Expanded selectboard draws new candidates in Starksboro
STARKSBORO — Residents of Starksboro voted last December to expand the town’s three-person selectboard to a five-person board.
With one existing selectboard seat coming up for re-election, the expansion means there will be three selectboard seats on the Town Meeting Day ballot. As March 7 nears, voters face choices in two of those three positions.
Koran Cousino and Jeff Dunham are competing for a new one-year seat. Dan Baker and current Selectman Peter Marsh are running against each other for a new two-year seat. (Eventually both of these new seats will be for two-year terms.)
Newcomer Keegan Tierney is running unopposed for the three-year seat currently held by Marsh.
All other candidates for Starksboro town offices are running unopposed.
Starksboro’s town meeting will take place on Saturday, March 4, starting at 9 a.m. at Robinson Elementary School. Voting by Australian ballot in will take place on Town Meeting Day, March 7, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., also at the school.
Dan Baker, 55, came to Vermont in 1986 and to Starksboro in 1987. Since 1998 he’s been teaching at the University of Vermont and is now an associate professor in community development and applied economics. In earlier parts of his life he was a river guide, crop advisor and a licensed Coast Guard captain.
“What drew me here was kind of a combination of Vermont’s culture and Vermont’s environment,” said Baker, who came to Vermont from West Virginia. “I love it here. I love the history and the culture of direct democracy.”
Baker said he had been drawn to Starksboro because of “its rural character. I like to be out in the woods. I like to be out in the forest. I’m a sugarmaker, so sugaring has always been a huge part of my life.”
A large part of Baker’s motivation to run for selectboard comes from a desire to make participation in town government and town affairs more inclusive.
“I think Starksboro could do a lot more to share information about town government and about what’s going on, what’s important, and how people can be more involved,” he said. “What I hear around the town is people don’t know what the boards are doing, the information that’s put out there — this is my perspective — is fairly dry. And we’re not using a lot of the tools that are available to us. We’re not using online graphics, we’re not using our town website as fully as we could, we’re not sharing maps.
“So when you ask people to come out to meetings and no one shows up, I think it’s because people don’t understand why they should show up,” Baker said. “I really want to work on that. I really want for us in Starksboro to be more innovative and creative in how we engage people.”
Baker served on the Starksboro Planning Commission (1992-2010) and Development Review Board (1993-2010). Other public service includes acting as one of Starksboro’s representatives on the Addison County Regional Planning Commission.
“I’ve got 30 years in town and involvement in town government, and I think I bring a perspective right now that would add a little diversity to our selectboard,” said Baker.
Incumbent Peter Marsh, 71, has been on the Starksboro selectboard for over 18 years.
“I appreciate that Starksboro provides a caring community, a good school, and an environment where we can all range freely through the woods and hills,” said Marsh.
Marsh grew up in Arlington and came to Starksboro in the late 1970s, where he and his wife raised their daughter, Hannah. Before retirement (he describes himself as “mostly retired at present”), Marsh worked as a woodworker and contractor, including being the director of buildings and grounds at the Shelburne Museum. Marsh has participated in the Robinson Elementary School mentor program for the past five years.
Selectboard accomplishments that Marsh is particularly proud of include helping to facilitate the Addison County Community Trust’s purchase of three mobile home parks to create more affordable housing in Starksboro, partnering with other townwide organizers in the acquisition of a former farm that is now the site of the new town garage (completed last May), fire station, town gravel pit and recreation field; purchasing solar power arrays that now provide electricity for town-owned buildings; and making town buildings more energy efficient.
Marsh believes that a key skill he has brought to the selectboard is working to find meaningful compromise.
“We generally work by consensus and have had relatively few non-unanimous votes because we try to work out an arrangement that seems to be agreeable to everybody involved,” Marsh said.
Marsh also said that he feels his experience will be useful as the selectboard expands to a larger body with new members.
“I am running again in hopes that my experience on the board will help provide continuity and consistency as the board transitions to five members. There are also initiatives that the board is working on or planning that I would like to follow through with, including possible reclassification of some class IV roads, adopting a policy for maintenance and oversight of class III and IV roads, creating a capital maintenance plan for all town buildings and properties, and improving communications among town entities and with the citizens of Starksboro.”
Koran Cousino, 37, grew up in Starksboro and studied at UVM, where she obtained an undergraduate degree in animal science. Her three children all attend Robinson Elementary School. Cousino works at Hillside Precision, a business co-owned by her husband and his business partner.
“The reason I’m running for selectboard is because I’ve always had a desire to serve my community,” Cousino said, noting that she was encouraged by the town’s recent vote to expand the selectboard to five members.
Cousino has served on the board of the Starksboro Cooperative Preschool for the past six years. She also currently serves on the Starksboro Sports Program committee. Additionally Cousino volunteers at Robinson Elementary “as much as possible,” with the Four Winds Natures Institute and with the Friends of Robinson parent group.
She is the JV-B girls’ basketball coach at Mount Abraham Union High School.
“My family has taught me the value of serving my community, as they have done for over 50 years before me. Having lived here my whole life, my strengths come from a deep connection and love for this town,” Cousino said. “I would look forward to the opportunity to serve on the selectboard.”
Architect and sugarmaker Jeff Dunham, 67, grew up in Brattleboro, graduated from Middlebury College with a degree in art, and returned to Addison County and settled in Starksboro after getting his architecture degree from Syracuse University in the mid-1970s.
“Starksboro’s a beautiful place, and I really like the people,” Dunham said.
Together with his wife and two grown children, who live nearby, Dunham operates Dunham Family Maple, a business founded in 1977 that taps around 3,500 trees.
Dunham said the recent expansion of the selectboard is one of the reasons he’s running.
“I’m offering to do my public service,” said Dunham. “It had been a number of years since I had put in any civic service, public service, and it seemed like I could maybe do a little more.”
Dunham served for many years on both the planning commission and the development review board. He’s also volunteered with the nonprofit Cochrane Ski Area in Richmond, whose mission is to provide affordable skiing and ski training to all children. Among other things, Dunham helped the ski area design and install a snowmaking system and helped out with designing the lighting that’s allowed Cochrane to extend its evening hours and accommodate more school groups.
Dunham said it’s great that so many people are running for the Starksboro selectboard.
“I think they’d all be good choices,” he said. “I’ll be perfectly happy whoever wins.”
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected].
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