Close Calls as Merger Falls
3/2/21 Town Meeting Vote
by Irene Wrenner
March 3, 2021, updated March 9, 2021
Minutes after the Essex Middle School polls officially closed, a voter appeared and asked if he might cast his already filled-in ballot. The poll captain turned him away.
That vote combined with a handful of provisional ballots may have made a difference in the race for a 3-year seat on the Essex Selectboard.
Preliminary results indicate Town-Outside-the-Village resident and Essex Zoning Board of Adjustment Member Tracey Delphia ousted Town-inside-the-Village resident and first-term Selectboard Chair Elaine Haney by just four votes.
Close races often beget a recount. In Haney’s (then Sopchak’s) first Selectboard race in 2018, she won by 19-votes, a margin of victory confirmed by a recount. In this, Haney's re-election bid, Delphia prevailed by a two-vote margin.
The last time a merger vote failed (January 2007), then Chair of the Selectboard Tom James lost his seat to a first-time candidate.
The March 2nd merger vote was even closer than the 187-vote NO victory 14 years ago. A mere 17 votes – 19 after the recount – made the difference this time around; however, the outcomes per district were as stark as ever.
The Village, which went YES in November at 74%, saw an even greater level of enthusiasm, at 81%. The TOV, which did not vote in November, went NO at 72%, a tad higher than its decisive vote last March in favor of “3+3”, the fair representation charter change. The TIV and TOV have similar populations, but 1,275 more TOV voters cast ballots.
The Selectboard allocated, and spent some portion of, more than $100,000 to formulate their merger plan – including a consulting firm, attorney, and merger project manager – and to market it via booklets and banners. Two political action committees played roles as well.
The “One Essex” PAC formed last fall to push for a YES vote on the Village Merger Charter. Its donors funded more than $7,000 in expenses this winter, toward a YES on the Town Merger Charter, per their sole campaign finance report, dated 2/25/21.
The “NoMergerNow” PAC spent more than $2,500 on their campaign, according to their most recent filing, dated 2/26/21. (Disclosure: NMN’s founder is the author of this article and publisher of this paper.)
Pre-Election Day winds downed the “Greater Essex” Banner along Susie Wilson Road. The future looks to be just as turbulent for the Town.
Final results are not published by district.
Preliminary results were as follows:
Selectboard member Dawn Hill-Fleury, who was appointed to fill a vacancy last June, won her race against Mark Nadeau for a one-year unexpired term. She will continue to serve out the term of office for the seat abandoned by Annie Cooper last April.
Voters re-elected Steve Eustis as Moderator, and the FY22 Town Budget passed, as did a bond for Champlain Valley Water District.