Four candidates for city council make their cases
VERGENNES — On March 3 Vergennes residents will choose among four candidates for three two-year terms on the Vergennes City Council.
Two are veteran councilors, Deputy Mayor Lynn Jackson Donnelly and Alderman David Austin, and their challengers, both with civic experience, are Tara Brooks and Rebecca Rey. All have had or do have children in Vergennes schools.
Jackson Donnelly, a longtime city real estate broker and Vergennes native, will be seeking her fourth full term on the council. She served 12 years on the Vergennes Union High School board and was active in the restoration of the Vergennes Opera House and a partner in the renovation of the downtown Basin Block. She drives for Meals on Wheels, is a founding member of Women of Wisdom, which operates the Sweet Charity resale shop, and is a three-decade member of the Vergennes Rotary,
Austin, a Vergennes native, returned to the board as an appointee in 2018 after serving on the council from 2004-2012. He has operated a downtown business, renovated two commercial buildings on Main Street, worked as a managing partner of The Otter Creek Investment Fund and a management consultant, and now works with a private real estate investment group. He chaired the city’s planning commission, and is now on the Addison County Economic Development Corporation board.
Brooks grew up in Starksboro and has lived in Vergennes for a number of years. She has worked for several years directing the Addison Northwest School District afterschool and summer learning programs. She is a former city recreation coordinator, Vergennes Partnership director, and Vergennes Union Elementary School Board chairperson. She is now the president of the Commodore Friends of Music and the Vergennes Swim Team.
Rey said she was raised on a small Addison County farm. She is a home and interior designer and for 13 years has run a one-person residential firm. Rey has served on the city planning commission and Transportation Task Force, and the VUES Community Group, and organizes the Eat on the Green event. She attributes her desire to perform community service to her mother’s volunteerism, and to the way neighbors rallied around her family after a fire during the holiday season.
As well as a request for biographical and civic-service, information, the candidates were asked three questions via email. Their responses were:
1. Why did you decide to run, or run again for the council?
AUSTIN: Vergennes is a really special place. I have deep roots here, and I was raised to understand that if you have the time and talent, you have a responsibility to give back to the place that you call home. For me, Vergennes is and always will be that place. I am proud of my past accomplishments while serving this city.
There are new challenges Vergennes will be facing in the coming years. I believe that my success in the private sector combined with my experience in municipal government puts me in a very good position to meet those challenges.
BROOKS: Ever since taking a course at Mount Abe taught by former Vergennes council member Greg Clark, I have been drawn to serving my community through civic leadership. Greg made it clear that we all have a responsibility to be active participants in our communities.
When I would see Greg around Vergennes as an adult, he would often encourage me to run for office despite our differences of opinion and political affiliation. I would often joke with him that if I ever ran it would be against him. I decided to run in part to fulfill a promise I made to him. I am also running because I feel like I have something to offer the residents of Vergennes.
REY: Running for city council was a decision that evolved from a recognition of the need to move our little city forward. I kept having these conversations with community members about the potential I saw, and realized I had a responsibility to try to do something with all of my enthusiasm.
I have always felt that we, Vergennes, have so many advantages as a city, we have natural resources, we are small enough to be nimble with our decisions, and we have an exceptional collection of humans that always rise to the challenge. I look forward to our little city’s evolution and being a part of it.
JACKSON DONNELLY: I have been blessed with a successful business in real estate. In my profession, I can see the pros and cons of living in different locations and I am always glad that I can come home and appreciate all that we have here.
I know Vergennes well and one must remember Vergennes as it was and respect its history and learn from it before you can move forward. There was a time when vacancies on Main Street included ratty couches and thrown out furniture littering our downtown. Petty crime was everywhere, there were police shooting, policemen using drugs and possibly worse, transients slept in the doorways of the business district. We did not ask taxpayers to bear the burden of this, private citizens rallied and decided to change our community so we could raise our children without fear. It happened, not in a year but methodically over years of hard work.
2. Are there particular issues or concerns you would like to address or focus on in office?
BROOKS: My number one priority for the city is infrastructure. I would like the council to address a permanent fix to the city’s stormwater overflow issues. The city of Vergennes should not be putting any untreated water into Otter Creek.
