Five vie for three city council seats

THE FIVE CANDIDATES for Vergennes City Council.

VERGENNES — Vergennes residents are seeing another crowded ballot for the city council, with three incumbents facing two challengers for two-year terms. The top three vote-getters in the five-way race will win seats.
Former councilor Matt Chabot is alone on the ballot in the mayoral race.
The incumbents in the council race are multi-term Councilor Lowell Bertrand and two who joined the panel after winning in September special elections: former city manager Mel Hawley, now the deputy mayor, and restaurateur Ian Huizenga.
Challenging for seats are civil engineer Raymond Paul, who ran unsuccessfully in September, and former Addison Northwest School Board Chair Susan Rakowski.
All five were asked to supply brief bios and answers to the questions of why they chose to run, about what issues they felt most strongly, and why residents should pick them.
Huizenga did not respond before deadline, and the Independent used the answers he supplied in September and in January, immediately after he threw his hat back in the ring.
BIO & EXPERIENCERAKOWSKI: “A 20-year resident of Vergennes, I previously served on the boards of Evergreen Preschool, the Vergennes Swim Team, and the Vergennes Elementary School Community Group and am now treasurer for the Commodore Friends of Music. From 2014-2020, I served as a Vergennes representative to the school board, and I chaired the board from 2017-2020.
I was on the swim team board when the future of the aging swimming pool facility was in jeopardy. I teamed up with other community members to advocate for city investment and improved maintenance so that the pool could remain a central component of our city’s recreation offerings.
As a licensed speech-language pathologist, I have worked with children and families throughout Addison County for 22 years. My work allows me the privilege of engaging with diverse families and learning their perspectives about life in our county.”BERTRAND: “(I am a) lifelong Vermonter, moved to Vergennes when I was 3. I have worked at Simmonds Precision Products Inc. for what will be 34 years this June.
I have been married to my wife Sherri for 18 years, and we have a 17-year-old daughter Sierra.”HAWLEY: “(I was appointed) to the planning commission and zoning board in 1976 shortly after graduating from UVM. The council appointed me as city clerk/treasurer in 1977. I continued in that capacity until being appointed city manager in 1981. After 17 years as city manager, I went to work for Country Home Products as facilities manager and special projects manager before returning as city manager in 2008. I retired in August 2018 … During my years as city manager, I served as zoning administrator, planning commission clerk, delinquent tax collector, health officer, tree warden and represented Vergennes on the Addison County Regional Planning Commission and Transportation Advisory Committee and the Addison County Solid Waste District Board.”HUIZENGA: “I have lived in Vergennes for 11 years and in Addison County on and off for 35. I opened Bar Antidote in Vergennes in 2009 and expanded the business and opened Hired Hand Brewing Co. in 2017. Being a restaurant owner has prepared me to work and communicate well with others — even when we come from different mindsets or backgrounds and (especially now) helped me think on my feet and be a creative problem solver.”PAUL: “I’m a 41-year-old Massachusetts native and a Vermont resident for 21 years and have spent the last six in Vergennes. That is when I became a first-time homeowner with my wife.
I received a civil engineering degree from Vermont Technical College in 2007 and have worked in engineering consultant firms since then. I’m current employed at Engineers Construction Inc. as a project engineer.
I follow current events locally, nationally and globally. I have always been interested in politics and have a good understanding of how government functions.”
CHOOSING TO RUNHAWLEY: “2020 was probably one of Vergennes’ worst years relative to local governance with four members of the city council resigning last summer. This (meant) remaining three members could not conduct regular business for over two months. I got involved in hopes of restoring confidence in the city council. We have a new city manager, city clerk, and city treasurer. With over 30 years of service to the city, I want to be readily available as a resource. The city council will soon be working on the FY2022 budget. Vergennes is a community of just 2,600 residents and with limited resources. It is important that property taxes and sewer rates are at levels so that Vergennes can continue to be an affordable place to live and own a business.”BERTRAND: “I am not comfortable with recent events and how unsettled Vergennes feels right know and want to be part of the healing process.”PAUL: “I decided to run again because I’m dedicated to seeing Vergennes a connected and prosperous city.”HUIZENGA: Huizenga said the process of hiring new City Manager Ron Redmond gave him hope moving forward.
