Jessica Gelter is an incumbant running for a one year seat on the Brattleboro Selectboard.
Introduce yourself – who are you and why are you running this year for a 1 year seat?
I’m Jessica Gelter, a theater artist, nonprofit executive, and mother. I have served the last two years on the Brattleboro Selectboard, after serving 4 years on the Town Planning Commission. I am running again because I don’t like to leave things unfinished and our Selectboard has many important conversations underway: Determining the future of EMS services in town, setting up our new Town Manager for success, and engaging the community to develop safety solutions including funding projects with the Community Safety Fund. Beyond the work that has already begun, I intend to work with the new Town Manager to create a long-term facilities maintenance and investment plan so that Brattleboro’s infrastructure is properly cared for and improved in the most fiscally responsible manner.
What unique perspectives or experience do you bring to the board?
I am a nonprofit executive director and have served on many boards through my career. I am also a professional artist who thrives on collaboration. This experience has taught me that the best way to achieve goals is not through dictating opinions, but through creatively facilitating problem solving discussion and deliberation, and then creating an actionable plan. I have also been a low-income single parent and this experience helps me understand some of the struggles our community members face such as housing instability, lack of accessible transportation, and other economic challenges. My ability to bring empathy to oversight and decision-making is what drives me to continue my work in town governance.
Do you have anything in particular you’d like to accomplish in the coming year on the board? What is motivating you to offer your services this year?
What’s your favorite part of living in Brattleboro? What do we do well?
What’s our greatest weakness in Brattleboro? What needs attention?
What can Brattleboro voters expect of you on the following issues:
-Brattleboro ambulance services – which option do you prefer?
While necessity may have forced us to rush decisions on this topic in the past, I have no desire to make further decisions without due consideration and reflection. There is still information that needs to be presented to the board and the public for deliberation – particularly the cost of delivering each option to our community.
The AP Triton report is an excellent resource for the town staff to begin work on this. What makes the report so important is that it not only addresses EMS services but also the gaps in our town’s Fire response. The Fire Department is currently staffed at the same level as when we had an additional volunteer force of up to 35 responding by their side. That volunteer force no longer exists, so we must rely significantly on mutual aid for major structure fires.
It may be most feasible to address both EMS and Fire Department staffing in one model that includes Fire-based EMS so that the Town is able to accrue income from EMS transport fees to cover the costs of adding needed Fire Department staff. Contracting with an outside EMS provider would not support the costs we will incur in adding staff to the Fire Department and we must look closely at financial projections to see if that route makes sense.
Regardless of which option proves to be the most fiscally responsible, the AP Triton report shows that all options would continue to provide Brattleboro the dependable, quality emergency services we all expect and deserve.
-Living Memorial Park upgrades
I fully support of the upgrades at Living Memorial Park that will reduce our carbon footprint and make running the facility more financially viable, particularly replacing the ice rink’s dangerous and outdated cooling system that has proven to be so costly over the last few years. The new building to house the maintenance equipment is a sound investment to ensure the equipment protected from deteriorating too quickly.
There was an impactful image in the presentation the Rec Department made showing that a truck with a plow attached could not fit through the current garage door. If we properly store our equipment, we will not have to replace or repair it as frequently.
I am proud of the staff who have suggested cost saving measures on these investments – including building out the interior of the new garage themselves and securing funding for the new lighting system through seeking out alternatives to tax payer investments, like grants and community fundraising.
I am proud of the work the town is doing to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels – purchasing electric and hybrid equipment, and more. We are making a concerted effort to become more climate resilient and providing an example to other communities that it is possible, with slow and committed investment, to change.
Many departments are engaged in this work, including the Library, which has built partnerships and is able to provide education and tools to the community so folks can better understand how to achieve climate responsibility in their own lives. I fully support the town’s investment in a Sustainability Coordinator and in the Global Warming Action Fund (formerly the Fossil Fuel Free Facilities Fund).
