There's nothing disgraceful about politics - I chose to live in Brattleboro in part because I knew that here, my ideas would be heard. Other place where I have lived and been involved in politics, things haven't been anywhere near as open or fair.
I wrote an endorsement of Kate O'Connor which appeared in the Brattleboro Reformer on Thursday. I would like to add more here about why I have made this choice. At the bottom of this new commentary, I will append my letter in the Reformer in case you haven't read it. I'm also going to add a brief public apology to Spoon Agave at the end.
I'm for Kate because she has extraordinary potential for benefitting our Town in ways that Spoon does not. Her long service in the Office of the Governor is an example. I have known Kate a relatively short time, but she has already become one of my confidantes in areas political, municipal, and communitarian.
I'm voting for Kate because she showed up and did a great job when I asked her to come to my house and explain to our three new young voters why they should vote for her, and why they should engage in the political process.
I'm voting for Kate because even though I have had disagreements with some of the other O'Connors, I do not hold her responsible. I have long ago forgiven them for any of those other differences as well.
I'm voting for Kate because she listens to me and values my opinions.
I'm voting for Kate because I believe our community values her, especially because she speaks her mind and is unafraid to wade into controversy.
I'm voting for Kate because I believe I have seen her being an example of 'turning the other cheek' and not retaliating when under attack.
Now, why I'm not voting for Spoon.
First and foremost, I'm not voting for Spoon because Kate is far and away the better candidate for excellence in service on the Selectboard.
Now I have known Spoon far longer than I have Kate. I like and respect him immensely, and have almost always striven to regard him as my friend. His fiancee is one of my wife's best friends in this world.
But Spoon has given me cause to wonder. Let me explain.
I did not question his friendship or respect for me when in June 2011, he went along with the Development & Review Board's opinion vote that the Skatepark would constitute only a "minor" change to an existing facility. He has never commented to me about the fact, as I understand it, that the D&RB never minuted that decision - never mentioned the vote in their minutes -- thus helping to ensure that no one in the community would be able to question it after the fact. [I actually lean slightly toward having a well-designed "wheel-friendly facility" (as the current designer has called it) in that park, as long as it is part of a comprehensive plan for the park, which would certainly be an improvement. But I detest the idea that the park might be built and approved over a huge public outcry that the decision did not receive all of the appropriate and necessary public 'vetting'.]
I won't vote for Spoon because twice, when I submitted sections for our Finance Committee report, sections which I drafted at his request, he jettisoned my drafts and completely re-wrote them himself, changing not only the language, but dropping what I felt were extremely important recommendations.
I won't vote for Spoon because numerous times during our Finance Committee meetings, he has used his role as Chair to cut off my contributions to our discussions. Well, yes, sometimes I'm long-winded, but I have many times felt that he just plain didn't care about my thoughts and opinions.
I won't vote for Spoon because midway through 2012, during our Finance Committee discussions, he began to openly advocate for the closing of Green Street School, a proposal that I thought was rash and ill-considered in the extreme, because he, and we, had had very little discussion or liaison with School officials about such drastic measures. Actually, I might never have mentioned this publicly because I didn't want to embarrass him or the Committee, but I think now he has 'forced my hand' by runniing for the Selectboard. Folks, I think you have a right to know that were you to vote for Spoon Agave, that might also turn out to be a vote to close Green Street School.
I won't vote for Spoon because I disagree with his authorship of the sections of our new reports which call for "level-funding" the schools' budgets, and for the voters at Representative Town Meeting to "reject" the Town (elementary) Schools' budget. I hasten to add, however, that Committee members other than myself were all in favor of releasing the Town (elementary) Schools report.
I won't vote for Spoon because I felt it was ill-considered when on Friday, February 8, he released our report on the BUHS budget without it having been approved in any warned meeting of our Committee, and in spite of the fact that in our warned meeting immediately prior, on Tuesday, February 5, we had decided by consensus to change the language of our recommendations and to drop our recommendations to "level-fund" and "reject" the BUHS budget -- changes which I had eagerly sought. However, I am in unity with the rest of the Committee in favoring very conservative counsel to the Schools' financial analysts and budgeting authorities.
