Why we should take Gwen Hallsmith seriously.
That is something that has not been discussed much in the current campaign for mayor. Here are some reasons to do so:
First, Gwen is a forward-looking, imaginative thinker. The district heat project — now touted by the mayor and council — came about because Gwen saw the long-term fuel-cost savings and environmental benefits to the city. Gwen spearheaded writing of the grant proposal that won the $8 million core funding for the project; worked effectively and collaboratively with engineers and planners to develop details for implementing the project; and patiently promoted and defended it when most of the city council — and all the leaders of the so-called “Vibrant and Affordable Montpelier” group — opposed it.
John Hollar, when he ran for mayor in 2012, did not endorse the project. When he finally came around — for which I applaud him — and announced his support of the project at the crucial City Council meeting on Aug. 22, 2012, he failed to convince a majority of the council to follow him. The voice of disappointed citizens of Montpelier finally helped save the project; but we should remember that the inspiration and securing of core funding for it was Gwen’s work from the beginning.
Second, Gwen is one of the few people who has publicly promoted and continuously defended the content and use of the community developed, publicly endorsed, and formally adopted (Sept. 8, 2010) master plan to guide the city’s development into the future. It was Gwen who designed and implemented the process for gathering public opinion, holding neighborhood discussions, and drafting the plan.
One key element of that plan, “Goal C: Housing and Buildings,” has proven to be especially controversial. Yet implementation of that section of the master plan is one key way that Montpelier residents can achieve sustainable stabilization or reductions in their property tax bills. Gwen has continued to assert publicly that by carefully adding infill and affordable housing, we will accommodate current residents, attract new residents, increase the number of children in our schools, and add new property owners and taxpayers, thereby spreading and lowering the tax burden for all of us.
We hear a lot about a “vibrant and affordable” Montpelier, and about “sustainable budgets.” Without resorting to empty phrases and clichés, Gwen has contributed ideas and plans for accomplishing that. The budget cuts for which the current mayor and council are being applauded in some quarters are not being subjected to the question of whether they are sustainable reductions in costs, personnel, and services. I think we should be asking those questions as well.
Finally, one hears quietly the question, “How will Gwen work with the council?” In fact, one newspaper in our community inappropriately asked candidates for the council which candidate for mayor they were supporting. We should remember that the council and mayor work together and have an obligation to work together. We see at the national level that personal and party disagreements and, to be candid, dislikes, disable constructive and creative thinking and effective governance. Whatever the outcome of our election, we must not allow that infection to spread in Montpelier.
In my opinion, the contest for mayor is not a grudge match. It is an expression of differences in frameworks for planning for the future of our city. I think we should take Gwen Hallsmith seriously.
Michael Sherman lives in Montpelier.
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