We hope you enjoy this interview with Brandie Starr, candidate for Brattleboro Selectboard.
Which seat are you running for, and why do you want to be on the Selectboard?
I am running for a one year seat on the Selectboard, and I am running because I want an opportunity to be involved in decisions and policies that effect my town and my community members; myself and my family included.
Give us your stump speech/qualifications...
First and foremost I bring to the table a passion for this town and for the people in it, as well as a passion for being involved in the betterment of our area, our nation, and ourselves as a whole. Alongside my passions, I bring an ability to listen, a willingness to learn, and the sense to "ask an expert" when I am unsure. I am employed by a bank, so while I do not work directly with the finance dept., I have for the better part of the last nine years been an attendee at board meetings, and seen the drafting of a budget behind the scenes, including the various methodologies and dynamics that go into such work. I have seen the counter arguments, and compromise.
That being said, I do not believe budget is the sole purpose of the Selectboard. I firmly believe that vision and forward thinking are an equal requirement of the job.I believe that experience, my passion, my ability to work as part of a team and still break rank when needed, combined with a good understanding of my personal knowledge and strengths (and my knowledge of when I need to ask more questions or get another opinion) , would all serve me well in this capacity.
How did you end up in Brattleboro and why do you stay?
I was active in the music scene in Brattleboro during the early 2000's, have been working in Brattleboro for nine years, and moved here in 2010. I have always loved the spirit and passion of Brattleboro. I love Brattleboro's civic-mindedness, and always enjoy engaging in good Vermont political discussions with those I bump into.
The thing about work, play, and politics in a small town, is you have to really be comfortable with people knowing you on a very intimate level. I basically grew up here! I went through my wilder phases, embarked on my career, became a mom, and began to understand myself from a political and issues related perspective in this town, in many cases quite publicly.
I stay because I love it. Because I want to raise my children here, and have them be part of the fabric of this area, which I love.
What do you think of the Long Term Financial Plan?
The long term financial plan looks reasonable to me, the projections are conservative, and I do not necessarily see any big surprises. It is always hard in an area that is not really booming, because new income is not pouring in, and there are only so many fee and tax hikes that our community members can shoulder, before people become discontented or even leave.
The pressing issue has not changed-how do we bring in revenue to our town? We are well positioned (physically) to be a desirable relocation place for those coming up I-91 looking to live an intentional life that appreciates local food, small community, emerging technology, arts...etc. We need to be able to look at ourselves with a discerning eye, and see what might be a barrier to people coming here. What changes might we need to make to encourage people to come?
Do you agree with the Capital Plan as it stands for the next few years?
I have a couple of questions on the Capital Plan, like does the money for sidewalks go towards maintaining the current sidewalks, or does it include adding more in places such as parts of Western Ave, and Putney Road? When we are allocating money towards roads are we looking at ways to make them friendlier to bikers? Has the police dept. ever considered bikes for a downtown presence like Burlington? The Capital Plan is laid out nicely, but I do best with the methodology and narrative behind the numbers, and tend to not speculate on the numbers themselves until I have seen that.
Recent Selectboards have had concerns about Brattleboro’s role as a “hub town” - do you share these concerns? Why or why not?
Well, I need to know more about the context of these conversations. I have reviewed some of the minutes containing the phrase “Hub Town”, and it seemed what I found was centered on us being an actual Hub in a very normal Vermont sense. I see their concerns, and I think in an infrastructure capacity, there can be challenges such as parking, and additional wear and tear on roads. But being a Hub town is what we are.
Part of living in Vermont is that some people live in the mountains, and some live in the valley, and there is one "big" river down that everyone goes to for work, shopping...etc. It would do no good for me to be concerned about this to the level of seeing it as a problem; it is just part of who we are, and it needs to be factored in to what we do. This for me, is not a place to be seeking extra revenue. We need to keep our eyes on a more forward thinking strategy. Seeking money in this sense feel more reactive than strategic.
How do you feel about local representation, and Representative Town Meeting?
