Continuing in our series of interviews with Selectboard candidates, here is our interview with Tim Wessel, a current board member running again for a one-year seat on the board.
Introduce yourself… who are you and what should people know about you?
Hi, I’m Tim! I just completed (almost) my first year serving on the Selectboard, and I think I continue to offer voters a good balance between relative youth and a good amount of experience with town. I still consider myself a fiscal conservative, with the taxpayers’ concerns and tax affordability at the forefront of my mind, but I also recognize the need for some creative thinking and smart expenditures when it comes to Brattleboro.
I’ve lived in Brattleboro since 2007 and in the area since 2001. I recently was remarried and even more recently my wife and I had a son, Declan, born on this past January 19th, my wife’s birthday! I also have a grown son named Cal who is much more famous locally than I am, who I hope to convince to return home at some point- he’s living in Arizona right now.
Read any good books lately?
Yes I’ve read Diaper Changing for Dummies, highly recommended! Just kidding, let’s see – I recently finished Windfall by McKenzie Funk, a fascinating and scary account of how many people and countries are already cashing in on global warming. I’m in the middle of The Ancestor’s Tale by Richard Dawkins, and looking forward to a Christmas book gift with a crazy long title: Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why that is a Problem, and What to Do About It.
Why are you running again for the 1 year seat?
I feel as if I’ve learned SO MUCH this past year about how the town works (and largely works very well) that it would be a shame to lose that investment by not offering my service once again. Plus, I like it, and I feel that I’m good at it.
As far as why the one-year seat, I decided that with my recent family events (we have a newborn boy) it would be best to “see how it goes” again rather than jump into a three-year commitment. Plus, this way I don’t have to go head-to-head with the formidable Brandie Starr! Seriously though – that was another consideration: Brandie has done good work so it doesn’t make any sense to challenge someone who I think is doing a good job for our town.
What unique perspective or skills do you offer as a candidate?
I think I am able to “see both sides” pretty clearly often, and that skill tends to allow me to offer suggestions for compromise that comes in handy for many issues. When two sides remain locked and polarized, often nothing gets done at all, so I seek compromise with some movement too.
I also have been a renter in Brattleboro, then a homeowner, and now a landlord. I’m a small business owner and I’ve been an employee too. I’ve been single here after a divorce, now remarried, and a parent of a twenty-something and now a parent of a newborn again. I think that even in just the past 15 years I have lived through many circumstances and perspectives, all of which inform me about how different people might see different issues affecting our town.
Are there any specific issues you’d like the selectboard to take on in the coming year?
Yes I’m committed to working with our Town Manager to pursue more ways to get assistance at the state level for more options with revenue sources, or even some direct relief for Brattleboro’s position as a “hub town”. We need to find relief for property taxpayers (and renters) who are feeling the burden of our high tax rates. I’d also love to help move the process along (which has already begun) to improve our train station, both with ADA access and the general “look” that could use some serious improvement… for some, it’s their first look at Brattleboro!
How would you describe Brattleboro to someone who’s never been here?
I would call Brattleboro a “just right” town. By that I mean that Brattleboro has just the right amount of area, population, activities and community. That’s why I’m here, and that’s why I intend to stay. I’d probably also say that just as Brattleboro’s name is unique in the entire world, so is its particular blend of types of people who choose to live here, and that makes for a fascinating experience all around.
What could Brattleboro use that it doesn’t already have?
You mean, besides a monorail, correct? (Long-time iBrattleboro fans will appreciate that one)
A downtown Laundromat for starters! A more affordable downtown eatery… A town beach like existed not that long ago… A true riverfront area for recreation and river access… More affordable child care. A SKATE PARK!
I’ve got lots of those “it would be nice if” things bouncing around in my brain, doesn’t everyone? I think we can create what we want for our lovely little town, but it’s certainly not up to just the Selectboard or to RTM members, it starts with all of us getting together and dreaming a bit, then figuring out how to make it happen.
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
I’ve read all of them, since I’m someone who takes the “homework” of being on the Selectboard rather seriously. 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. Sitting on the board for a year has made it even more clear to me 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. I continue to agree with Peter that 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. We actually saw this subject come up recently with a lot of citizen input for a second sidewalk plow. This operation had been scaled back some years ago, and we had a resounding voice from citizens that this was a level of service that needed to be reinstated when it comes to sidewalk safety in the winter.
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?
I feel that our board and also our town manager were very responsive to our community when those concerns were caught before us. Anyone who has taken the time to read Peter Elwell’s report concerning this cannot help but be impressed. Concrete steps have been taken, and I feel we have the will going forward to keep that momentum going. This coming year, no matter what the outcome of the election on March 6th, there will be the first person of color on the board, and I am happy to see that happen. With approximately 20% of our school-age population of color, the future of Brattleboro is more diverse, and I hope more equity and inclusion is part of that future as well.
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?
MLK is quoted as having said, “Budgets are moral documents.” I had that quote in mind as we went through our budget meetings, which were my first and quite extensive. Yes, I see compassion fits into town operations in that we must always be thinking of the entirety of our population (notice, I didn’t say “taxpayers”) – and this means that our spending must always keep in mind those who may not have as much of a voice politically, or are less advantaged from a socio-economic perspective, or not able-bodied, etc. To bring back the subject of sidewalk safety for instance, we must try to prioritize sections that allow people to get to work and to school, allow wheelchairs to roll safely, etc, and yet we cannot afford to fix every sidewalk immediately. So, we must try to look at the greater good and move towards equity in a way that taxpayers (which of course includes renters) can afford. So yeah, compassion should be kept in mind during the consideration of every line item, because it is very true that the devils, and the angels, are in the details.
Vermont will have a form of legal marijuana in July. Thoughts?
I’m hoping the state moves fairly quickly into legal sales so that taxation can occur on the local level, while of course safeguarding kids and our communities.
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?
I’ve written and spoken fairly often on this issue. I do feel that Brattleboro has made important strides in this area, and we will continue to do so. Our new solar array will be a major accomplishment, and we have made great energy improvements to our buildings over the last several years. We were one of the first towns in Vermont to join the Vermont Climate Pledge Coalition, something that seems to have not been celebrated much locally.
I will continue to advocate for energy improvements for the town, especially when they result in real savings to the taxpayers and advantages for our environment. I am less enthused about exact schedules that do not take into account that our town has limited resources to spend in this area.
Have any jokes you can share?
Yeah – so the doctor says to his patient, “I’ve got some bad news and some very bad news.” The man says, “Yikes, well I guess you’d better tell me the bad news first?”
The doctor says, “The lab called with your results, and you have 24 hours to live.”
The patient says, “24 hours?! Crap! What on earth is the very bad news then?!”
The doctor winces and says, “I’ve been trying to reach you since yesterday.”
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?
Yes we should! And, we are looking into that very thing now, thanks to a young woman named Paige Martin who came to public participation and requested that we speed up our consideration of that very topic. I have had some conversations about this in the past year, but we’ve been fairly busy lately and have not been able to make time to pursue it.
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?
There should be some “visioning” for that far into the future, but I don’t feel it’s appropriate for official documents per se since the progression of time tends to change citizen priorities so radically every few years. Perhaps true democracy tends to be a bit short-sighted? Not sure, but I do appreciate the desire to look further ahead of budgetary concerns and to tap into some “what if”s once in a while.
Is there anything you’d like to answer that we didn’t ask you?
Yeah you didn’t ask me – when does a joke become a dad joke?
Answer: When the punch line becomes apparent!
How can people find out more about your campaign?
photo credit is Kristopher Radder in the Reformer
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