MIDDLEBURY — Brian Carpenter has spent almost his entire adult life serving his business and the U.S. Army.
He’s now hoping for a chance to serve his community as a member of the Middlebury selectboard.
Carpenter, 52, is owner of Champlain Valley Equipment, a growing business in Middlebury’s industrial park. This will be his second run for the selectboard; he ran unsuccessfully nine years ago and had wanted to give it another try, but Uncle Sam had other plans for Carpenter. Then a lieutenant colonel in the Vermont National Guard, Carpenter received an unexpected call while on a hunting trip in North Dakota.
“I was offered a promotion,” Carpenter recalled. “(Then)-Adjutant Gen. Michael Dubie asked me to command a brigade of the Vermont (Army) Guard.”
He’s now a brigadier general and commander of the Vermont Army Guard.
While Carpenter had been looking to wind down a military career that has now spanned three decades, he accepted his promotions and has provided leadership during key Guard deployments to the Middle East and during the devastation of Tropical Storm Irene. He has enjoyed serving, but served notice that he will be retiring from the Army later this year.
Carpenter reasoned that his retirement from the military will give him more time to serve his community. So he has decided to become one of eight candidates who will vie for three spots on the Middlebury selectboard. Carpenter, John Freidin, Eric Murray, Ted Davis, Laura Asermily and incumbent Selectman Craig Bingham will compete for two three-year spots on the board. Incumbent Selectman Dean George and Heather Seeley will run for a one-year term on the panel.
Carpenter has already gained some experience with municipal government while serving on the town’s public works subcommittee for the past nine years.
“It has been a significant period of growth, with many challenges,” he said, alluding to the various road, water, bridge and other capital projects the town has initiated during the past decade. And he noted another major project on the horizon — residents on Town Meeting Day will cast ballots on a proposal to float a $6.5 million bond to build a new town office building at 77 Main St. and a new recreation center off Creek Road. The project also calls for the town to convey its current municipal building/gym site at 94 Main St. and a parcel at 6 Cross St. to Middlebury College. In return, the college would assume $4.5 million in debt on the town’s $6.5 million building projects and provide another $1 million in site and building relocation costs.
The project has spurred much controversy and has drawn opposition from some residents who believe the town should renovate or rebuild its municipal building on-site. A non-binding article on the upcoming Town Meeting Day warning advocates that the town take that direction.
Carpenter has observed the controversy and debate, which has been polarizing and at times acrimonious. Former selectboard member Victor Nuovo resigned from the board after being the subject of two conflict-of-interest complaints related to votes on the project. Carpenter believes Nuovo was not treated with the respect he deserved.
“I was concerned about the direction the board was headed,“ Carpenter said. “(The debate) was very emotional and heated and not always factual, and that concerns me.”
The ongoing infighting, Carpenter fears, could give people the impression of a dysfunctional town government, which in turn could send the wrong message to businesses that might want to invest resources in Middlebury.
Carpenter said that while the process leading up to the upcoming March 4 bond vote could have been more effective and inclusive, he supports the project as presented.
“I think we have a golden opportunity here to move the town forward and to new facilities that will serve us for years to come,” he said. But if the project fails, Carpenter said he and other town officials should get the message and go back to the drawing board in consultation with the public and perhaps Middlebury College.
Being a businessman, Carpenter vowed — if elected — to make economic development one of the board’s top priorities. He is pleased with the board’s success (with voter consent) in hiring a business development director, Jamie Gaucher, who has been recruiting new business prospects. Having spent many years on statewide, regional and national boards representing dealers in farm, light industrial and outdoor power equipment, Carpenter believes he can help the town roll out the red carpet for new entrepreneurs that could help grow Middlebury’s grand list and provide new jobs.
“If you’re not growing, you’re going to start dying,” Carpenter said, repeating an old adage in the business world. “We need more business growth in Vermont.”
Carpenter said he’s also keen on containing Middlebury’s tax rate, which is among the highest in the state.
“I’m a major taxpayer in this town; I feel it,” he said.
It’s a tax rate that Carpenter said is forcing some retirees to move elsewhere.
“That has pained me to no end,” he said, of the departure of longtime residents on fixed incomes.
In addition to serving his community on the public works subcommittee, Carpenter has served the past few years on the Middlebury Regional EMS board. He believes he has developed a good combination of skills that he wants to put to use as selectman.
“I have many years of dealing with large organizations, and I can dig into the facts and help the board decide what’s factual, what’s an assumption and what’s proven,” he said.
“I’m not a one-issue guy.”
Reporter John Flowers is at firstname.lastname@example.org.