Selectboard Candidate Debate at Uncommon Coffee

by Noah Lafaso | Community News Service

February 24, 2022

ESSEX – On February 18, the Essex Retorter hosted all four on-ballot Selectboard candidates at Uncommon Coffee for an informal Q&A and debate.

Write-in candidate Brian Shelden declined invitations to attend. Instead, he held his own public Q&A at McGillicuddy’s in the Junction at the same time.

Town-Village Separation was first on the debate agenda.

“The Village has some very valuable assets, number one of which is the wastewater facility and allocation. And the Town also has some very valuable assets, like Indian Brook Reservoir … individuals in both communities should work out something so that we can all, going forward, enjoy the benefits equally,” candidate Kendall Chamberlin said.

Candidates were asked what they looked forward to working on as a Selectboard member.

 

“I want to focus on eliminating the ways that we’re developing right now into a more sustainable manner, with more affordable housing. And I also want to support and promote agribusiness,” candidate Ethan Lawrence said.

Candidates also discussed their vision of how Essex should spend its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) COVID-19 relief money.

 

“I believe that any money that comes from ARPA … should be spent directly on COVID. I’m projecting February to be the worst month of deaths in Vermont. It’s going to be north of 70. So, we are not taking COVID serious enough,” candidate Andrew Champagne said.

Current projections from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation show Vermont COVID deaths on a sharp decline through February


[Update: Above projections were based on data to Feb 10. Current February deaths according Vermont Department of Health through 2/22 are 57.  Adjusting for number of days this exceeds January deaths.]
 

Plans for a future Essex community center were also discussed.

 

“I think a community center would be a wonderful idea, but I think we have other things that are more important that come first. I mean we’re going to need a new fire department, we’re going to need a place for our seniors, we need to focus on a place for our seniors,” Candidate Dawn Hill-Fleury said.

When asked what he would bring to the Selectboard, Champagne accused current members of apathy.

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“The fact is that I care. And I don’t think that a lot of Selectboard members or Trustees care. I think that they’re more interested in being on the selectboard and I think that that’s all they want to do … They let the staff tell them what they’re going to talk about, and that’s just wrong,” Champagne said.

 

Dawn Hill-Fleury, a current member of the Selectboard, countered: “The reason I wanted to be appointed and then ran for the one-year is because I care about the people of the town of Essex,” 

 

Spectators Alex and Suzy, an Essex Junction, couple spoke about their experience:

“I think this, for me, was a good experience to figure out what’s going on because I’m [originally] from an hour north … So this was kind of good to figure out where we stand,” Suzy said.

 

“I think that we should have more open events like this,” Alex said.

 

For those who might not be able to attend events like these, Alex imagined other methods of informing voters during local elections.

 

Retorter publisher and former Essex Selectboard member Irene Wrenner reflected on the importance of public discussions like these during local elections.

 

“There’s something very different about nobody being scripted … I just want to know, like, who are these people? These are my neighbors,” Wrenner said.

Q&As with each candidate can be found at the Essex Reporter:

Brian Shelden

Ethan Lawrence

Dawn Hill-Fleury

Andrew Champagne

Kendall Chamberlin

 

Noah Lafaso is a student at the University of Vermont and a reporter with the Community News Service, a student-powered partnership with community newspapers.