Bingham seeks fourth three-year term on Middlebury selectboard
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury Selectman Craig Bingham hasn’t shied away from the public spotlight during the past year, whether it be challenging the board’s policy on maintaining executive session material or speaking out against a proposal to build new town offices and a recreation center.
He will soon learn whether his positions have resonated with voters. Bingham is seeking another three-year term on the selectboard in one of the most hotly contested Middlebury elections in years.
Bingham, 56, is rounding out his third, three-year term on the selectboard. The lifelong Middlebury resident is an employee of Addison County Transit Resources who currently serves on the Shard Villa board of directors. He has previously served on the boards of the Better Middlebury Partnership, Vermont Creativity Quest and the Vermont Fund for Families. He was vice chairman of the Addison County Democratic Committee and currently serves as vice chair of the Middlebury Town Democratic Committee.
Until last year, Bingham and his wife, Beth Diamond, had for more than two decades co-organized the annual Thanksgiving community dinner at the Middlebury VFW.
“I enjoy serving my community and being able to respond to people of all walks of life who come before the board with their concerns,” Bingham said of the motivation for his re-election run. “To be able to give back is an honor and a privilege.”
Petition papers filed with Town Clerk Ann Webster by Monday’s deadline show a total of eight candidates will run for the three available seats on the board. Incumbent Selectman Dean George and newcomer Heather Seeley will run for a one-year term being vacated by former Selectman Victor Nuovo. Bingham, John Freidin (see related story), Laura Asermily, Ted Davis, Brian Carpenter and Eric Murray are all in the mix for the two three-year terms up for grabs.
Bingham said he’s proud of the things the selectboard has been able to accomplish during his tenure. He cited in particular the board’s ability to hold the line on municipal spending, as well as the planning and construction of the Cross Street Bridge and fire station projects.
Now Bingham is setting his sights on three more years, during which the town will look to deal with another longstanding capital construction quandary: Building new town offices and a recreation facility or fixing what the town already has.
Bingham has been outspoken in his opposition to a $7.5 million proposal that has earned majority support from the board and will be decided by voters on Town Meeting Day. That proposal calls for removal of the current town offices and gym at 94 Main St., with construction of a new municipal building at 77 Main St. and a new 11,500-square-foot recreation facility off Creek Road. The proposed deal calls for the college to acquire the 94 Main St. property (to maintain as a public park), as well as a town-owned Cross Street site. The town would move the college’s Osborne House from 77 Main St. to the Cross Street parcel, and then construct a 9,400-square-foot office building at the vacated Osborne House site. The college for its part of the transaction has agreed to underwrite $4.5 million of the town’s estimated $6.5 million debt for the new town offices and recreation center, as well as provide $1 million to move the Osborne House and clear 94 Main St.
Bingham opposes the current plan in part because he believes it has advanced too quickly and without enough citizen input.
“The citizens weren’t approached first and asked what they felt they should do with their town offices,” Bingham said, noting the framework of the town’s agreement with Middlebury College was negotiated in private and then revealed to the community last June.
Bingham also believes the 77 Main St. site is not well-suited to hosting new town offices, citing a parking deficiency as the main problem.
“Parking is already tenuous in the municipal lots and on the streets,” Bingham said. As a result, Bingham believes that shoppers, diners and library patrons will have longer walking distances to their destinations, which he said would place a particular burden on children and seniors.
And Middlebury, in Bingham’s opinion, does not need a new recreation center. He claims Middlebury’s current gym is salvageable and could last “another 70 years” by replacing its mechanical system and making other basic repairs.
“I don’t think it makes sense to replace a well-built, 15,000-square-foot building with a smaller facility that doesn’t really meet our needs,” Bingham said.
But ultimately, Bingham said he will support the will of the voters on March 4.
“If a majority of the voters chooses to go in the direction of moving the town offices, I serve the voters and would work toward that goal,” Bingham said.
The ballot will also feature a petitioned, advisory article asking voters if they would instead like to direct the selectboard to repair or renovate the current municipal building and gym at 94 Main St.
If re-elected, Bingham said he looked forward to tackling some other issues, including:
• Completing an update of the town’s policies and procedures manual, which addresses conflict of interest, purchasing and other comportment guidelines for elected officials.
• Working with Business Development Director Jamie Gaucher in efforts to bring new jobs to Middlebury.
• Holding the line on municipal spending.
• Working on a new “fair share” agreement with Middlebury College. For around two decades, the college and town have had an agreement through which the institution contributes an annual sum of money in recognition of the municipal services it receives. The college is the town’s largest property taxpayer, though like other institutions of higher learning, it is exempt from paying property taxes on its facilities that pertain directly to its educational mission.
• Ensuring that flood hazard mitigation projects are put in place in East Middlebury. Recent studies have identified areas along the Middlebury River that are vulnerable to flooding and projects that could shore up those areas.
“We don’t want to see a repeat of 1938,” Bingham said, referring to one of the state’s worst natural disasters.
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.