Race shaping up for Select Board seats in Bennington

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BENNINGTON — With only a few days left to file nomination papers for local offices, a race is coming into focus for the two open Select Board seats.

As of mid-week, two potential challengers had taken out nomination papers from the town clerk's office. They are Tom Haley, who is active with the local Democratic Party committees and the current county chairman, and with Rights and Democracy of Bennington, and Sarah Perrin, the owner of Green Mountain Concessions, who also helped organize a food truck festival in the downtown for the past two years.

Incumbent Bruce Lee-Clark, who was appointed in July to fill a vacancy after Carson Thurber left the board to become headmaster at Stratton Mountain School, is seeking election to a full term in the annual March town meeting. Lee-Clark has returned his nomination papers to the clerk.

Before his appointment by the board, he was the next highest vote-getter in the 2019 Select Board race, finishing just 5 votes behind the third of three board members elected last year.

The other incumbent, Chad Gordon, said he won't seek re-election in order to spend more time with family and because he is now the head football coach, as well as a teacher, at Mount Anthony Union High School.

The head coaching post appointment came after Gordon won a three-year term on the board in 2017.

'Can listen'

Haley said Thursday that he hasn't made a final decision on running but has always "considered it a possibility that I would try."

He sees himself as "a regular guy," who grew up with both conservatives and liberals in his family, resulting in an ability to listen to a range of opinions.

"I can listen; I can hear," he said. "I don't prejudge."

Haley said he sees a definite need for board members to better explain the workings of local government, adding, "There seems to be a mood in Bennington that the board isn't listening."

Perrin said, "I've  been asked a few times if I would be interested in running for select board, so the idea has been in my mind for a little while. I consider myself to be pretty active in the community; however the select board would be a new way for me to contribute and support Bennington’s future."

For the past two years, she has been a co-organizer of the Annual Food Truck Festival in downtown Bennington.

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Lee-Clark said his reasons for running again are similar to those of last spring — in part to "make local government more transparent to voters."

He said he doesn't believe officials always take enough time to explain what is happening in the government, adding, "I don't think there is enough knowledge of what we can do, of what we can't do, and not enough participation [concerning] what we should be doing."

A goal, he said, is to "make clear what is the task of town government."

Lee-Clark retired in 2018 after 22 years of teaching law courses at the Southwest Vermont Career Development Center.

If all the potential candidates submit papers, that would set up a three-way race for two Select Board seats. Nomination papers with the required voter signatures are due by Monday at 5 p.m. at the clerk's office.

Clerk Cassandra Barbeau said the moderator, clerk and treasurer positions are not up for election this spring.

Tax issue

While the election of candidates should spark interest, it is likely the idea of a 1 percent local option tax for Bennington will do that in spades.

The board is expected to decide Monday whether to include a local option tax question on the annual ballot, which could involve adding 1 percent to the state sales tax to any or all the allowed tax categories — retail sales, rooms, meals and alcohol sales.     

Under the Vermont local option program, a town can approve adding 1 percent to the tax and would receive 70 percent of the new revenue generated back from the state.

In Bennington's case, the estimate of the town's annual share is in the range of $1 million.

Town Manager Stuart Hurd, who proposed consideration of the tax, has recommended taxing retail sales only and using the added revenue to reduce property taxes, fund recreational facilities and town equipment purchases.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien


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