I would like to return to a system where the Energy committee or Sustainability coordinator is regularly reporting on the Town’s carbon footprint. I am also hoping that with the new communications Coordinator position, we can continue to engage the greater community in participating in those small actions that support climate sustainability.
There are significant challenges to community safety, including an understaffed police force, an underinvestment in prevention of crime in our community, national systemic economic inequality, and the opioid pandemic. The community safety fund was created, in my view, to enhance non-police related crime prevention, including filling gaps in meeting peoples’ basic needs and building community through investments in projects led by some of our community’s most marginalized folks. Beginning to utilize that fund is one piece of the puzzle.
I would also like to see the town use some of our Economic Development funds to support small businesses that have suffered harm from recurring break-ins. Cameras may be a helpful deterrent or tool to catching serious criminal activity, however I think we must weigh the cost of the deterrent with the cost of other potential solutions.
I had the privilege of going on a tour of the police station and a ride-along with an officer this past summer. Though it was only a single patrol, it did much to open my eyes to what crimes happen in our community, about how officers approach situations that may be dangerous, and how much compassion officers have for the community members with whom they interact. Regrettably, there are crimes happening quietly in our community, not just drug dealing, vandalism, and break-ins. Chief Hardy is rightfully prioritizing our officers focus on keeping individuals safe from bodily harm. I believe we can all recognize that Chief Hardy and our Police Department are doing admirable work with the resources they have, yet there are tremendous challenges they still have to face and it will take time, money, and innovations to address them all.
The first priority is recruitment. When Chief Hardy believes she has adequate staffing, that is the time to discuss things like increased foot and car patrols and a substation in the Transportation Center. I have trusted and will continue to trust her expertise in deploying her team to the places they are needed to prevent the most significant harm that may befall people in our community. I have also been very impressed with her innovative approach to staffing the department.
The best thing the Selectboard can do is to support the expert staff that are part of our team – while at the same time asking for transparency and holding conversations about the community’s expectations of success.
Taxes are investments we all make in our community. The quality of any investment is not only determined by its size, but by its impact. Small investments now can prevent the need for larger investments in the future. Previous boards have tried to save the taxpayers money by cutting corners and delaying inevitable maintenance. This short-sighted approach means our Transportation Center is in need of work far sooner than should have been necessary, our skating rink still relies on technology so outdated its extremely hard to purchase the materials to keep it running, and many are re-thinking the cost-cutting measure of moving the police station out to Black Mountain Rd. My board colleague who said that now was in no way the ideal time to take out a bond for park improvements was not entirely wrong, but past decisions to postpone these investments have forced our hand in the present. This is why I am pushing for a long-term facilities maintenance plan, so the board can operate in such a manner that it is responsible to both the taxpayers of today and the future.
How we spend our taxes dollars is not just a public question, but a personal one. It is our money, yours and mine. If anyone wants to change the tax rate or change how the town spends funds, I ask that they show up and make their voice heard. Come to the public discussions on the budget that happen at the Selectboard meetings almost every single Tuesday from November through January, write emails to elected officials, call us – our phone numbers are right on the town website. The more input elected officials have from citizens, the better we can understand what the community’s priorities are.
If you could make an immediate change (free of charge!) to Brattleboro, what would it be?
I would give Brattleboro a magical investment of 500 affordable workforce and retiree housing units scattered across town as small homes, condos, and apartments and I would start a Town-run low-interest, risk-tolerant loan program so that people could purchase and own homes easier.
Read any good books lately? What can you recommend?
I found out recently that one of our town employees is an author who writes under the name of J.M. Stephen. I recently finished a book she wrote, Nod. It was a sci-fi exploration of a biblical story with a focus on anti-capitalism – pretty exciting! The library is also such a great resource – our librarians have recommended some great ones to me this year, including Parable of the Sewer, Mexican Gothic, and the Green Rider series. Imagination, adventure, and powerful female characters pique my interest.
Is there any thing you’d like to discuss that we didn’t ask you about?
Please include photo credit: Josh Steele.
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