Elizabeth McLoughlin is a current member of the Brattleboro Selectboard and is running for a three-year seat.
Tell everyone a bit about yourself… who are you?
About a dozen years ago, I chose Brattleboro, together with my family, my Mother-in-Law, our jobs, and our whole lives– we moved to Brattleboro, where our youngest daughter attended BUHS. This move, after many years of visiting family in Brattleboro, was a happy choice. My husband and I both started small businesses. I own a planning and environmental consultancy business. I volunteered for a number of Town and civic committees, most notably: the Planning Commission, The RTM Finance Committee, BASIC, the Skatepark Committee, and the Empty Bowls Dinner Committee.
My Selectboard service is an outgrowth of the understanding I gained participating and contributing to these civic committees.
Do you have any special powers or skills to offer?
Sometimes I think my gray hair is my special power because of the wisdom I have gained from life experiences, including raising two daughters to adulthood and my career in Town Planning. This experience includes both my husband and I working full-time, making ends meet, paying for day-care thru college. I know the burden on families today. I want to continue to represent you and your family, paying attention to municipal government so that you can be confident that your Selectboard is assessing, weighing and considering each action in your interest.
My training and skill in Town Planning and environmental assessment are indeed special powers. I have been analyzing and assessing the pros and cons of public and private initiatives and development actions for decades. I also determine whether an action is of positive or negative environmental impact. I have reported on the tax implications of public and private actions.
Familiar with the permitting process in Vermont, I was happy to have the skill to help with these two initiatives: I obtained the Act 250 permit for the proposed Brattleboro Skatepark and helped the BOC with the Act 250 permit for their new warming hut.
Why are you running for Selectboard? Anything special you’d like to accomplish?
As a member of the Brattleboro Selectboard, I stand before the people of Brattleboro, asking them to allow me to continue this public service. I have no agenda other than the desire to continue to serve with my colleagues to work together to address each Town concern in a collaborative manner, to seek solutions in a professional manner — to seek a civil society here in Brattleboro, one that is fair to all and conscious of the tax payer at all times.
In general, how do you think about a problem that needs solving? What’s your process for figuring something out?
I like to start with understanding how the Town is currently addressing a particular issue, to see if I think something more needs to be done, and to talk to and especially listen to people in the community.
For the Sustainability Coordinator position, for example, I began by researching and interviewing Town Staff to see what is already being done to conduct Town business in a sustainable manner. And I found that Brattleboro was, through an Energy Audit conducted in 2016, “investing 1.43 million dollars in energy saving measures is predicted to save $113,427 a year, yielding a 7.9% return on that investment, with a net present value payback of 11.9 years.” I also found that each Town Department was acting on this energy audit program in real ways.
However, my vote did not prevail. I did not harrumph about it, I joined the hiring committee and together we found an excellent candidate to fill this position. The Sustainability Coordinator can build on all the things the Town is doing and suggest new initiatives for the Town Government to address. At the same time, the public can benefit from the Sustainability Coordinator, Stephen Dotson’s, suggestions on efficient and sustainable actions in their homes.
Tell us about Brattleboro in terms of it being:
– sustainable…see above
One of the central actions of the Town Staff and Selectboard this year was to negotiate and approve three union and one non-union contracts with Town employees. The special thing here is the non-union contract – this was not mandatory – it was an effort bring fairness to all Town staff, and to make sure that there is a living wage – with these actions, employment is equitable and a living wage has been established for Town staff. This is something that Town staff accomplished and the Selectboard supported that I am proud to be a part of.
Brattleboro is more diverse. That is a fact. That we treat one another with care and respect, and make sure we are a welcoming community to all is something we all have to be more conscious of and work towards. Brattleboro Town Government is aware of this issue, as a member of the Selectboard I have participated in the Town’s on-going diversity training. Our goal is to be a welcoming community with opportunity and fairness for all.
