New city mayor calls for unity
VERGENNES — The first meeting of the newly configured Vergennes City Council featured a statement from new City Mayor Matt Chabot seeking unity and cooperation among councilors and patience from citizens. The March 9 gathering also saw an uncontested election for deputy mayor and bouquets thrown to two former members of the council.
Chabot referenced the turmoil and discord that Vergennes saw during the second half of 2020.
Issues including uncivil debates at the council level and on social media, at times about police matters; four council resignations; turnover at city hall that included the departure of a city manager who some questioned for his interactions with residents and members of city committees; accounting issues that only now are being sorted out; and even accusations of malfeasance.
In a brief statement, Chabot outlined what he saw as the path the council could take to move things in the right direction:
“Vergennes is stronger together. I’m greatly appreciative of these aldermen and alderwomen and your choices to be on this council. Now more than ever our collective experience and leadership are needed to bring the city forward after many months of divisive rhetoric, partisan politics, and the sowing of distrust about our city, its elected officials and its management …
“I ask each of you to work with me in restoring the faith our citizens have placed in us. I have frequently said in my previous time on the council that I appreciated the fact that even though we did not always agree on issues, we always found a way to come to a consensus … In my memory this was always done civilly, and with the best interest of Vergennes placed at the forefront …
“I ask for patience and support from the voters who elected us. Although there is not rampant corruption flowing through our city, we absolutely have an opportunity to be better. Our new manager Ron (Redmond) has jumped in headfirst and has worked systematically to stabilize the city’s administration while learning his new role, employees and community members.
“We are making progress on issues related to the audit, and I expect Ron to be bringing that process to a conclusion at his earliest ability. So I thank all of you in advance. I look forward to working with each of you.”
Elected unanimously to deputy mayor (technically senior alderman, per the city charter) was Councilor Dickie Austin.
This past fall Austin lost a 4-3 vote for the position to Councilor Mel Hawley, but this time Austin’s nomination by Councilor Jill Murray-Killon and second by Councilor Ian Huizenga drew no competition.
Chabot also thanked former Mayor Lynn Donnelly and Deputy Mayor Lowell Bertrand, both multi-term members of the council, “for their many years of service,” a sentiment echoed by other councilors. Donnelly and Bertrand were each given a copy of a late 19th-century lithograph of Vergennes as a parting gift.
Bertrand also received praise from members of the Vergennes Parks and Recreation Committee, on which he served as a council representative, and from Donnelly, who said Bertrand often served as an agent of consensus and compromise during his several terms and called him, “a wonderful asset to the council.”
Donnelly also thanked the many voters who wrote her name on the March 2 ballot as a candidate for mayor, and said she was optimistic about Chabot’s tenure.
“Matt’s going to make a great mayor,” she said.
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