I'm not voting for Spoon because I would prefer his service on the Finance Committee to service on the Selectboard. Let me explain. In my letter to the Editor of the Reformer, which you may read below, you will see that I comment generally positively on Spoon's work in the Finance Committee. If he became a Selectboard member, he would not be eligible to serve on that Committee, because the Finance Committee has a charge as a 'check and balance' to be generally analytical and constructively critical of all taxpayer-funded spending.
[Incidentally the Finance Committee apparently has no budget of its own ... though no one complains at Town Hall when we make a few copies, those of us who drive to the Municipal Center have to feed the parking meters, and not use the permit lot, during our meetings, a 'pet peeve' of mine.]
And so, my political recommendation to the voters of this Town is to vote for Kate O'Connor. Seriously, folks, I think this is a great opportunity for us. Draw your own conclusions, and vote for whomever you will, but please consider voting for Kate ... I believe she will do a GREAT job!
John V. Wilmerding, MBA
Member, Brattleboro Finance Committee (2011-14)
Elected Town Representative, Third District
Now here is my apology to Spoon:
I would say that I hope you will continue to regard me as your friend, but by your actions toward me, I am honestly not sure you ever have. I will always aspire to your friendship.
I apologize for not informing you in advance that I had decided not to vote for you, and instead to endorse Kate and vote for her. I can understand it if you take that as flying in the face of any notion of friendship between us. I had said I wanted to speak with you about your candidacy, but also intended to speak with Kate about hers, and after I spoke with her and thought about the issues and the whole picture as I see it, I decided to vote for her. Only on Thursday did I decide to endorse her publicly.
I deeply regret having run against you for the same Selecboard seat some years ago. As I have explained to you, I didn't do so intentionally ... it was the 'luck of the draw', as they say.
I want to remind you that when I heard you had taken out petitions for both the 1-year seats and the 3-year seat this year, my immediate response was "Don't run against Kate!" In so doing, my only motivation was to give you good advice. Frankly, I think I have always tried to give you good advice, and it often was good advice, and you often didn't take it regardless. Here's another piece of advice: run for only one seat ... don't leave people guessing what race you'll be in.
I agree with you on most things, and hope to join with you in common cause many times in the future.
Here's the text of my Reformer letter:
Support for O’Connor
Editor of the Reformer:
It may surprise readers of this paper that I am strongly endorsing Kate O’Connor for Brattleboro Selectboard, especially considering that I have worked with her opponent Ben Spoon Agave for the past two years on the town of Brattleboro Finance Committee.
I believe that with so many years of administrative and political experience at the state level, Kate is admirably well-equipped to serve our town on the Selectboard. The three-year term she seeks means she will be with us over the long haul in this important position. And Brattleboro can expect much, over many years, from this young yet deeply experienced public servant.
It’s true that Spoon has more experience working in town government, but he himself says it may take him the three-year term to "come up to speed" on the Selectboard, and for that reason he wants the three year seat. I’ve worked with him for two years now on the Finance Committee, and the same rationale might dictate that he remain for another year working with us there -- we’re just now beginning to expand into the demands of a much wider purview conferred upon us by the newly-amended Town Charter. I’ve challenged some of Spoon’s decisions and style on the Finance Committee, but in general he has defended himself fairly well there, and certainly has the working support of the membership.
I support Kate "in her own right," not merely because she’s an O’Connor, from that local political family. She’s a brilliant and charismatic person, and the published author of a large and very interesting book (I’m mid-way through it) on the political process. She’s been involved with the running of several local non-profits already, and has served under appointment to important State committees. I believe her far-reaching contacts and influence, particularly statewide, will help us as we "bootstrap" Brattleboro economically once again. It has been said that town governments in Vermont are pretty much "creatures of the state," and in this context, I believe that Kate O’Connor, given the new portfolio of Brattleboro Selectboard member, will bring much good fortune and considerable resources to our town.
From where I sit, liking both individuals very much as I do, my judgement is that Kate is far and away the best choice for Selectboard. It’s a case of the right person, in the right place, at the right time.
Brattleboro, Feb. 27