This is a tricky topic for me. My first instinct is to say that every voter should vote on everything. That was model of town meeting I grew up with, and what feels right to me. However, someone brought up a perspective to me that I found to be one that I understand, and that is this (the person is welcome to comment and clarify on the post if he wishes)) That many people cannot attend town meeting. Many people work and cannot get the time off. This leaves the same group of people always in attendance. Further to that, people who choose to be elected as a Rep are generally people who really want to be involved, and take the job of providing good representation very seriously. Now, I am paraphrasing, and retelling this information from my own understanding, so please forgive that. What I am really saying is that while I have always had a different preference, I recently heard something that made me feel open to how we do things currently.
When and how should citizens comment on town issues? What’s the best way for citizens to express their views?
Citizens should always comment on town issues. Why shouldn't they? It is their town! And the best way to do that can differ from person to person. I would suggest, start by contacting the official of your choice! We have Reps if you are more comfortable with that option, we have the Selectboard, we have the Town Manager. You should get an answer, it may not be the answer you want, but you should receive an answer and an explanation of that answer. And there are a million, or at least 5 public forums to then share your question, the answer, and your resulting feeling on the topic. And you should use them; it is your right.
There is often talk of finding new sources of revenue to make Brattleboro more affordable for residents. Have any ideas on bringing in more money?
There is really only one sustainable source of revenue in my opinion. And that is attracting and retaining residents of a younger “spending” demographic, looking to move here or stay here and start a life in our beautiful town.
With much of our population aging, and another large section of our population hurting in an economic sense, we need to pull in people, and retain people who embrace all we have to offer and are ready to bring their skills and their talents here and make us their home. To do this successfully, we are going to have to work hard. We need to bring in new businesses in forward looking fields for example, environmental sustainability and tech. These don’t have to be big companies! The Green Innovation Hub is a great example! These businesses have to be palatable to people looking to relocate to Brattleboro, or to current citizens skilled in these fields who might otherwise leave.
Our infrastructure needs to be able to support this initiative. Can they ride their bikes safely to work. Can a bus get them to their job and back home on time. Are there enough childcare centers, are there enough homes in the right rental or purchase price range that are not completely aged.
I also think that this is an excellent time to ask ourselves “what is our brand?” “What do we stand for?” I see this as a hugely important part of retention and recruitment. Many people who are looking to settle down are looking for a place where they feel they can directly relate to the Town’s values and message. While we clearly are branding ourselves as an Arts town—which is great—I think it would benefit us to go deeper than that. What is our position as a town on the sustainable energy industry? What are our views on climate change? Things that people can directly tie back to a skill set, like “I am moving to or staying in Brattleboro because I am able to use my degree in sustainable energy right here where I live”. Or “I am able to participate in work and other organizations that are actively seeking to affect climate change right here in Brattleboro”.
In past years, river towns in Vermont were never afraid to brand themselves as Hubs of manufacturing. That was considered good honest work. We need to be able to impart those same views and feelings on forward thinking job initiatives here. We have a real opportunity.
Conversely, a board can make adjustments or cuts to save money. Do you have any ideas for increasing our savings with new efficiencies or cuts?
For me, this question is best answered at the table with the budget in hand, a full picture of the methodology behind the numbers in the budget, the Selectboard, the Town Manager, and others. At some point, you hit a baseline with expenses; there is only so much you can cut, particularly when trying to grow and make viable a town.
Thoughts on Town offices remaining at the Municipal Center?
I love the historic feeling I get when I walk up the steps to the municipal center. And I like it being somewhat central in town. That being said, is the space sustainable? Is it functional? Does it get the job done not just now, but will it also work in the future? Is it the proverbial money pit, or is it a place of great potential? What is our current debt load? Can we even afford to have this conversation? I guess I have more questions before I give an answer.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in people. In people who have a passion to do better, and to be better. I find inspiration in the vision that Vermonters have always had about protecting natural beauty and resources, and in thinking about how we can continue that while still opening the gates to innovative forms of business. I find inspiration in the amount of civic and social duty in this town. People are involved. They stand with their values, and work to be engaged in the process.
I could go on about this, but let’s just leave it with this. I am a person who is inspired, and if I am elected to the Selectboard, I will bring my passion for this town, and all of that inspiration and respect for this community with me.