We now present the fourth in our series of four interviews with people running for the Brattleboro Selectboard. Brandie Starr is the sole candidate for the three year seat.
Introduce yourself… who are you and what should people know about you?
My name is Brandie Starr. I was born 37 years ago in Springfield, VT and I’m a Taurus. I enjoy long walks with plenty of fresh air and sunshine, good – jokes, food, wine, dancing, music, cooking, and painting. I a have two amazing children; ages 3 & 5, so basically my house looks and feels like a tornado hit it every day. I look terrible in the color yellow. My brain never turns off even when I beg it to. I love to be with people, which can, at times, make being a stay at home parent a little more challenging than I imagined it would be.
Read any good books lately?
Well, it is winter, which is the time of year I like to read “Winter (notes from Montana)” by Rick Bass. It’s my annual tradition.
Why are you running again, and for the 3 year seat?
I’ve enjoyed my work over the past year. Being part of the balancing act of infrastructure and traditional municipal needs with human service needs, community input, and perspectives on need, and of course, the final project of drafting the budget for Representative Town Meeting, is exactly the kind of work I love to be a part of. I feel that running for the three year seat will allow me to really settle into the role and deepen my understanding of the needs of the community. I will also be able to focus acutely with the level of dedication required to accomplish these tasks and address challenges, such as the aging infrastructure and a flat grand list. This timeframe will open the door for the formulation of creative and promising ideas that may successfully address these and other challenges we as a town will inevitably face.
What unique perspective or skills do you offer as a candidate?
This is a tricky question; for if I frame my answer in the context of “unique” I worry that it might be viewed as a bit boastful. That said, there are three sides of my personal experiences that I think are beneficial to me while doing this work: a love of civic duty–particularly the way we do it in Vermont, a good understanding of the budgeting process and importance of projections and assumptions in that process. With regards to receiving requests and hearing concerns from the community, my life experience allows me to hear all sides honestly. While I have spent about fifteen years of my adult life in a safe, stable, and sometimes white collar life, I spent longer than that carrying light into darkness. I have seen a side of life first hand that is home to broken, scared, human beings living in poverty. I have personally experienced the evils of humanity as well. When people come to me and speak of suffering, I can relate first hand. I don’t feel removed from it, or struggle to understand what that might feel like. I remember all too well. I also try and use the privilege I have–some of which I was born with, some that I have gained–to try and work within the system to help affect change, or simply act as a translator between people with a variety of backgrounds who may otherwise have a hard time identifying with one another.
Are there any specific issues you’d like the select board to take on in the coming year?
I am really starting to bring my many ideas into a more realistic and concrete form, but if you want a glimpse inside of my brain (careful what you wish for) then: public seating. While I appreciate Pliny Park, there is something about the angle of the park that does not lend itself to spontaneous conversation, laughter, or the ‘seeing’ of people. I’m not saying I have it all figured out just yet, but for a town that boasts of its love of community connection, our chances to connect spontaneously with different people while not paying for the privilege to do so, can be limited. Other issues that swirl through my mind are: the lighting of downtown at night, complete streets, our trash system, our corner of the national opiate crisis….
How would you describe Brattleboro to someone who’s never been here?
An eclectic old New England river town and Hub town, with the usual charm and challenges that come with it. A town which has been a mill town, a music town, and an left leaning activist town, a town that appreciates the arts and good food, with a strong conservative vein running through it; a good Vermont mix.
What could Brattleboro use that it doesn’t already have?
More spaces for kids/young adults, particularly in the winter. It can be really isolating to be a parent here and to be a teen here, unless you are involved in a specific approved activity. There aren’t many spaces to hang around, connect, and just goof off. We could also use a new dose of industry to be proud of that could potentially attract enthusiastic people to move here. More clean tech jobs, and jobs focused on green energy/sustainability. Maybe hemp farming, that then funnels to local production of specific hemp products like reusable bags, paper towels…etc. More ancillary centers to augment things like the drop in center or the retreat, as it feels like there are not many options between being homeless, or in-patient, and transitioning back to life, which can be so hard! Think of every logistic you hate dealing with (ID’s, Resumes, clothes shopping, skill gaining or polishing…etc.) and then throw a mental illness or addiction recovery on top of that, and see how much you can actually get done without an intermediate step with safe housing and at least weekly one on one support through those mundane, but consuming and essential tasks.
