Vergennes mayor to step down; Fritz to run

VERGENNES — Vergennes Mayor Renny Perry has decided not to seek another two years in office. That means, barring the filing of another petition by the Monday afternoon deadline, Deputy Mayor Jeff Fritz will almost certainly succeed him in office.
Plus, five of the six city council seats will be up for election on Town Meeting Day.
And it looks likely that former Vergennes mayor Bill Benton will return to the city council, again unless other candidates emerge before Monday’s petition-filing deadline to get on the Town Meeting Day ballot.
Why all the changes? 2018 saw some unusual events in city government. First, Mayor Michael Daniels resigned a year ago, and Council member Perry stepped in as mayor. Then in August Alderman Matt Chabot stepped down to become the Vergennes city manager. As a result, the March Vergennes City Council ballot will probably be the most crowded since the city incorporated in 1788.
Perry noted that multi-term council member Lynn Donnelly is the only one of the incumbents who does not have to run to keep his or her seat.
“That never happens, to have so many council members, including the mayor’s spot, up for re-election,” Perry said.
While Fritz seeks to become mayor, elected incumbents Lowell Bertrand and Mark Koenig and 2018 appointees David Austin (himself a former multi-term incumbent who the council appointed to replace Perry when he moved from the city council to replace Daniels as mayor) and David Small (a newcomer the council tabbed to replace Chabot) will all be on the March ballot.
But Perry will not continue serving Vergennes after a number of years in some public service role. Perry, a Massachusetts native who spent two decades as a city manager and mayor in Maine and New Hampshire, fulfilled a five-year stint as Vergennes City Manager that ended in 2008.
Residents then elected Perry to the city council in 2012, and he was serving as deputy mayor when Daniels resigned in early 2018. Perry said he was contemplating not running for re-election a year ago, but thought it best to step up and take over as mayor.
“I thought it would be better for the community. There would have been too much shuffling around about who’s going to be appointed for what and all of that stuff. And I was deputy mayor, and that’s what I was really supposed to do, fill in if the mayor was not there. And I’d been a mayor before, and obviously a city manager before, and I knew what to do,” Perry said.
Now, he said, it’s time to step aside, although he will keep his leadership position with the Vergennes Partnership.
“My wife and I are going to do a lot of traveling. I just don’t want to have to have the deputy mayor fill in all the time. And I’m retired, and the mayor’s job, and even though compared to the other major’s job that I had is not nearly as busy, but it’s a job. I don’t need a job,” Perry said. “I think I’ve done my service. I can’t remember how many terms I’ve been on the city council, and then finishing off as mayor is good enough.”
Perry said it’s been a good year-plus. He cited several committees the council established during his tenure that will be doing important work:
•  A recreation committee that unlike an earlier similar committee has a more specific charge on advising the council on both maintaining existing facilities and recommending new offerings and facilities.
•  A Basin Task Force that will soon meet to begin its mission to, in Perry’s words, “implement all of the stuff in the Downtown-Basin Master Plan.”
•  A truck safety committee that will work on multiple projects. Those include seeking the long-term truck bypass now being discussed with the Vermont Agency of Transportation, plus other measures that could be put in place before that bypass is a reality. The committee will also lobby VTrans for traffic-calming measures in the planned 2020 paving project of all of Main Street.
Perry supports Fritz and council incumbents in their election bids.
“I do think he would be good for that job. Being deputy mayor and being on the council as long as he has been, and he’s well established in the community, I think he’d be a good mayor,” he said. “I think all the folks on the council now are good for the community and work well together. They should be re-elected.”
Fritz, who will turn 59 a few days before the election, plans to continue some of the work Perry described, especially that of the Truck Traffic Study Committee of which he is the chairman. He said he wants to “keep that issue alive,” and get some things done.
“I’d like to believe that within 10 years we will have a truck route. Until such time we will still have an inordinate number of trucks rumbling down Main Street. So one of the objectives of the Truck Traffic Study Committee is to look at what measures might be taken between now and when that might happen,” said Fritz, who bought a home in Vergennes in 2011 and moved here full-time in 2011. 
Fritz has served for several years as the president of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes board; is currently the secretary of the Addison County Economic Development Corp. board; and is a past Vergennes-Panton Water District Board commissioner, Bixby Library fundraising committee member and chairman of the Northlands Job Corps Community Relations Council. 
In his own words, “I continue to be involved in pretty much every major fundraising event in the city.”
In the private sector Fritz spent about a decade each as a member of a banking acquisition team and an owner of a gift shop in Kirkland, Wash.
While also handling technical issues like creating proper processes for employee reviews that he said are now lacking, Fritz sees handling the truck problem as one of “some radical changes” the city needs and is “poised to make.” Another is dealing with the problematic sewer system, which has an overflow problem of mostly stormwater that is largely due to aging infrastructure.
“We have to study where our sewer problems can be solved. It’s a big problem. It’s a big issue, and it needs to be fixed. And it’s time to look at those things seriously,” Fritz said. “I think we’ve put too many things on the back burner for too long.”
He also believes the existing council is the right group to move the city forward.
“It’s a great group on the council, and I really do enjoy working with them,” Fritz said. “We do not agree all the time, but we sure do know how to compromise, and that is a lesson I wish we could send to Washington.”
Benton, a longtime local real estate appraiser and until last summer the Middlebury town assessor, served as city mayor from 2013 to 2017 after a one-year stint as an alderman. He unseated incumbent mayor April Jin in 2013, and in turn Daniels unseated him in 2017 by a five-vote margin, the closest mayoral election in recent memory.
When it became apparent Perry would not run again, Benton said some residents looked to him. 
“I had people ask me if I wanted to run for mayor again,” Benton said, but he was not prepared to make that level of commitment.
On the other hand, he added, “I always said I would consider running for something.”
Benton, a former Vergennes Partnership president, said he felt refreshed and ready to return to work on the council.
“It was a nice break after a while,” he said.
And with Fritz apparently running unopposed and having established a successful track record in the community, Benton said he would be happy to work with him.
“Jeff Fritz gets stuff done. I think he could bring some energy, and I would like to help him accomplish stuff,” Benton said, adding, “At the very least I could offer some historical perspective.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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