July 30, 2014

Selectboard: Two seats, two familiar faces

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Compiled by Kim Howard
Observer staff

Selectboard candidates Jeff Fehrs and Ted Kenney are well acquainted with the responsibilities of Selectboard members; both have served one or more terms in Williston.

The Selectboard is a five member elected board. The board is responsible for setting the town policy direction, passing ordinances, setting the tax rate, reviewing the budget, and supervising the Town Manager, among other tasks. The budget before the voters this year is $7.25 million.

What follows are edited responses to questions posed to the candidates; their full responses can be found at www.willistonobserver.com

Jeff Fehrs

Running for: Three-year term

Selectboard experience: 8-9 years

Williston resident: 20 years

Personal passion others may not know about: bicycling, skiing, hockey

What unique contributions have you made to the Selectboard?

All Selectboard members contribute something unique. Perhaps mine is trying to ensure we make sound, well-informed decisions. I tend to ask a lot of questions. I do this because I am both interested but also want to make sure I fully understand an issue. At times I play the role of “devil’s advocate” to help ensure we understand the various sides of an issue. As a Selectboard member, I think of myself as being socially progressive but fiscally conservative. Hopefully I have helped Williston provide the services residents want or need while keeping our municipal property tax reasonable.

What is one issue that has yet to receive sufficient public attention that the Selectboard should tackle in the coming year or two?

One big issue is I feel is below most residents’ radar-screen is stormwater. My understanding is at least some, perhaps most, developments will be required to build and maintain expensive stormwater treatment/retention facilities. It sounds like the overall costs could be staggering. Williston will need to make decisions about who pays and how much – should we let each development deal directly with the state, or should we create some sort of new utility that will combine resources and jointly deal with the state, or some other option?

What responsibility does the Town of Williston have to actively seek creation of affordable housing options?

Legally, probably none. Morally, I believe the Town needs to be proactively involved. Overall, Williston benefits from being a diverse community. I hear stories about new town staff not being able to afford to live in Williston, which just isn’t right. Or folks having to drive to Williston to work in retail. Our Town Plan already identifies affordable housing as a priority, now we need to make sure we provide appropriate incentives or other tools to encourage, if not facilitate actual projects.

What responsibility do you believe Williston residents have to reduce the volume of trash they produce?

First, I need to disclose I work for the Solid Waste Program within the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. 

Overall, all Vermonters need to reduce the trash they generate. The amount of trash we generate is increasing and this trend needs to change. Everyone needs to buy and live more responsibly, reuse more, recycle more, compost more, etc. But that said, there is only so much we as individuals can do and we also need government to do more. Municipalities and/or solid waste districts can improve programs, and the state and federal government needs to take more of a leadership role. Ideas like a national bottle bill or packaging reduction legislation need to stop being just ideas and become policy.

What is one vote you have cast while a member of the Selectboard that you would now cast differently and why?

Probably there is more than one … 

In 2001 (I believe it was then), I voted to adopt the Town Comprehensive Plan because I supported the process used to develop the Plan, and to support the Town staff and residents who had spent countless hours working on it. I don’t regret my vote, but I wonder if I should have voted “no.” I still worry about the Plan’s vision for the Taft Corners area. The vision is supposed to include a pedestrian friendly downtown, but I worry the reality is the density, types of development, and resulting traffic means the area will be anything but pedestrian friendly or feel like a downtown.

What else should Williston residents know about this election?

Williston needs more folks willing to run for the Selectboard.  On the one hand, it made my life easier running unopposed.  But on the other, I believe Williston suffered overall because having candidates running against each other brings out the issues, good discussion, and hopefully good election results. But that said, I also believe both Ted and myself are running for the right reasons – we are interested and experienced, we ask questions, we vote “no” when appropriate, and most important, we act in residents’ and the Town’s best interest.

Ted Kenney

Running for: Two-year term

Selectboard experience: Two years

Williston resident: Eight (raised in neighboring Richmond)

Hobby/personal passion others may not know about: Star Trek; Batman comic books

What unique contributions have you made to the Selectboard?

 I am hesitant to talk of “unique contributions” because, thanks to the two chairpersons I have served under, the Selectboard blends different perspectives and talents very well. I hope I contribute some unique experiences through prior service on the Planning Commission and the School Board, and my on-going attempts to listen more than I talk. 

What is one issue that has yet to receive sufficient public attention that the Selectboard should tackle in the coming year or two?

Our ability to plan and keep a sustainable town budget. It’s tempting to agree to fund every good idea that comes along. The aspect of these good ideas that always needs additional public attention is how much new spending will be called for year after year if they are approved. 

What responsibility does the Town of Williston have to actively seek creation of affordable housing options?

The town has a major responsibility to provide opportunities for developers to create affordable housing. With the salary of the average Williston police officer, firefighter, or municipal employee, buying a home in the town you serve is nearly impossible. We need more housing to meet the needs of middle-income families. The Selectboard recently heard from Williston Interfaith Affordable Housing Task Force about a planning grant that would study the viability of this kind of development. I am favorably disposed to the grant and to the concept in general. 

What responsibility do you believe Williston residents have to reduce the volume of trash they produce?

 We have the same, major responsibility everyone on earth has. We have to have a better ratio of trash to recycling for multiple reasons. 

What is one vote you have cast while a member of the Selectboard that you would now cast differently and why?

There may be many. The one I immediately think of is my vote to make it illegal for Williston firefighters to smoke tobacco while off-duty. Last year, I lost my mother, a 50-year cigarette smoker, to emphysema. My dad, a smoker since his early teens, died of cancer in 2001. I do not smoke (although I do have a cigar about four times a year), and I am vehemently opposed to smoking. But smoking is legal. I should have voted in favor of job-related performance standards that, if met, qualify the employee for continued employment. I should not have voted to restrict an employees’ off-duty freedom to engage in otherwise legal behavior. 

What else should Williston residents know about this election?

I was very torn about whether Williston should fund its own ambulance service or continue with our combination of advanced first aid from Williston-based EMT “First Responders” and ambulance transport by St. Michael’s College Rescue. The federal funding we would receive for an ambulance will only last a few years; the town will have to pay the entire cost of the service thereafter. The benefit of getting to the emergency room faster is very significant; the permanent increase to our property taxes would be very significant, too. I am curious to see how the vote turns out on Town Meeting Day.

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