Bristol selectboard chair faces challenge: Laliberte takes on Perlee
BRISTOL — Come Town Meeting Day on March 7, Bristol voters will be looking at a slate of candidates largely unopposed and largely made up of incumbents.
An important exception will be the choice between selectboard Chair Michelle Perlee and first-time candidate Lance Laliberte — both competing for Perlee’s three-year seat on the Bristol selectboard.
Aside from the Perlee-Laliberte race, there are no other contests on the Bristol ballot.
Longtime Selectman John “Peeker” Heffernan is running unopposed for re-election to his two-year seat.
Only two other candidates are new to their respective positions: Brian Fox is running for second constable; and Town Clerk and Treasurer Jen Myers is running for delinquent tax collector.
There are also still four vacant spots for school director positions: two three-year seats on the Mount Abe school board and two one-year seats on the Bristol Elementary board. ANeSU Superintendent Patrick Reen said that these vacant positions would be filled by appointment if no one wins a write-in campaign.
Perlee has been on the selectboard since 2013 and has served as chair for the past year. She is the only woman on the selectboard and the only board member who lives outside the Bristol village.
“I love the Bristol community, the people that live here, and the willingness of the community to work together to make it a special place to live and visit,” said Perlee. “Bristol is a small community with a large heart and really comes together when there is a need.”
Perlee, 51, grew up in Salisbury and came to the Bristol area in 1994. She and her husband have two daughters, one a freshman at Mount Abe, the oldest a Mount Abe graduate who is now a senior at Colby Sawyer College. Perlee attended Champlain College and Woodbury College.
Service is important to Perlee.
“I’ve been volunteering my whole life,” she said. “It’s important to give back to the community. It’s a humbling experience.”
Perlee has volunteered in various capacities around Bristol for over 20 years, she said. Volunteer activities have included, the Three Day Stampede, helping out backstage for the Mount Abe musical, fundraising for the Mount Abe music and athletic programs, and coaching middle school track and cross country. For two decades she volunteered with the Middlebury Volunteer Ambulance Association (now Middlebury Regional Emergency and Medical Services).
For 30 years, Perlee has worked at the Middlebury law firm Langrock, Sperry and Wool as a paralegal, handling corporate, real estate, personal injury and estate work. Since 2004, she has also run her own sports massage and other massage therapies business, Body Sense.
“Being a business owner in a small town, you’re constantly battling competition, marketing, budgets, client base, time management, documentation, communication. It all helps me in my capacity as a selectboard member,” she said.
Lessons learned as a small business owner have been especially important in town budgeting, said Perlee.
“You can’t spend more than you bring in,” she said. “Every year it’s a challenge because everything gets more expensive, everything costs more but you don’t really want that percentage to go up too high because that means it gets passed on to the taxpayers. I’m a taxpayer, too, so I don’t like to see it go up.”
Perlee thinks her communication skills are among the most important strengths she brings to the selectboard:
“Communication skills and even more important skills in listening and having the ability to listen to all sides and get as many of the facts as possible before making a decision.”
For Perlee, being on the selectboard is a way to help keep the town “moving forward but not losing the past.”
Important decisions she’s been a part of while on the selectboard, she said, include building the new fire station, closing the town landfill, completing the South Street Bridge, completing a master plan for the Bristol business park and extending and upgrading the town water system.
Looking ahead, Perlee said the selectboard faces important decisions about the old North Street fire station.
“There’s a lot of history there,” Perlee said.
Most of all, she said, being on the selectboard is a matter of putting your own agenda aside and making the best decision for the town and taxpayers.
“I can tell you I learn something new every meeting,” Perlee said. “The hardest thing for most selectboard members is to realize that you have to put your personal opinions aside when making decisions and learn to make decisions based on what’s best for the town and the taxpayers. You can’t bring an agenda in because it’s not just you. There’s four other members on the board and you have to do what is best for the town.”
A native Vermonter who grew up in East Warren, the 47-year-old Laliberte moved to Bristol with his family in 2005. The Lalibertes have two daughters, ages 10 and 13. The youngest daughter is at Bristol Elementary School, the oldest is home schooled.
“My wife and I moved here from Monkton so we could be in the village near family and friends. We love it here. We want to stay here,” said Laliberte. “Affordability is a little scary, and that’s why I want to participate more and get involved. So I have a better understanding and can provide any help I can to keep this place affordable.”
Laliberte is an electrical engineer who’s worked at UTC Aerospace Systems in Vergennes for the past 16 years. Among the top skills he would bring to the selectboard, said Laliberte, are the kinds of leadership and problem-solving skills he employs in his work for UTC.
“That’s what I do all day is solve complex problems and make sure that we can solve them and meet the objective for the cost that we have been given,” he said. “It’s a really give-and-take type of effort.
Laliberte said that in the highly competitive aerospace industry it’s critical to bring projects in on budget while delivering top value, and he’d like to put these skills to work for Bristol.
“I want to see better value for our tax dollars that we spend,” he said. “I want to see that we get the maximum value out of the money that the town spends on services and the maximum benefit to the taxpayer. I want to see less waste, more performance.
“I feel I can help to get that direction because at UTC I’ve led million-dollar-plus projects, where I was the technical lead responsible for the technical portions of the project and I was also in charge of the cost management of the project, making sure that costs were contained and controlled,” he said. “And I think those skills could really lend to helping out with some of the town’s budgetary concerns.”
Laliberte served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1988 to 1996 and credits that experience with his can-do attitude and work ethic.
“To this day, I think all my accomplishments I’ve ever achieved have a lot to do with the hard work that the Marine Corps taught me, that never give up attitude,” he said. “That’s who I am, who I strive to be.”
Laliberte served in the First Gulf War and is an active member of Bristol’s American Legion Post 19. He’s on the Post 19 color guard and served for a number of years as sergeant-at-arms. Over the past six years, he’s volunteered for the Bristol Three Day Stampede.
Laliberte got his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Norwich University and his M.S. from Mercer University in Macon, Ga. Before returning to Vermont to work for UTC, Laliberte worked for the defense contractor ARINC in Georgia.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected]
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