Newcomer picked for Vergennes City Council

VERGENNES — The Vergennes City Council said goodbye to longtime City Manager Mel Hawley at its Aug. 28 meeting, Hawley’s last as manager, and welcomed a new council member by appointing David Small to replace Alderman Matt Chabot, who the council had hired the week before to replace Hawley. 
Small’s appointment will run through this coming March, when if he wishes to continue on the council he will have to stand for election. 
According to Small’s letter of interest he first came to the area in 2005 as a Middlebury College freshman and has lived on South Maple Street since this past October with his partner, Abby. 
Small, a member of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes board, said he chose Vergennes when he moved back to the area from San Francisco. He now works in sales for Burlington firm “Select Design,” which he described in his letter as “a design, marketing and production agency.”
In his letter he wrote Abby and he “are excited about” Vergennes. 
“We immediately felt the strong sense of community and are excited about being involved in the evolution of the city. We see so much potential for bright futures here and I believe that serving on the city council could be a wonderful way to make an impact,” he said. 
At Tuesday’s meeting Small and fellow candidates Randy Ouellette, a former longtime alderman and deputy mayor, and resident Jill Murray-Killon, who wrote she had a “background as a legal assistant and paralegal, and executive associate and building manager and a trial court clerk,” each stated their cases. 
Ouellette, a 30-year resident of Vergennes, emphasized he could “hit the ground running” because of his extensive experience on the council. He also repeatedly talked about controlling spending and carefully budgeting.
“There is a difference between wants and needs,” he said, offering as an example, “The streets are rough, but we live with it until we can afford to deal with it.”
When Alderman David Austin asked all three candidates their visions for the future, Ouellette said he wanted to “make sure that all residents can live in this community … We can’t afford to let things get out of control.”
Murray-Killon, who has lived in Vergennes for 15 years, said she has “enjoyed seeing the city blossom … It would be interesting to be part of the decision-making by the council and having a hand in running the city.”
In responding to Austin, she answered, “I would hope the city would continue on the trajectory it’s been on lately,” citing attracting more businesses and young families and keeping it a safe community.
In answering Austin, Small said as more of a newcomer he could offer a “fresh perspective” on the city, including on the ways to make Vergennes attractive to young families and “work-remote folks,” a more friendly haven to pedestrians and cyclists, and “a place where you can work, live and play, all within the city limits.”
Council members discussed their decision behind closed doors, and then in open session voted for Small. Mayor Renny Perry said they were all good candidates and then explained the choice. 
“We liked his presentation at the council meeting and thought he was enthusiastic about his vision for the future of Vergennes,” Perry wrote.
Chabot’s hire and the resulting appointment, and the February resignation of former mayor Michael Daniels, which resulted in Austin’s appointment, will create a crowded ballot this coming March. 
Normally only three or possibly four council terms a year end, but Perry was also elevated to mayor to replace Daniels, while the terms of Aldermen Jeff Fritz, Mark Koenig and Lowell Bertrand are coming to their normal two-year end. 
According to City Clerk Joan Devine, Alderwoman Lynn Donnelly is the only council member who will not be up for election in March. 
During the meeting council members again thanked Hawley for his service, both verbally and by agreeing to compensate him for the roughly $3,400 of pension money he lost by agreeing to work on a part-time basis during the month of August. By doing so he allowed the city to avoid a costly search for an interim manager.
During that month Hawley was compensated by collecting unpaid vacation time, money he arguably would have received in any case. On this past Tuesday he asked that the city continue to pay for his wife’s health insurance through the end of 2018 at a cost of about $3,000, and the council agreed. 
The council also formally appointed Chabot to take over two of Hawley’s roles, that of delinquent tax collector and tree warden. Then Perry heaped praise on Hawley, who can probably be found as much at Basin Harbor as at home during the rest of this fall.
Perry told Hawley it was hard to imagine anyone “coming close to what you have accomplished.”
“We will miss working with you, and we relied on you,” Perry said. “We hope Matt can pick up on that great record and strong management that you have done for the city.”
Perry also told Hawley he was “welcome to sit out there” in the audience any time.
“And I probably won’t be there,” Hawley said, before thanking council members for the gift certificate they gave him on July 24.
“You reached into your pockets for that gift certificate to Basin Harbor,” he said. “I really appreciate that.”

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