We hope you enjoy this interview with Tim Wessel, candidate for the Brattleboro Selectboard.
Which seat are you running for, and why do you want to be on the Selectboard?
I’m running for a one-year seat. I feel that this is a good time for me to contribute to the town by serving the community that I have grown to love over the past 17 years of living in this area, and I think I can bring a good listening ear and solid judgment to the board.
Give us your stump speech/qualifications...
I offer voters a good balance between relative youth and a good amount of experience with town politics and board positions. I served for 11 years on the board of BCTV, and served as President for my final year. I was a town meeting representative for 6 years, and I also served on the BACC board for 5 years. I'm a local fiscal conservative, with the taxpayers' concerns at the forefront of my mind, but I also recognize the need for some creative thinking and smart expenditures when it comes to new revenue sources and making Brattleboro affordable to all.
How did you end up in Brattleboro and why do you stay?
I moved to Brattleboro in 2007 after living in Putney for 7 years. My ex-wife and son Cal and I built a home from scratch in the woods up there, and loved the life, but when we divorced I moved to Brattleboro and rented an apartment "at the blinking light" (you know the one) at the corner of High and Oak. Brattleboro was always our "hub town", so moving here to be closer to friends and community seemed logical. I soon realized that Brattleboro's balance of small-town community and a size large enough for great activities and culture was perfect for me.
I stay because this is my home, more and more each passing year, and now I'm engaged to a wonderful woman who also chose Brattleboro after having lived in many places. In many ways our story happened because we both loved Brattleboro and chose to make it our home, first separately, and now together.
What do you think of the Long Term Financial Plan?
The LTFP is an essential document, not only for understanding where Brattleboro sits financially using a 'wide-angle' lens, but also for helping to generate the dialogue needed for making good decisions for the future of our town. This plan makes it clear that Peter Elwell is a huge asset to our community, with considerable skills in helping us all to understand the challenges and opportunities we have moving forward.
In reading through the plan, I'm most struck by his assessment that there are no longer any major "low hanging fruit" in other words (his): "We can – and will – achieve additional efficiencies in Town operations, but any major budget cuts in the future will require noticeable reductions in levels of service." Basically, it's clear that efficiencies and fat trimming, while definitely an ongoing concern, are not in themselves going to be the method by which Brattleboro can relieve the burden on our taxpayers. We need to find additional non-tax sources of revenue, and continue to strengthen our grand list. In my opinion, reducing levels of service any further than we already have will hurt the quality of life here in Brattleboro.
Do you agree with the Capital Plan as it stands for the next few years?
From what I've seen so far it seems to be well thought out. I will wait until I'm more familiar with these line items before I comment further. I can't wait to hear the story why a 25-year-old zamboni still costs $90,000, but I guess I'll just wait to ask that question if I am elected!
Recent Selectboards have had concerns about Brattleboro’s role as a “hub town” - do you share these concerns? Why or why not?
Well, Brattleboro IS a hub town, period. This results in some good, and some bad. It's true that the bad can include our taxpayers have to shoulder some extra burden of use of services by surrounding towns, but the good can include a lot of potential revenue from people who rely on Brattleboro as a shopping destination, a cultural draw, and a "hub" for nightlife and other social opportunities. As far as seeking outside support for this special circumstance, I'd say it's something to continue to look at, but I'm not yet convinced it's a pragmatic strategy going forward.
How do you feel about local representation, and Representative Town Meeting?
I'm a fan of Brattleboro's unique Representative Town Meeting. Let's face it, as much as we all WANT the traditional town meetings throughout Vermont to be democratic, they tend to be attended by people who can afford to not be working on a Tuesday, or retirees. Most working people can't spend all day attending town meeting, even though some employers give the time off and support it. This makes for a somewhat privileged body of citizens that make all of the key decisions for a town year after year. But Brattleboro's Representative Town Meeting strikes an important balance: not only does it move the important date to a Saturday, when more people are off work, it allows working people to take the time to become part of the representational body when their lives allow it, and also take the time needed to educate themselves on each line item in order to make informed decisions. An open town meeting would also be quite unwieldy in a town of our size.
My argument is that Brattleboro's system is MORE Democratic since it allows for Saturday deliberations and for members to get fully informed to make educated decisions on behalf of their constituents. Direct democracy is a great idea, but not when those who can make it are part of a privileged class of largely idle citizens who may not be in touch with the needs of all citizens.
But the key here for true representation and democratic success of our town meeting relies on participation. We need to have more candidates each year and more turnover of existing reps for our system to function the way it was designed. That's why, every time I encounter someone who has plenty of opinions about what the Selectboard is doing wrong or right, my first question to them is, "Have you served as a Town Meeting Rep yet?" If the answer is no, my next question is, "Why not!?" Remember, RTM members are the Selectboard's 'bosses' - get involved with RTM if you want to exercise real democratic power!
When and how should citizens comment on town issues? What’s the best way for citizens to express their views?
I'd urge all residents to be involved and be involved early! Here's where I insert yet another plug for becoming a Town Meeting Representative, but if that is not possible for you, try to get involved in the decision making process for your issue early enough to be able to help steer the ship, not just try to sink it when it has almost reached the port. Remember that often the Selectboard is acting on recommendations from committees and boards, so get involved at that level if you can. Call the town and ask, "I'm concerned about _____: how can I best make my opinions known?" Go to Selectboard meetings and participate in the open public comment period, but remember that is brief and not an actionable period on the Selectboard agenda - you can ask a Selectperson to add an item to the agenda however. Use your voice! At the very least, write a letter to the editor or post a story/concern on iBrattleboro... there are usually more people paying attention than you think.
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?
Making Brattleboro more affordable to residents isn't a 'nice if we can manage it' item, it's essential for the future of our town. I think some excellent opportunities have already been passed up by the current Selectboard. For example, the proposal to upgrade the Creamery Bridge to make it a rental space was an excellent one, and I was disappointed that a relatively inexpensive $8,000 investment was rejected, and with it, good opportunities for rental fee income for the Recreation and Parks department.
With this idea and some others (like continuing to explore a PILOT program), I'd like to see a Selectboard that's willing to try a few new ideas to benefit our town and save taxpayers money. If something doesn't work, we'll try something else. These decisions are not irreversible, and creative thinking should be encouraged.
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?
Not at the moment. As I said before, our Town Manager and town staff have done an excellent job of identifying areas where there were inefficiencies. I would like to look into our process of awarding construction contracts, but until elected I simply won't have the time for that.
Thoughts on Town offices remaining at the Municipal Center?
I want the town offices to remain exactly where they are. I believe that the current central location is excellent for walkability and encouraging citizen involvement, and I absolutely love the way the beautiful historic building perches above our town.
Many readers might remember that as a town meeting rep I was opposed to moving the police facilities away from the municipal center, favoring instead the proposed upgrades needed to keep them centrally located in town. I've come to understand the advantages of the current plan, but I continue to insist that refurbishing a well-known and historic building has many advantages over new construction, and feel that is more in tune with the Vermont way.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in many people I know around our town who truly love our community, and use what they feel is best for Brattleboro as the final criteria in making any municipal decision. There are times in your life when you must have some flexibility with your own beliefs and worldview in order for progress to be made for the greater good. I find inspiration in those who can suppress their own ego enough to shake hands with an idea that makes our town more livable and sustainable for our children.
Is there anything we didn’t ask about that you’d like everyone to know?
I strive to at least understand, if not agree with, every single opinion that I come across, and take representation of my constituents very seriously. I can't promise that you will always agree with my thoughts on town issues, but I can promise that I will always have the greater good of Brattleboro foremost in my mind, and you will be heard.