South Burlington residents attended the 5th Annual Town Meeting Monday night at FHT Middle School.


Town Meeting Forum Tackles Controversial Issues

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Thursday March 07, 2013

Before getting down to city business, a gathering of neighbors, city department heads, councilors and candidates joined together Monday evening at FH Tuttle Middle School for conversation and a potluck dinner hosted by PACT.  The well attended town meeting began promptly at 7 p.m. with Superintendent David Young’s school budget presentation followed by the proposed City budget presented by Bob Rusten, Deputy City Manager. After a few questions from the audience, the debate got underway. City Council incumbents Paul Engels and Sandy Dooley and their respective challengers Pat Nowak and Chris Shaw took to the stage to answer questions submitted on index cards from the audience and moderated by Assistant Superintendent Winton Goodrich. Each candidate had the opportunity to provide opening and closing statements and address topics such as interim zoning, the city clerk issue, and perhaps, the most contentious; whether the individuals felt that their campaigns reflected South Burlington traditions and values.

In their opening statements, both Shaw and Nowak were adamant that things in South Burlington are no longer the way they were. Throughout the course of Nowak’s campaigning she said people wondered why the Council did not represent them. Both mentioned the Cairns Arena contract and the NGA leaving South Burlington as examples of this change. Shaw said that he ran last year and spent a lot of money this time around because he doesn’t want to lose again. Engels said that he put $100 into his campaign when he ran initially and this year he has spent $1,500. This fact came up again when the question of whether their respective campaigns reflected South Burlington traditions. While Shaw said he led a positive campaign that focused on selling his experience and Nowak said she had tried to get her message out through ads, Dooley found the money portion of the campaigns disappointing. She also thought it unfortunate that the challengers had not acknowledged all of the positive work the current Council has done particularly with complete streets, eliminating debt, and interim zoning. “We have a springboard to begin a clean financial position that is being ignored” Dooley said. Engels said that a campaign for City Council that cost $10,000 is very untraditional in VT and is “absurd and obscene.”

All of the candidates expressed their support for interim zoning which came as a surprise to the incumbents. Paul Engels said they are now planning from the bottom up rather than the top down and Sandy Dooley said that the participation in various committees by residents has been astounding and it’s certainly not a bad thing to slow down and look at things. Chris Shaw’s caveat to his purported support was the negotiations with the UMall and that it seems to him that it often takes 9 meetings to review a building plan. Nowak’s criticism was that the four committees are chaired by councilors which she found “controlling.”

In their closing remarks, Shaw said he wanted to focus on restoring the 3 Rs: relationships, reputation and resources. Nowak cited her extensive background in finance as a reason to garner residents’ votes. “We need a change,” Nowak said “things have been going wrong.” Engels stressed that change isn’t always pretty and that when he decided to run, City government was perceived as being an insider crowd with everyone else looking in. Now, the old guard isn’t happy that the roles have reversed. “It is a referendum between neighbors and developers and money” he said. Dooley was troubled by the characterization that the Council has been fiscally irresponsible and closed with quotes from her supporters saying mainly that she has always shown respect for people who speak at meetings and listens before making up her mind.

Next, the uncontested school board candidates Martin LaLonde and Diane Bugbee answered questions as to why they were running for additional terms. Both candidates stressed their commitment to education and maintaining standards. If they could change anything about the current budget, LaLonde would have more money in it to save some teacher jobs and likewise, Bugbee would have more money in the budget to expand the 1:1 laptop program to two grades rather than one. In terms of school safety, LaLonde pointed to the school board’s decision to appeal the DRBs decision to issue a permit to the HowardCenter to open a methadone clinic at 364 Dorset Street. Bugbee discussed drills, scenarios, trouble shooting and video monitoring. “Safety is the #1 priority” she said. In their closing remarks, Bugbee thanked the community for the privilege of running once again and for trusting in her. Education is a passion for her and she wants to help the District move forward LaLonde also feels fortunate to be on the Board and reminded people to vote on both parts of the budget.

 

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent