a lot of people come up to me,” he said. “They encouraged me to think about getting back on the board.”
Perry talked mostly of things left undone after his first two years on the council, including using his position with the Vergennes Partnership to form a committee to lure new firms and support existing city businesses.
“I guess it’s because of unfinished business. You always have the feeling of things you need to get to,” he said.
Comeau said her supporters have continued to urge her to stay on the council, and she would like to see some things through to completion, including making sure the proposed Vermont Gas Co. pipeline will serve all residents. And she said she wants to protect the economic interests of those who are less well off.
“These are hard times, especially for the seniors, and I want to make sure there is representation for them,” she said.
Daniels said things in the city are running smoothly, although he, like other candidates, has been concerned that the Addison County Chamber of Commerce reportedly plans to reduce the hours of Marguerite Senecal. Many in Vergennes believe Senecal’s work on Vergennes Day and French Heritage Day has been essential, and Daniels said he has some ideas about how to proceed.  
Daniels also said he would be mindful of spending and hopes residents would continue to find him approachable. But mostly he seeks to offer input on whatever issues arise.
“I want to get back involved with the city,” he said. “I feel you have more of a voice as a council member than as a citizen.”
 Donnelly is also concerned about Senecal and said she is working on that issue, and also wants to support the city’s downtown and its businesses. Even small items can make a difference in the city’s image, thus helping the city’s prosperity, she said.
“It’s important to keep that image and all the great things that Vergennes is doing at the forefront, and I hopefully can continue to do that on the board,” Donnelly said.   
Garon said he is concerned about the tax rate, but won’t recommend slashing it at the expense of valuable services. He emphasized that he brings an approach that allows him to be a valuable member of the council. For example, he said he opposed the initial, more expensive version of the new police station after doing extensive research, the same tactic he says he uses to inform himself on all issues.
“People should consider the way I’ve demonstrated I work,” he said. “It was the whole process of asking questions all the way around.”
Perry said the Vergennes Partnership and the city might be able to partner, if necessary, to handle some of the tasks that have been Senecal’s responsibility; as the chairman of the council’s police station committee, he would like to oversee that project’s completion; and he would like to use his expertise to continue working on an ongoing update of city ordinances.
As well as continuing to focus on economic growth, which he said would help stabilize taxes, Perry also wants to ensure funding for the partnership, an organization that is necessary if the city and downtown businesses and property owners are to remain eligible for federal grants.
“I want to see that we can create some sort of sustained funding for the partnership because it needs to continue to exist,” he said.
Comeau cited ongoing talks with Vermont Gas. She wants the company to live up to its promise to deliver its product to all city residents, which a seat on the council would let her do.
In general, Comeau believes the council has performed well, and the status quo would help the council deal with issues as they arise.
“We have a good mayor and good people, and we seem to run smoothly,” she said. “It’s not like we’ve agreed about everything, but we have a good combination. It’s been a good group to work with.”
Donnelly said she is ready to deal with what faces the city head-on.
“When there is an issue in town, I do like to take it under my arm, so to speak, and go forward with it,” she said. “I don’t mind taking on issues.”
Donnelly said residents feel comfortable approaching her.
“I was born here. I went to school here. I’ve served here. I think I know most of the local community. I think I have a real pulse on what the people of the community are concerned with,” she said.
Garon pointed to his extensive background of service in several Vermont communities, which he said is useful in Vergennes. He also cited his willingness to become informed and to serve.
“I want to be a considered voice in what’s going on in the city,” he said. “Wherever I’ve lived for any period of time I’ve served one way or another.”
Perry wants to continue to use his decades of municipal experience for the betterment of Vergennes, especially now that he will retire in August and be able to devote more time to serving the city.
 “I’ve got more than 20 years of city manager experience. Almost six years of that is with Vergennes itself. As a former city manager I really closely know how Vergennes operates and what it needs,” Perry said. “I’ve also been an elected officer in other places, so I know what elected officers ought to be doing.”
Comeau pointed to her nearly 10 years of service on the council, and said the current board is the right group to lead Vergennes into the future.
“Vergennes is changing. It’s not like it was 10 years ago. Again, being on the board right now, I see where rules need to be updated, and I can also see where things need to be left alone,” Comeau said. “We learn by experience.”
Daniels also cited his background.
“I think I did a fair job as mayor,” he said. “I just feel I can do a great job as a council person.” 
Daniels also made a plea for residents to come to the fire station on March 4.
“Use your right and get out and vote,” he said. “You don’t have to do it for me, but I’d like to see people get involved in the city.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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