“We did a great job with the entire group, the council, to come up with one of the best city managers we’ve had in a very long time. Time will tell, but I think the positivity and energy he will bring is great. And the teamwork he had to get him on board was a very positive thing, and I just wanted to continue that.” RAKOWSKI: “I am drawn to serve the city and the people of Vergennes, who have always supported my family and instilled a strong sense of community in my children. I want the council to focus its attention on the issues facing Vergennes and generate some forward movement. My experience on past boards can help navigate procedural challenges that the council may confront. Lastly, there remains only one woman on the seven-member council, and I value more balanced representation.”
ISSUESBERTRAND: “Taxes and the police department — taxes, we have to budget responsibly to prevent the need to raise taxes. Police department, because events like what happened last month in the trailer park could happen at any time. If we didn’t have the experienced staff we have currently, who knows what the outcome would have been.”PAUL: “Addressing the city budget as well as updating our city’s stormwater/sewer infrastructure to help better protect the environment is a top priority. Utilizing our unique town to promote business is needed for our future. Certifying Vergennes’ boundary line must be done by working with our neighbors to come to an agreement.”HUIZENGA: “The continued growth of Vergennes is a huge issue for me, especially as a small-business owner. We need to think toward the future and how to make our city accessible and attractive to current and future residents. In addition, I believe we need to get a better handle on our city budget and make sure our residents’ tax dollars are being used in the most beneficial way possible.”RAKOWSKI: “The city council needs to operate with increased transparency and focus its attention on city issues and initiatives, including:
Wastewater system efficiency: Let’s study and improve the whole system to reduce infiltration and overflows for environmental and fiscal benefit.
Housing availability and inclusivity: Let’s welcome people who admire Vergennes and want to join our community and also increase our tax base and school population.
City Charter update: Let’s resolve city boundary issues so that our city charter can be amended.
Conversations and consideration of the Economic Corridor: Let’s clarify the challenges and benefits of this proposal and attend to citizen concerns.
Enhanced support for city recreation for all residents: Vergennes Parks and Recreation is currently offering a variety of activities and generating excitement. Let’s keep that going!”HAWLEY: “The most immediate issue facing the city is the current deficiencies in the handing of the city’s finances. I uncovered that accounts had not been reconciled for many months. It is imperative that the public have the full confidence of the city’s administrative staff.
The city council allowed the restructuring of responsibilities last summer and oversight became non-existent as evidenced by the recent findings of the financial audit. By working closely with our new city manager, Ron Redmond, we can return to the solid practices of the past and restore confidence that funds are being properly handled and that the city council is provided quality financial reports.”
VOTER PITCHBERTRAND: “I am finishing up my sixth or seventh term, the years seem to run together after a while, and I hope my record speaks for itself. I always put what’s best for Vergennes into my decision on every issue.”PAUL: “I can bring a fresh unbiased perspective, and I’m passionate about bringing our community together and will do everything to contribute moving our city in a positive direction to continue for future generations to benefit from.”HUIZENGA: “I am invested in the future of Vergennes. I live right here in downtown Vergennes, I have a child who will one day be attending school right here in this community, and I own two businesses that will be successful only if we are able to keep our city moving forward. I have been through the good times and bad times in Vergennes and have never given up. This community has given me a lot over the past few years and now I want the opportunity to give back.”RAKOWSKI: “I will work with our new city manager and the other council members to ensure our small city remains safe, vibrant, and welcoming to all. I am results-driven and have experience working collaboratively within a large board. I commit to working hard on behalf of all residents to enact positive change. It would be a privilege to serve Vergennes as a city councilor.”HAWLEY: “I hope that voters will again recognize that my knowledge and experience is needed. During my short time on the city council I have assisted the Parks and Recreation Committee update their charge and supporting roles and responsibilities policy. I came up with a creative way to finance the much-needed replacement of air packs for our internal firefighters. I represented the city in the appeal of the Common Level of Appraisal, which hopefully will result in a reduction in our education tax rate for FY2022. I have regularly attended meetings of the citizen review board exploratory committee. I will continue to work hard for the citizens of Vergennes.”

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