Addison selectboard race: veteran vs. incumbent

ADDISON — The only contested race on a Town Meeting Day ballot in northwestern Addison County pits a two-term incumbent selectman vs. a former selectman who served two terms in the 1990s.
The incumbent is Peter Briggs, 28, a farmer who joined the board in 2015 and is well known for running credible, if ultimately unsuccessful, races as a Republican candidate for the Vermont Senate and the Addison-3 House district that includes Addison.
His challenger is Alden Harwood, 67, who recently retired from a seven-year stint as the Mount Abraham Unified School District’s facilities director. Harwood also served in the 1990s as Addison’s zoning administrator after he stepped down from the selectboard, and has been an Addison animal control officer and fireman and a county animal cruelty investigator. In that capacity, Harwood said he helped bring the high-profile Panton Lauralee Bushey case to trial.
Harwood also earned attention far beyond the county’s borders in November 1994, when he brought a number of his sheep to the Addison town clerk’s office in an attempt to barter them for his property taxes, an act done to draw attention to tax increases.
Briggs said he has several reasons for wanting to stay on the board.
“One thing is I enjoy it. It’s a good board we’ve got, and I enjoy working hard for the community. I try to keep government running efficiently at the lowest price we can. And it’s one way I can give back,” he said.
Briggs also wants to springboard from the selectboard into higher office.
“I also appreciate the experience it gives me, honing my political skills for more involvement elsewhere,” he said.
That does not mean Briggs would leave his Addison post if voters sent him to a county or state office. 
“I think I’d stay on the board,” he said. “One thing is a lot of people in Montpelier would do well to spend more time in local office, because Montpelier creates a lot of challenges, not only for the residents of Vermont, but for the local towns in trying to meet mandates and find funding.”
Harwood said new blood in town leadership is healthy.
“I think it is a good idea to have fresh eyes in politics from time to time,” he said. “Our system starts at the local level and many people have no idea of the importance of some of the issues addressed.”
Harwood said now that he has stepped away from the Mount Abe district he can devote himself again to helping his hometown.
“I have recently retired and now that I have more time and am back ‘in town’ I would like to again participate in community service,” he said.
Both said they were interested in overseeing the potential restoration of Addison’s former town hall, which sits on Route 22A next to the Addison Community Baptist Church. The town has been working for more than a decade with the church, which owns the building, to create a joint septic system to serve the church, the town hall, and the nearby town fire station, in exchange for the former town hall.
The town could then renovate the building, which is structurally sound but needs wiring, plumbing and heating. Most agree the current town clerk’s office is cramped and lacks adequate meeting space. Both candidates say they have the background in the area to help oversee the project if residents continue to support it.
“I would like to see the renovation of the old town hall move ahead,” Harwood said. “Where the town clerk has to work is ridiculous. This has been a topic for two decades now.”
Briggs said he would like to help out on the effort. 
“If the votes keep going yes towards us restoring the town hall that’s going to be a concern, and that’s one area I think I can bring some expertise,” Briggs said. “Of course new construction takes good management … And so if the town does decide to spend large amounts of money to restore the town hall, it’s going to be important that all of us stay on top of how things are going.”
Both also said they would be mindful of residents’ purse strings. For example, Briggs said he has been the selectboard’s liaison with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns and has consistently opposed a VLCT proposal for a 4-cent increase in the statewide gas and diesel tax to help fund local roads and bridges. He said it would hurt Addison’s many commuters and farmers, and that the state should send more existing funds to towns for those purposes.
“This is more taxation I know Vermonters don’t need,” Briggs said. “One thing they could do is instead of spending so much money on bike paths and salamander crossings, divert that money back to roads and bridges like it’s supposed to be going for.”
Harwood said the selectboard should continue to monitor property taxes, including issues surrounding the school taxes that make up most of property tax bills.
“Yes, I had my moment of fame for bringing my sheep to town hall. I am still working on a sequel to that. School funding and property tax changes are still a priority in my mind,” he said.
Both said they had the necessary hours to devote to the job.
“I also have the time now,” Harwood said. “When I was on the board before I and Meg Barnes were the only two who were self-employed and could break away during the day to deal with issues when they came up. Many of the current board (including Peter) are also in that category at this time.”
Briggs confirmed that assessment.
“My schedule is a little bit more flexible, so I’m the one who ends up going to the League of Cities and Towns policy meetings,” he said. 
Summing up, Briggs said he hoped for a couple of decades on the board, and offered one last reason why residents should pick him.
“I’ll do the best for them I can. That’s the best answer I can give. That’s the one promise I make, that I do my best to work hard for them,” he said. “I take jobs that I do very seriously. I’m slow to commit, because I make sure that when I do commit I can fulfill what I say I’ll do.”
Harwood answered the same question.
“I would say I bring a fair amount of common sense to the table. Also, yes a lifetime of experience. I have lived in Addison since 1991 and know the community pretty well,” he said, adding, “I think the residents should vote for me to have a board member who is fair, honest, impartial and committed to the position.”

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