Town staff relies heavily on the Long Term Financial Plan, Comprehensive Review of Town operations, and Town Plan. Have you read any or all of these, and what’s your impression of our near-term future as outlined in these plans?
Yes I have, and my impression is slow moving steps in the right direction. It is important to me that we stay focused on those goals, and to do that we need to be able to remember our three, five, and ten year infrastructure goals while living in the present. That is not an easy thing to do, mostly because staying on task with those goals requires current money to be spent, which is complex, and makes people very uncomfortable. For me, it helps to remember that we are stewards of tax dollars, and for me that means using those dollars to make the town not only better for those already here, but to make it appealing for relocators, as attracting new community members strengthens our economy, and grows the grand list, which will then provide tax relief in the purest way.
Last year saw some of Brattleboro’s first efforts toward diversity, equity and inclusion in town government. What are your thoughts on where we are, and what we could do next?
The most important thing for the Town to do is to stay in conversation with the local experts on this topic. There are people of color and others already working on these issues daily, and it is in our best interest to treat them as the experts they are, and learn our next steps through that process. Peter Elwell is doing a good job of that.
Brattleboro made a commitment to compassion last year. Taxes are also going up. Can there be compassion in a municipal budget? How does “compassion” fit in to town operations, in your view?
As long as we remain a town made up of humans, then yes, we need to find a way to include compassion in the budget. We either sink or swim as a whole, and how we take care of our people matters. It matters to our most vulnerable citizens, it matters to our children, for whom we set our examples. It matters to those looking to come and live here, as a move to Vermont is not usually something you do to make millions, or live the hottest and fastest lifestyle. It is a move you make out of intention, and most people who intentionally move somewhere like this are looking to see how holistic we are. Compassion, costs money, and supports the most disadvantaged among us. This can lead people to feelings of unfairness, as they may not see an immediate ROI coming back to themselves. I understand that, but I believe that we are judged by how we treat our most vulnerable people, and whether we choose to be a rising tide that lifts all boats, which will certainly take us farther than the alternative.
Vermont will have a form of legal marijuana in July. Thoughts?
Good. A step towards taking a plant that can be used for many medicinal purposes, out of the full control of shady drug dealers, who not only do not generally know or care which strain of cannabis is most useful for a particular ailment, but who may also “run out” one day, but just happen have another product to let you try “free of charge”. While I personally would have liked to see a taxation and sales model, I think private use and growth is a start, and a very Vermonty start at that…
Brattleboro’s energy use is an ongoing topic. We’ve been making energy improvements in municipal buildings, changing the devices we use to low-power alternatives, and looking for electric dump trucks and other vehicles. Are we doing enough? Is Brattleboro’s vision for a sustainable future correct and clearly articulated?
Are we doing enough is subjective, but probably not, though I believe we are doing what we feasibly can right now with what we know. I think our vision for a sustainable future can always use work, and just as we involve experts with Diversity work, we need to do the same here. Thankfully we do have some expert help from Phoebe Gooding, and from some members of the Energy Committee, but I don’t think we have found the sweet spot yet, in terms of communication and collaboration.
Have any jokes you can share?
How did the hipster burn his mouth? He ate the pizza before it was cool.
Studies show municipal broadband (towns offering internet as a utility) is less expensive, has more transparent pricing than commercial providers, and gives protection against commercial ISP net neutrality whims. It also creates jobs and revenue. Brattleboro has fiber running right through town. Should Brattleboro explore the possibility of municipal broadband for Brattleboro?
Short answer, Yes. We should always explore options that enhance the lives of our community members.
Most of municipal planning for “the future” takes us 3-5 years ahead. Is this a long enough timeframe? Should Brattleboro add a component that studies a more long-term future, such as 20-50 years ahead?
Mmmm… I see the temptation there, but I actually like a five year approach. It keeps goals grounded and attainable. We have much work to do in Bratt, and while I am a fan of projections, I find assumptions that go that far out to be a bit superfluous, unless all major infrastructure work is complete, and we are in a maintenance phase.
Is there anything you’d like to answer that we didn’t ask you?
I can’t think of anything! But if people have questions they can feel comfortable sending them my way!
How can people find out more about your campaign?
People can follow your posts here, come to the citizen forums or watch them on BCTV, or go to: https://www.facebook.com/brandiestarrbrattleboroselectboard/
Thanks for spending time with iBrattleboro.