Mount and Senecal vie for selectboard in Bristol
BRISTOL — Two seats on the Bristol selectboard will be up for election on Town Meeting Day, March 3.
Incumbent Michelle Perlee is running unopposed to keep her seat for another three-year term, but selectman Peter Coffey, who has served on the board since 2016, has decided not to seek another two-year term.
Two Bristol residents, Bill Mount and Darla Senecal, are running to fill that seat.
An Alabama native, Mount moved to Bristol with his wife, Kristi, after they fell in love with the town in 2007. Mount served in the U.S. Army and National Guard and now works in the insurance industry.
Senecal worked for the Bristol Recreation Department for 17 years, including 10 years as its director. She now works as a regional coordinator for Building Bright Futures, which studies the needs of Vermont’s young children and families.
The Independent spoke with Mount by phone and interviewed Senecal at Bristol Cliffs Cafe. Their statements have been edited for length and clarity.
In 2007 Kristi and I were looking for a place to start our family together and while I was driving on Route 116 I passed the Bristol Prayer Rock, which really brought me back to my roots at home (in Alabama). I went into town, fell in love with the place and told Kristi that I found the place where we’re going to live. She agreed and here we are 13 years later.
I wasn’t born in Bristol but I chose to live here. We’ve built a beautiful home, we’re raising two beautiful children and we’ve become involved in the community.
But I don’t like the fact that it’s incrementally getting more and more expensive to live here.
Being financially minded and having a 10,000-foot view of everything (allows me) to put things in perspective, to make Bristol more affordable but also to place emphasis on things that are important — like new fire trucks — in an efficient way.
This has led me to want to be a part of the board and part of making Bristol stay Bristol but also keep up with the things that need to be done.
One of the tragedies and one of the things that breeds complacent thinking is the struggle against the tail lights — in other words, everybody leaving Bristol to go to work somewhere else, and then coming back to town at the end of the day. There needs to be a way to attract and cement (employer) interest in Bristol without having to spend a tremendous amount of money and place the burden on residents. Bristol needs to find a way to recoup some of the lost livelihood that was here.
I think one of the most pressing issues in Bristol is infrastructure. You see water pipe issues around town, and things like the old fire truck that needs to be replaced.
My history — the way I’ve always looked at things — is that planning for the future is almost always less expensive than reacting to the present. So one solution would be putting together a budgetary program that makes sense. Is it cheaper to buy a new truck? Probably so. Is there a way to set aside monies to begin attacking the waterline issues before they become leaking or ruptured water mains? I don’t have all the answers, of course, but I have an open mind. If someone brings an interesting idea to me I say, “Great, let’s figure out if it works, and how we can pay for it.” I’ve always been able to get very quickly up to speed on issues, and to bring a fresh perspective.
What I’d bring to the board is my compassion for people. I have a very broad spectrum of friends that I care deeply about, and I find it very hard to imagine not getting along with someone or finding common ground with just about anyone.
I’m not trying to change Bristol. I want it keep being the Bristol I fell in love with. But I also want it to be able to keep up with a changing world — staying relevant while maintaining its core and its heart.
Community has always been important to me — in my work at the Rec Department, in my work now. I feel like I’m at my best when I’m able to connect people and resources. It’s what energizes me and keeps me interested.
Last year I graduated from the Snelling Early Childcare Leadership Institute. We talked about how to effect change, about what an advocate looks like and about (the roles of elected representatives).
One workshop (on equity) changed my life.
Equity is not just about race — it’s about opportunities being the same for everyone at the table. It has made me more aware that not everyone around me is working on the same playing field that I am.
I feel like there are voices in our community that aren’t always represented on our board, especially those with young families.
One of the most important parts of my work is that I’m what’s called a “neutral convener.” I sit at a lot of tables (in Addison and Rutland counties) with families or with people who work in childcare. I hear a lot of stories and a lot of information.
The three things that come up time and time again are affordable and available childcare, transportation and affordable housing. I think those things are true of Bristol as well.
When the rent for a two- or three-bedroom apartment is $1,200 — that’s more than a lot of young families are able to swing. What can supporting affordable housing look like?
The problem is not unique to Bristol, but how do we entice families and how do we make it attractive to builders?
We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but we can look to other communities and see what they’ve done to make it work.
The public transit system just added a third route here in Bristol, which is great, but I just wonder about and care for the people living outside the village. If you’re an older person and maybe you don’t drive anymore, or if you’re a young person and you don’t live within the village, walking on 116 isn’t really an option. Is there something we can explore, knowing it’s also an issue across the state?
Bristol’s a great place to live, but how do we let people know that? How do we market ourselves? How do we make it interesting for young families to want to live and work here, knowing that we have a declining student population and a school bond at the high school that struggles to get passed?
I own a home here in town, so I know what the taxes are in Bristol. How do we encourage development projects (to provide more housing and more jobs) without increasing our taxes? How do we find that balance?
It all depends on the lens you look at it from.
I strive to find common ground as often as possible and make space for people to be heard. I don’t have a particular agenda. I’m not looking to come in and change (things).
I just think Bristol is really special, and I want to keep it that way.
The League of Women Voters is hosting a forum where Bristol residents can meet and talk to Mount, Senecal and Perlee.
“Meet the Candidates, a Bristol Selectboard Candidate Forum,” will be held on Friday, Feb. 21, at 7 p.m., at the Bristol Fire Station.
Bristol Justice of the Peace Anne Wallace will moderate.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].
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