I would also like to see long-term maintenance plans developed for the city pool and Veteran’s Park. I do not want to see Vergennes in a position like Winooski or Rutland where their pools were closed for 2-3 years due to deferred maintenance. The city pool is an invaluable resource that many of our families rely on during the summer months. Sidewalks are also an issue around Vergennes. I would like the city to make a strong investment in infrastructure improvements.
I am also in support of the direction the recreation committee is taking. I am excited that the city will once again have a recreation coordinator. I would like to see this position continue to grow. We have a lot to offer in terms of recreation in Vergennes and I am excited about what the future will bring for Vergennes.
REY: I tend to focus on the potential of any person, place or thing I’m in front of, and being on the city council would be no different. I’ll want to address potential growth from a holistic perspective. I’d also like to see if we can create a Junior City Council. It’s important to me that our children feel like this city is theirs, too, for their personal growth, and also for the city. If they feel like this is their city, their potential for returning after trade school or college will be higher. They are the future of our city, and they should know it. This would be one small way to contribute to that.
JACKSON DONNELLY: I believe we have some of the best city employees any city or town could ask for, from our beloved fire department, a city crew that is second to none, sewer plant operators that face extremely challenging issues with today’s environmental demands, and a police department that is an example of excellence in the state.
There has been a divided council about the cost of running the police department, but it is from council members who do not know Vergennes’ past. I commend those Vergennes citizens that voted for a new police station understanding the future growth and vitality demands on the safety of its citizens will bring new families to our wonderful city and keep an eye out for the vulnerable.
There are ways to contain the budgets of all departments and remain fiscally responsible for us now and our children in the future. With the wisdom of our new city manager and a council that works together, I truly believe this is all possible.
AUSTIN: We need to adequately provide for the needs of the city. But we cannot continue to ask residential taxpayers to tolerate double-digit tax increases. Vergennes is an economically diverse community. And it troubles me that some of our residents, particularly those who are retired and living on fixed incomes, are finding it difficult to continue to afford to live here … We also need to ensure that growth and development here is in the best interests of the city, financially and otherwise. We have a limited amount of land area left to develop, and that development should be guided to achieve maximum economic benefit, while maintaining the character of the city … I am chairman of the Otter Creek Basin Task Force, and we have an aggressive agenda to enhance and maintain the vitality of that area … I will continue to support our Recreation Committee, who are working to make Vergennes an even better place to live, work, and play. I am committed to finding and pursuing an economically viable solution to the problem of storm water/sewage overflows … I am proud of our city department heads, their staffs, and the work that they do for us. I will continue to see that they are treated fairly and with the respect that they all deserve.
3. Why should residents vote for you?
REY: We have a lot that needs our attention in Vergennes. I would address it all with the objective perspective of what will serve us all best, long-term and with the “triple bottom line” mentality. In my field of work, I often have to set aside my own preferences to focus on what’s best for the clients’ home, and how their home impacts their neighbors. That practice of removing personal preferences and ego from my decision-making is an approach that I bring into this bid for office.
I will not force my preconceived ideas on the city, I will be an ear first and a voice second. My motives are for the wellbeing of all of us, because we are all intrinsically tied together, and my approach to everything reflects this core value. I will be looking for the civil discourse that will leave us all wiser and with a strong direction to move our city in, together.
JACKSON DONNELLY: I am not looking for a city made of gold but a city that can hold its head high and be proud of who we are, and make a city where our children will choose to make Vergennes their home as I did. I ask for your vote as your representative to the city council in the Smallest City with the Biggest Heart.
AUSTIN: I care deeply about this city. In all the decisions that I have been and will be faced with as a city councilor, it has and always will come down to one simple question: Is this good for Vergennes and those of us who live here? I am proud that through even the most difficult issues we have faced here, I have always been an advocate for what is right for us.
I have always assumed a leadership role on the council, particularly when confronted with difficult situations. My work is not done here, and I am ready to meet whatever new challenges we may face.
BROOKS: I have spent my entire adult life living and working in Vergennes. I am committed to the Vergennes community and want to ensure that it remains vibrant, welcoming and affordable for all. I have experience serving on a diverse board and working collaboratively to come up with creative solutions to issues.
I have a deep understanding of a variety of aspects of the Vergennes community, having worked with city government, the Vergennes business community, and the ANWSD. I understand that in order to effectively serve you have to be willing to listen, you must be honest and transparent, and you must be willing to make hard decisions.
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