Chea Waters Evans
Things may be heating up on the national stage with the upcoming presidential election, but in Charlotte, things not only aren’t heating up, they appear to have cooled down to almost freezing. This year’s sample ballot (it hasn’t been officially printed yet) shows a dearth of people willing to run for office.
There are 13 total races on the ballot this year, and voters have only one contested race to consider. There are 7 positions for which not a single person turned in a petition to run, six positions that have only one candidate running, and seven positions that are blank altogether.
The lone contested is for a 3-year Selectboard seat; the three candidates are Matt Krasnow, who currently is on the Selectboard, and Maurice Harvey and Ed Stone, both of whom have filled those seats in the past. The 2-year Selectboard seat is uncontested, with Dr. James M. Faulkner running.
The other uncontested races are Charlie Russell for town moderator, Hugh Lewis Jr. for road commissioner, Lynne Jaunich for CVSD school director, Mary Mead for delinquent tax collector, and Anne Marie Andriola for library trustee.
Town Clerk Mary Mead, who is in charge of town elections, said that though it’s “probably inappropriate” for her to weigh in on the way people vote, said that unfilled spots on the ballot can create headaches for her and Assistant Town Clerk Christina Boohers, who counts the ballots with her on election day. She said that positions that have blank space for a write-in option results in extra work and confusion.
“The very unfortunate thing with vacancies is that people then have fun with write-ins because they think it’s just good fun to write in their friend’s name or wife or husband or child or maybe Bernie Sanders,” Mead said. Those write-ins can make for a long day of tabulating ballots, and if one person gets more than 30 votes, they are the winner, whether they’re a cat or a presidential candidate.
Mead said, “If no one gets 30 votes or more, the vacant office remains vacant until someone comes forward and wants to be in that position and the Selectboard makes the appointment, which is good until the next Town Meeting.”
She also noted the lack of involvement on the part of Charlotters, which has been declining in recent years. “I have never, in 26 years, had this many vacant offices,” she said.
Maura Carroll is the executive director of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT), which is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization that provides educational and practical assistance to municipal governments, works with the legislature, and makes efforts to educate the public about their local government. She said that the situation in Charlotte is not surprising. “It’s always sad when we see that happening,” she said.
Carroll said there’s a trend across the state that indicates lower participation in town boards, committees, and people running for elected office. Though it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why, she said she thinks that new and changing laws and regulations make these types of jobs more complex. “The role of local officials has become more time consuming and requires a greater knowledge of a variety of regulations,” she said. “It’s really unfortunate because these positions are really important and make a difference in the community.”
The VLCT is trying to come up with creative ways to inspire Vermonters to participate in local government. Some towns, Carroll said, citing Burlington as an example, have robust participation and a real culture of municipal volunteering, but it’s hard to find a solution to the problem of an apathetic community. “It depends on individual circumstances, and there’s no black and white answer,” she said.
She mentioned that Charlotte is lucky to have a professional town manager at the helm, and said the “snowball effect” of people not running for office can make the problem worse. “When there are fewer people to do what more people are needed for, they get burned out.”
Carroll said she thinks one way to increase participation is with education, and “letting people know what each role entails.” She also said training for these positions with others who have held them might be helpful.
Though there’s no indication that municipal participation will be on an upswing any time soon, Carroll chooses to be somewhat optimistic. “People always have an opinion about their homes,” she said, “and it’s usually what helps us to recruit folks. Maybe people will step up!”