In Brattleboro, in addition to the poverty among us, there is also a middle class affordability issue. This is the reason we voted for the 1% tax at last year’s RTM. The 1% Local Option Sales Tax is working, we now have more revenue raised from outside the property tax, which was the goal, to reduce the middle class tax burden. I feel strongly that we must not overburden the typical Brattleboro homeowner, just trying to make ends meet. And in this way, Brattleboro will keep its residents and attract new residents.
Despite a lot of good work on the issue, opioids are still a major issue for the community. Thoughts? What else can we do?
This past year, I have learned quite a bit and had many conversations about the opioid problem. I think that Project Care is the best way to address this issue because Project Care really does, in fact, care. The Town of Brattleboro collaborates with all these public and non-profit institutions and service agencies:
- Brattleboro Police Department
- Groundworks Collaborative
- Turning Point
- The Brattleboro Retreat
- Brattleboro Memorial Hospital
- Habit OPCO, and
- Brattleboro Union High School
The opioid problem is multi-faceted.
The Town of Brattleboro is working collaboratively with these great institutions and non-profit agencies. This is the best way to coordinate care, to create a caring community, to know each person, and to address individual issues in a holistic manner. That is why my very first initiative on the Selectboard was to send the Project Care brochure to every household in Brattleboro – so that we are all aware of this crisis in our midst and understand what Brattleboro is doing to address this problem.
And yet, when people ask me “what are you going to do about the pan-handlers and homelessness associated with the opioid problem”, this of course it is important, but perhaps more importantly, this problem is a crisis in our families, all the families touched by addiction, all the children impacted, and the poverty, hunger and illness in our community and the significant number of children taken away from their parents — all from this addiction crisis. What I have learned is that everyone in our community needs to understand this problem and work together. I walk downtown almost every day, and this issue has not stopped me from enjoying the shops, movies and restaurants. Naysayers who discourage people from shopping downtown are self-defeating! The Town of Brattleboro is addressing this problem by supporting the institutions that help these individuals and families. (I note that the Town’s collaborative efforts with these institutions is also cost effective — ever mindful of Town spending.)
How do you think Brattleboro should handle the sale of legal marijuana in the coming year(s)?
The Select board recently passed a resolution supporting legislation that will allow for an agreement for the State to share 1/3 of all cannabis related tax revenue with the municipalities. This is similar to the revenue sharing of the 1% tax (except in that instance, we keep 2/3 of the 1%, and the state gets 1/3). I support this legislation, and did the Selectboard, as it provides a reasonable revenue stream to Towns, including Brattleboro, who will have additional expenses regulating and policing a legal cannabis marketplace.
What should Brattleboro do regarding the implementation of 5G networks?
I have a particular dread of American’s falling prey to Russian Propaganda. Please see this article from the New York Times attached about the fact that the 5G controversy is of Russian origin. “Your 5G Phone Won’t Hurt You. But Russia Wants You to Think Otherwise.” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/12/science/5g-phone-safety-health-russia.html?searchResultPosition=1
Russia wants to have the advantage of this technology and for Americans to be needlessly fearful of it, thus losing out on the benefit of this technology. I think we should have the advantage of this technology.
What are your thoughts on municipal broadband now that some options have been presented?
I support the Town of Brattleboro’s participation in the Communication Union District. Participation in the regional initiative, led by the Windham Regional Commission does not require any Town spending. There is quite a bit of study and interest in this issue, at the local, regional, State and federal levels. I am content to let the recent WRC commissioned study do its work, and see what solution or action may come to light before Brattleboro acts. Again, let’s collaborate!
I also note that at the next Selectboard Meeting, (February 18 at 6:15), the leader of this study will speak to the Selectboard and the public about the study goals. I believe this regional study approach is the best way to assess what is best for the Town of Brattleboro amid this ever-changing technology.
There are a lot of expensive repairs and purchases planned for Brattleboro’s future, and taxes continue to rise. Do you see a breaking point for the taxpayers? Is there any program or service that should be cut or privatized?
