Three Pownal candidates announce write-in campaigns

Candidates seek Select Board, auditor, delinquent tax collector positions

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POWNAL — Voters have three more choices for town positions this year.

Shannon McLenithan, Crystal Gardner and Jim Kocsis have announced write-in candidacies for Select Board, delinquent tax collector and auditor positions, respectively.

McLenithan is running against Ron Bisson and Angie Rawling, who are also seeking one of two available one-year seats on the Select Board.

McLenithan is currently chair of the town's Economic Development Committee.

"I decided to run because I really care about our community and want it to thrive for the next generation and I feel like it's time we have some strategic thinkers at the table that will move us forward in a positive way," she said.

She said several people approached her over the last 12 months, asking her if she would run for Select Board.

She said she was concerned about the time involved, but she determined she could make sacrifices in her other commitments to be a member of the board.

McLenithan said she plans to remain on the Economic Development Committee if she is elected. Her interest in economic development is another reason she's running, she said.

"...I'm concerned with economic development for Pownal, and I'm not sure if economic development would be a priority without someone there at the table pushing for it," she said.

With a couple of candidates not running for the Select Board, she said she also felt it was important to step in.

She said she had expected Joel Howard to run, but he dropped out of the race, and she thought Elizabeth Rowe and Marlena Pellon, both current board members, would seek re-election.

Of three Select Board members whose terms expire this year, only chair Bryan Harris is seeking re-election. Rowe chose not to file nomination papers by the Jan. 27 deadline to appear on the March ballot, while Pellon instead filed papers for town auditor.

Harris, who is currently serving a one-year term, is seeking election to the three-year seat now held by Rowe, the board's vice chair. He will be opposed by Michael Gardner Jr., the town's zoning administrator. Michael Gardner Jr. is Crystal Gardner's brother-in-law.

McLenithan said she plans to participate in a candidate forum for those seeking Select Board seats.

"I just feel like it's time we talk about solutions," she said when asked if there's anything she'd like to share with voters. "We all know what our challenges are in Pownal. [We need to] move forward in a positive way."

McLenithan, currently senior vice president of retail lending for the Bank of Bennington, is also secretary of the Green Mountain Friends of the National Rifle Association, and is chair of the Oak Hill Children's Center board.

She's a graduate of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and the ABA Stonier Graduate School of Banking at the University of Pennsylvania.

Crystal Gardner, currently a town auditor, has also announced her candidacy on a write-in basis for a three-year delinquent tax collector position.

Gardner is also seeking re-election to a three-year term as an auditor.

She said she and her husband have been talking about her running for the delinquent tax collector position, and she "pretty much" made a decision on Sunday.

A major factor in her decision to run, she said, is the Select Board's recent decision to put a ballot article asking voters if they'd like to eliminate the town auditor positions on the town meeting warrant this year.

"If the voters vote to eliminate the auditors, it would give me additional income," she said of the delinquent tax collector position."I think I would be good at working with the community."

If she was the delinquent tax collector, she said, she could also potentially reduce the amount of time she has to travel for her bookkeeping business.

She said she hadn't made a decision to run by the deadline to file papers to appear on the ballot.

The Select Board also made the decision to put the auditor article on the town warning after the filing deadline for town positions, she said.

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Per guidance from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, Gardner said she would have to choose between auditor and delinquent tax collector in the event she's elected to both positions.

She said she doesn't know yet which one she'd choose.

She said she'd be able to make more money with the delinquent tax collector position, but some people asked her to stay on as auditor because they felt she could better serve the people with "a lot of the truth that's happening in the office," she said.

"By just letting the people in the town know a lot of things that they haven't known until this year," she said.

She said she doesn't feel the town has had a lot of auditors with a lot of experience. The town also lacks efficiency with financial operations — and accountability, she said.

Gardner has been an auditor since April 2019.

Gardner has not held the delinquent tax collector position before. She has a four-year accounting degree from Castleton University, and previously worked at two accounting firms in Manchester.

She's also had her own bookkeeping service for 20 years.

Besides Gardner, Dave Adams and Tom Lenkowski, both incumbents, are also seeking auditor terms for one year and two years, respectively.

Pellon, currently a member of the Select Board, is also seeking the one-year auditor position.

Kocsis has announced he is running as a write-in candidate for that one-year auditor position.

Kocsis said he's been considering running for town auditor since the Select Board decided at its Jan. 31 meeting to put the ballot article on the town warning regarding eliminating the town auditor positions. If the positions were eliminated, future audits would be conducted by a CPA.

"As for what the reasoning [is] behind having the Select Board bring the ballot to the table, I did not hear any," Kocsis said in an email. "This is not the time we should be eliminating the auditors. We should be strengthening our checks and balances. Not weakening them."

Kocsis said he's running for the position in order to figure out whether the town is transparent in its financial practices.

"You hear rumors that are going on," he said. "And I'd like to just get in there to find out if everything is transparent as it [should be]."

He said rumors have come to his attention that "certain policies and procedures may not have been followed."

The only way to really research that, he said, is to become an auditor himself.

Kocsis said he's learned that people in town want him to run as well.

"So many people have said I would be perfect for the position, because of the way I explain accounting for them," he said.

Kocsis has not been a town auditor before. He was town treasurer for two years in the 1990s, he said.

"There's no mean-spirited reason for running," he added.

He said he wants to re-introduce himself to the town's financials, hopefully find out that everything is okay, and move on.

"I'm not looking to cause any problems with the town," he said. "I'm running independently, just to make sure that people understand that the town is as transparent as it can be."

A graduate of Bryant University with a concentration in accounting, Kocsis now works in the finance office for the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union.

The town election is March 3. Polls will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Pownal Center Firehouse. Absentee ballots are available; the deadline to apply is Sunday, March 1. The applicant or a family member may apply by phone, in person or in writing, according to the town warning.

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


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