Jessica Gelter is running for a one-year seat on the Brattleboro Selectboard.
Tell us about yourself….
I’m an artist, a nonprofit executive, small business coach, and an engaged citizen. For many years, theater has been my way into conversations about politics, conflict, and the human condition. In 2016, I got involved Brattleboro’s Planning Commission because I wanted to learn how our local government systems work and play a role in crafting our town’s future.
Why are you running for a 1 year seat on the Brattleboro Selectboard?
I’m passionate about bringing opportunity to everyone who calls Brattleboro home.
Are there any specific issues you are concerned about and want to work on as a board member?
These are the things I want to work on:
Making housing more accessible to economically distressed individuals, including increasing access to homeownership.
Implementing the recommendations of the community safety review report.
Empowering health and social service organizations and systems in our community with the tools they need to provide relief to individuals impacted by opioid addiction
Supporting the recommendations of the energy committee and sustainability coordinator to meet new carbon emissions standards for the town.
Doing due diligence on rolling out cannabis retail in Brattleboro – ensuring our community is safe, healthy, and that our kids understand marijuana is for adult consumption, and that using it as a teenager can have a negative impact on their developing brains.
Giving small businesses the resources they need to succeed: whether that is allowing for creative use of public space as the pandemic continues, connecting them to funding through federal pandemic stimulus bills, supporting collaborative efforts like those led by the DBA, or ensuring they have the high-speed internet that they need to operate efficiently.
Connecting the community through our public parks and recreation opportunities.
Advocating for municipal autonomy so Brattleboro can make more independent choices with ordinances, laws, zoning, and budgeting.
Ensuring an easily accessible democratic process in town.
In what direction should Brattleboro be heading? What’s your vision for the future of the town?
I would love for our community to really engage in leading Brattleboro into the future. Town government provides such great structures to bring folks together and get things done through petitions, committee work, and support from the staff. All it takes if people stepping up and getting involved. If we can address those barriers to accessibility, we can get so much done together and have a beautiful thriving, healthy town.
Recent zoom meetings have been very long. How good are you at staring at screens? : )
Pandemic or no, we live in a digital age, and I grew up in an era when communicating was evolving rapidly into more online spaces and media. Public participation in Selectboard meetings has increased dramatically since they’ve been held online. So, I’m enthusiastic about the new format and I’m very comfortable with screens.
In the last year the board passed two major community-driven initiatives – a rent ordinance and a community safety review. Did you agree with these board decisions? Why or why not?
I agree with both decisions. The town and town government is built to address the needs of the people of the town. When community members come to the Selectboard with both a problem AND a solution, with enthusiastic community support like we saw this year, the Selectboard should take the expertise of those with lived experience and strive for positive change. Both were brave efforts on behalf of communities that have not always felt they could exercise their voice and power. The Selectboard was right to act on both of these issues. I look forward to future discussions on making local housing options more accessible and carrying out the recommendations in the Community Safety Review Report.
In the coming year the board will be tasked with implementing some or all of the community safety recommendations. Thoughts? Do any of the recommendations bother you? Are there any you really want to see implemented immediately?
The recommendations in the Community Safety Review report are not radical, and reference changes and practices already implemented around the world. They do not bother me and I believe the timeline laid out in the recommendations is a great guide for the Selectboard.
The police work for the town. Some individuals in need of protection and safety are telling us that policing is not always the right solution for them. We should listen. The millions of dollars we invest each year are not doing a perfect job of helping all the members of our community stay safe. Instead of continuing to pour money into strategies that aren’t working, we need to look at new strategies for investing some of those funds. The police have a role to play, but the findings confirm the police do not have to take on as much of the burden as they have been assigned.
Who was your best teacher and what did they teach you?
I have had a slew of incredible teachers and mentors over the years. The one that comes to mind today is Mitch Davis, my chorus teacher at BUHS. I’ve always had a knack for music and being the arrogant teenager I was, I took a lot for granted. Mitch taught me that in a competitive world it wasn’t enough for me to show up and wave around whatever natural talent I had. He never let me slide by, but insisted on dedication, preparation, and doing the best I could, not just doing well enough to get by. I learned from him that perseverance and commitment to something can take you far in a task or assignment that doesn’t come naturally. I apply that learning anytime I launch into something new or when I face the dreaded “impostor syndrome.” I do my best to learn, prepare, and dedicate myself to bringing everything I can to the effort.
COVID. How well is the town holding up? Anything we should worry about?
Yes, there’s a lot we should worry about, and be continually checking in on. Kids, local businesses, isolated community members, teachers, essential workers – how are they doing? This pandemic impacts all of us, whether we catch the virus or not, there will be a recovery process to heal from this traumatic time. Local leaders should be hearing from those communities most impacted regularly – in private and by hosting public space at Selectboard meetings to stay in touch with this immediate issue that affects us all.
Does Brattleboro’s system of government allow for equal and full access by everyone in town? Is everyone represented? What could be improved?
As a Planning Commission member for four years, I have seen community engagement efforts and outreach miss big swaths of the community. That has implications on our long term plans, spatial designs of public places, and considerations on how best to help Brattleboro be a sustainable community. More voices need to be heard and included.
The move to Zoom meetings has opened up access to the democratic process for new audiences. Nonprofits and community groups have stepped up to mobilize and engage with public policy in the past year, bringing new populations to the table. We have seen these strategies work and it’s worth investing the time in encouraging town staff and committees to build those relationships and utilize digital platforms to increase participation.
I don’t know what all of the barriers are, but I would love the opportunity to encourage the Selectboard and town staff to investigate that issue.
As the pandemic winds down, the folks on the Selectboard in the next year will face the question – do we go back to business as usual with how meetings are run and hosted or do we value the progress that has been made in the last year and find a way to further it. I say, let’s keep the good going, and work to be more inclusive.
Who or what inspires you?
My daughter. She is smart, creative, and kind. She’s been staying connected to her friends and exploring new hobbies during this pandemic. She rocks.
Have any hobbies or special interests at the moment?
I’ve been making cloth masks for family and friends and dropped a couple of bundles off at BMH. I’ve also been going for a lot of hikes with our dog – even in this cold weather! Staying creative and connecting with nature keeps me grounded.
Is there anything voters should know that we didn’t ask about?
My love of arts and interest in community planning come together in Creative Placemaking. It’s a professional practice where towns use the arts to bring communities together; lend awareness to activist issues; and leverage arts events, festivals, and public art to bolster the economy and attract tourists and positive activity to an area of a town. I’ve gotten to sit on panels at national events and teach at New England-wide conferences on the topic, and I’m excited to be an advocate for this in our own community.
If people want to know more, what’s the best way to contact you?
Folks on Facebook can follow my official page Jessica Gelter for Brattleboro Selectboard or reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org