Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo
Newly elected Montpelier City Council member Jessica Edgerly Walsh takes the oath of office from City Clerk John Odum.
MONTPELIER — Sometimes in the past when Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, would leave work for the weekend on a Friday evening, often around 6 p.m., another group of people near his office was just assembling to begin their own work.
Leading the gatherings was Jessica Edgerly Walsh, whose outreach group Toxics Action Center worked to rally Vermonters to address environmental problems.
It’s the kind of work, said Burns, that often means spending weeknights with groups of community members in someone’s living room an hour away from home.
These days Edgerly Walsh works at SunCommon, a solar energy business in Waterbury Center. She’s also the newest member of the Montpelier City Council, and Burns says the dedication Edgerly Walsh has brought to her earlier work will translate well in her new role as councilor.
“She’s bright. She’s energetic. She’s dedicated,” agreed state Rep. Mary Hooper, D-Montpelier, and a former mayor of the capital city.
Edgerly Walsh, 28, was elected to the City Council last week on Town Meeting Day, besting three other candidates. She replaces Angela MacDonald-Timpone in District 3, keeping the number of women on the council at two along with her new council colleague, Anne Watson.
Edgerly Walsh says there are a number of key issues she’s eager to become involved with, including the district heating project, affordable housing, and helping the city prepare for increases in health care costs.
She said certain budget costs like health care are uncontrollable, but she said the council should make an effort to closely manage as many spending lines as possible.
“As many lines of the budget we can control the better, so that the City Council can actually plan and the city staff can actually plan,” Edgerly Walsh said.
“From my perspective, knowing a little bit about renewable energy, I’m interested in using that as one tool to help us control costs,” she said. “So oil, electricity, propane, these are gambles in terms of what costs will be in five or 10 years.”
Hooper said she hopes Edgerly Walsh brings some creative ideas to her new role.
“Maybe she’ll dig in and try to make Montpelier one of the leading solar cities in the state,” she said.
At SunCommon, Edgerly Walsh is the company’s lead solar community organizer, a position in which she educates people about solar energy technology and motivates them to adopt it.
“She’s a really strategic thinker,” Burns said. “You can be a good listener, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to develop a strategy.”
One of her more memorable and satisfying projects with the Toxics Action Center was helping residents in White River Junction whose groundwater had been contaminated by a dry-cleaning agent that was illegally dumped years before, she said.
“The pollution had seeped up, literally evaporated into their basements, and they were getting sick,” she said.
The center helped residents address the issue with the state, with homeowners getting new air filters for their homes, and also worked to lobby the Attorney General’s office for remedial action.
Edgerly Walsh also said she hopes to make affordable housing a reality in the downtown area of Montpelier.
She lives on Blackwell Street in a home she purchased in 2008. Her husband, Ben Edgerly Walsh, is the clean energy advocate at VPIRG.
“I think she will take a very pragmatic approach to city business, wanting to understand all sides of an issue,” Hooper said. “I’m particularly pleased that District 3 is going to have someone who really cares with trying to connect.”MORE IN Central Vermont
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