Yes, Brattleboro is an older, New England Town, and within that fact lies much of our charm. However, there are major infrastructure elements that need attention, including municipal spending. To be ever mindful of the tax burden, the Town of Brattleboro has established several long term budgeting practices to control spending. There is the Comprehensive Review of Town Operations (CRTO) in the spring, and an update to the Long Term Financial Plan (LTFP) each summer, with the budget preparation, review, and approval in the fall and winter. These plan help our Town government with efficiencies and sound money management. These are public documents and these Selectboard meetings are open to all.
One way to see this budget philosophy in action is to look at the recent Selectboard discussion regarding upgrades to the Town Pool. Our first instinct was to conduct a study to see what this upgrade would like and how much it would cost. While some people in Town may have wanted this study right away, the Selectboard chose to wait, as even the cost of a study would overly burden tax payers at this time, and by waiting for a better year to authorize this study, the Town controls spending in an organized way that seeks to manage spending and the tax burden.
The second way the Town and the Selectboard seek to control taxes is to seek revenue solutions outside of the property tax, see the discussion of the 1% Local Option Sales Tax, above.
Should Brattleboro return to an Open Town Meeting where anyone can attend? Why or why not?
Anyone can attend Representative Town Meeting right now. And there are often Town Meeting Representative spots open – so come join us! I believe our RTM is effective and unique to Brattleboro. In my years of serving as a RTM rep, I have seen the RTM become more representative of the population as a whole, and I see representative democracy at work, coming together to discuss, advocate and persuade, RTM is great! (And if the mayoral initiative wins, its consequence may be to disband the professional Town Manager, the Selectboard, and Representative Town Meeting, considerably reducing our Town’s collegial discussion, our democracy and our ability to come together to find solutions to our problems.)
Do you have any second thoughts about how you/the board handled the climate emergency request? Is Brattleboro really doing all that it can do? (Bonus: – Why is there still a Weigher of Coal?)
As a Selectboard member, I have no second thoughts about how I voted on the Climate Emergency Request. This request, by several community members, including school aged children, was a up or down vote on a statement that was in my opinion not well written and not something that the Brattleboro Selectboard could support. We were not presented with a statement we could participate in writing or editing. While the school age children might have been disappointed, I suggest they bring this statement to their teachers to discuss what a municipal government can do to effect climate change and the effective way to write a public statement. Several members of the Selectboard, including myself, suggested that the language of the Paris Accord, that the Selectboard has previously signed onto, as a timely reminder of the climate change initiative. What I suggested at the time, and remind all now, is that the Sustainability Coordinator has just started work, and people who wish to discuss renewing a climate change statement with him and the Energy Committee are free to do so.
Here is the language of the Paris Accord Statement that the Selectboard has authorized:
“Brattleboro should do its part to achieve or exceed the goals of the Paris Climate Accord and the Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan. The Brattleboro Selectboard commits the municipality to meeting these goals for greenhouse gas reduction and renewable energy adoption, and asks every household, organization, and business in town to do the same. We commit to joining those state, national, and international initiatives that best represent the intent of the Paris Climate Accord, and request that the Energy Committee track and inform us concerning appropriate options for us to sign onto.”
Also: there are households in Brattleboro that heat with coal.
What’s the best meal you ever had?
While I never expected an answer to this question could be controversial, here we are.
I have had many nice meals at restaurants in Brattleboro, each special in their own way: Peter Havens, Echo, Hazel, Elliot Street Fish and Chips, The Turquoise Grill, Duo, TJ Buckley’s, the Marina and The Whetstone Brewery. I am also a fan of Amy’s Bakery. But I have to say that when my gang of friends get together, nothing beats Fast Eddie’s for a lobster roll!
Are there any questions you’d like to answer that we haven’t asked you?
What do I think about Brattleboro and its future, you may ask?
I think Brattleboro’s future is great, as we have a real community here, we care about each other. What I have learned in my year on the Selectboard, and my prior volunteer service is that Brattleboro Town Government, its Selectboard, Town staff and all the volunteer committee people are sincere, straightforward and practical in addressing municipal and citizen needs. This is not a cynical community, it is earnest people balancing the needs of all residents: rich, poor and middle class, and finding and working towards practical solutions to a civil society.
Thanks for spending time with iBrattleboro.com!