Nelson Brownell seeks House seat

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To Nelson Brownell, running for state representative makes sense.

"With the skill level that I have, I think I'll be able to hit the ground running," said the Pownal resident.

Brownell, the current Pownal Select Board chairman, started out in municipal government in the early 1970s in Pownal.

He has been on the Select Board for over 30 years, and spent his childhood in the area.

Brownell won the Democratic nomination without opposition in the primary election. This is his first time running for the Bennington-1 House District seat.

He faces Jim O'Connor, who has run for the seat twice before, and Frederick Miller, who is running as an independent.

Longtime incumbent Bill Botzow chose not to seek re-election.

"My view has always been to help the community that I'm representing," he said. "I'm not someone who's going to run in there saying, 'here's what I want.'"

Brownell works at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, as manager of computer operations and infrastructure.

"Sparks and wires to where we are today," he said, describing the changes he's seen over 46 years working at the college. "I've seen a lot of change. And adapted to a lot of change."

He said if he's elected, he will retire from his job and resign his position as Pownal's zoning administrator, and more than likely leave the Select Board.

"I don't see how it would be possible to do both," he said.

Like other candidates for the Bennington-1 House district seat, Brownell said he has concerns related to Act 46.

The Act, enacted in May 2015, identified the preferred model of governance for the state's schools as a unified union school district responsible for pre-K through grade 12 education.

"I've not been totally happy with the one-board-fits-all solution," he said.

He said he is in favor of equal representation for all involved towns on any merged district board.

Under draft default Articles of Agreement from the state Agency of Education, released in August, each town in merged districts would have two seats on the new union district board, no matter the size of the town.

The draft articles could be changed, as the state Board of Education will issue a final statewide plan in connection with Act 46 by Nov. 30.

As a state, Vermont also needs to consider the teaching pay scale, Brownell said.

"The starting salary of teachers in our state is too late," he said.

It's important to find a way to raise starting salaries, as the state needs to attract more young people, including teachers, he said.

"Let's face it — we got an older population," he said.

It's also hard for other people, not just teachers, to live on their wages in Vermont, he said.

"We really need to look at ... what is a livable wage, and how do we get there?'" he said. "[We need to] help our businesses and help our people at the same time. And we can only do that if we're talking to both sides."

In regards to the opioid epidemic, Brownell said, local government needs to talk to all involved groups.

"We need to approach that in a way other than criminalizing," he said.

Pownal also faces serious challenges with water contamination by perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, he said.

The community needs to explore funding options to help remediate that, he said.

PFOA is a chemical that was widely used for decades to manufacture products like Teflon.

PFOA and related industrial compounds have come under scrutiny as an emerging health risk, linked to various cancers and conditions like high cholesterol, thyroid disease, pregnancy-induced hypertension and and ulcerative colitis.

The chemical was discovered in 2016 in some private wells in Pownal and North Pownal Village. It has also been discovered in the Pownal Fire District water system well off Route 346 and at a Center Street site once used by the former Warren Wire Co.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.

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