City candidates speak
February 26, 2007
Editor’s note: The candidates for mayor and the Vergennes city council spoke in a forum hosted by American Legion Post 14 on Thursday night. This article focuses on the two mayoral candidates. An article in our Thursday edition will focus on the five candidates for three seats on the city council.
By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES — At a forum at American Legion Post 14 on Thursday night, two Vergennes mayoral candidates with long public service résumés — incumbent April Jin and challenger Michael Daniels — differed on approaches to financial questions, the amount of time each could devote to the job, and the future role of volunteerism in solving some of the city’s problems.
Jin, who admits to being in her late 50s, is nearing the end of her first term. That two-year term was marked by debates on how to obtain funding to pay the city for hosting Northlands Job Corps, whether to host a state mental health facility, and whether to approve a $1 million sewer extension deal into Ferrisburgh.
Jin served a term as an alderman before running unopposed for mayor. She is the chairwoman of the Hannaford Career Center Board, a longtime member of the Vergennes Union High School board, an executive committee member of the Vergennes Partnership, the president of the American Legion Auxiliary, and a member of several other civic organizations.
She and her husband have three adult children and own a business, she told the audience of about 20, that operates in “international trade and commodities.” She has also covered council meetings for almost 20 years as a journalist, served as an administrator of a statewide nurses’ association, worked for the Middlebury College French department, and held an insurance license. She moved to Vergennes in 1980.
Daniels, 59, is a Vergennes native who is married with two adult children. He is a district manager for the Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services for five years, and manages 45 employees and 24 buildings; a state position he has held for the past five years. He also worked for Simmonds Precision for 24 years.
Daniels has served the Vergennes Fire Department for 38 years as a deputy chief, captain, and interior firefighter, and continues to serve the department as an interior firefighter. Daniels also served for 21 years in the Vermont Army National Guard, retiring as a First Sergeant.
Daniels was appointed to a council vacancy in 2001, and was elected in 2002 before deciding to step down in 2004.
TIME TO SERVE?
In her opening statement Jin said her flexible schedule allows her to “put her heart and soul into this job.” Practically, she said she can attend meetings of Vergennes and French Heritage committees, school boards, and the local chamber of commerce meetings, and be ready to handle citizen and city hall issues.
“When you look at being mayor … yes, you have to have desire, yes, you have to have ideas, but you have to have time and flexibility,” Jin said.
A Jin supporter put the question of time commitment to Daniels, who acknowledged his full-time job will take him away from the city during the work week. But Daniels said he had every intention of fulfilling his commitment to the position.
“I am going to have to use a little less time in my social life, and my wife and I have already talked about that situation. The evenings will become very active for me,” Daniels said. “I commend April for what she has done and established. It’s very good. I don’t know if I can fill her shoes quite at that level. But believe you me, when I say I give 150 percent to something, I give 150 percent. I will give that to this position.”
VOLUNTEERS TO HELP?
In his opening remarks Daniels sounded a theme he returned to at several points: He said as mayor he will call on volunteers to get things done for less or for free.
“I want to tap on some resources that are out there that might be able to save us money in two ways. One would be the fact that we wouldn’t have to pay for the service, or would pay at a reduced rate. We have a lot of talent within the city,” Daniels said.
Asked for specifics, Daniels said he had already spoken with an energy expert who would work with him to make the city’s buildings more efficient.
“Even if I’m not elected I think we can still work with him to bring him into the city’s buildings and see what are the energy eaters or consumers and see if we can re-adjust those, replace them … I think we can cut the power,” he said.
Daniels said he also hoped to work with light bulb manufacturers to get bulbs for the city and its residents, “and see if we can strike a deal with Green Mountain Power and see if we will reduce consumption in the city by a certain amount whether there’s something we can barter for in return.”
Jin suggested the city’s utility bills have already been slashed.
“It’s already happening,” she said.
Jin also said she has worked behind the scenes with GMP on the city’s rights to be compensated as the host community for a hydro-power plant.
“You mention Green Mountain Power. We’re still dealing with them over the water rights … I have felt with the talk of hydro power increasing … that the water power will actually increase in value,” Jin said.
A question about police spending drew different responses from the candidates. Jin noted the council has agreed for years that the police station’s shared entrance with city hall and the opera house is a conflict and that its two rooms are inadequate for the force. Aldermen have just recently again begun to consider new sites, including possibly sharing a former doctor’s office building off Monkton Road.
The hold-up, of course, has been the cost. Jin said in the past she has been skeptical because a move would have meant that the force would have had to hire someone to sit behind a desk to handle walk-ins, a role now filled by city hall workers when police are out. Now Jin thinks police may need that help anyway.
“They’re spending lots of time on paperwork that could really be done by a clerk that had some training. I think we’re reaching that point where if we want to see our officers on the street and we want to see them more available, somebody is going to have to be hired to take care of the clerical end,” Jin said. “I certainly support finding a better location, and I support hiring someone else to be doing the write-ups and the administrative work.”
Daniels said other alternatives to hiring should be considered, including getting laptops to let patrolmen multi-task.
“I think there’s coming technology, like the state police are using, where they have laptops and computers in their cars and can do some of their work right there in their vehicle,” Daniels said. “I support having a building. The question is how do we afford it? I want people … to start thinking outside the box and bring a whole bunch of stuff to the table and see how we can do it more economically.”
Daniels and Jin had different takes on funding priorities. Daniels said he wanted to see what could be saved before he would look at what had to be cut. He said an upcoming analysis of the city’s equipment would provide answers.
“Everyone here at the table has said we can’t … afford to give up what we’ve already got,” Daniels said. “So one of the things I’m really missing to be able to give you a really solid answer is I don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle … When we know what the pieces are and what our needs are, then we can play the game of ‘Can that boiler go another 10 years instead of five.’ So we have to readjust our thinking on how we maintain and how we upkeep our equipment.”
Jin said that growing the city’s tax base was the best way to solve the dilemma.
She suggested creating an economic development corporation (something Daniels mentioned in an earlier interview with the Independent) as a way to build the city’s commercial tax base, and noted that new zoning will allow residential growth that will benefit the city’s grand list.
“It used to be with the way school-funding was, if you had more children, you would say, ‘Gee it’s going to cost us more,’” Jin said. “But now the state money comes per head of the children, so you don’t look at it quite the same way. I think we can look at encouraging growth within our boundaries that’s going to lighten the burden to the average taxpayer.”