By Ethan Putnam, Community News Service
Last Tuesday, The Charlotte News, along with the Grange and the Charlotte Public Library, hosted its annual Meet the Candidates night, where four Selectboard candidates answered questions posed by the community. This year was different than most, with everyone gathering virtually due to Covid, but the event went on without a hitch. Over one hundred people turned up on Zoom—a record turnout.
The candidates were given two minutes each to explain who they were and why they were running. Meghan Metzler, who is running unopposed for the CSVD school board, was also present and spoke early in the meetting, but had to leave before questions to sit in on a school board meeting.
The first question of the night was about the Selectboard candidate’s opinions on the proposed changes in the East Charlotte Village.
Mike Dunbar, who is running for the two-year Selectboard seat, reiterated his position that while he agreed with the move toward concentrating growth, he did not want the changes applied selectively. “I really do think it’s important to come up with a plan to designate a town center since the lack of a town center hurts the ability for the town to get grants,” Dunbar said.
Lewis Mudge, running for the two-year seat against Dunbar, said that he wanted to avoid the “sprawl” of other towns, and that he agrees with the town plan “in principle.” Mudge also said, “I think this is a fantastic occasion for someone like myself who has absolutely no vested interest in East Village, West Village. I have a house on Greenbush Road and that is it. That’s all I’m invested in. What I will offer on the Selectboard is a sound, reasonable assessment of what the Planning Commission, with the Zoning Board, have come up with.”
Frank Tenney, the incumbent running for a three-year term, addressed the criticism that there was a conflict of interest with him being involved in the proposed changes to the town plan since he owns property in the commercial district and is on the Zoning Board and Selectboard.
“I voted to put it onto the ballot because I felt in my mind that it was best for the voters to make their own decision on whether this should or should not be done,” Tenney said.
Talking about his own views on the matter, Tenney said, ”I think going from five acres to one acre to me is a little quick,” and he agreed with the other two candidates about the need for responsible growth.
Justin Bora, who is running for the three-year term against Tenny, didn’t have much to say about the issue, other than to mention that voters should be informed before they make any decision.
Candidates were asked what their level of support for the town trail was, and whether they would expand it.
All four said that they fully supported the town trail. Mudge and Bora also mentioned that they felt Charlotte’s green spaces should be preserved for other uses such as hunting, and such uses would need to be taken into consideration when expanding the trails.
Throughout the night, a common theme among many of the questions was how they thought Charlotte should grow and what they would do to make that happen. Dunbar said that he thought Charlotte has an image issue with businesses and that he wants to change people’s attitude from, “‘We don’t want anything’ to more along the lines of, ‘This is what we want and this is how we can get there.’” Mudge disagreed, saying that he didn’t think Charlotte has an issue with its image, and that, “this is a town that people want to move to, want to bring their families to.”
The four candidates all voiced their support for increasing the number of solar panels in the town with Dunbar, Tenney, and Bora saying they wanted more rooftop panels. Mudge stated that he felt the state should help Charlotte in combating climate change.
Touching on an issue that has been in the news a lot lately was a question about what the candidates would do to fight racism and to ensure that Black, indigenous, and people of color feel a sense of belonging here, and that Black lives matter here in Charlotte, and what the candidates’ views were on promoting diversity in this community of primarily white, wealthy people.
Dunbar said, “I believe that we should do everything that we can to encourage all walks of life to live and enjoy life here.” He added that when the community center is built it should be “all inclusive, with all colors and and sexes and and sexual preferences and everything.”
Tenney said he didn’t know what the Selectboard could specifically do about that, but that he “doesn’t judge people”.
Mudge pushed back on Tenney’s comment about the Selectboard not being able to do anything about this issue, saying, “I think we need to have the Selectboard members trained on this. I think they should be leaning forward on these types of conversations. I don’t think it’s acceptable for them to shrug their shoulders and say, well, look, I’m not racist.” As for what he would do to address it, he said there was a need to make the town more affordable to live in.
While the question was being read, Bora visibly rolled his eyes, left the meeting, and did not return.
The night ended with a question about how the candidates would handle perceived or real conflicts of interest as a Selectboard member. Dunbar went first, saying that there needs to be a discussion on “the definition of what a conflict of interest is,” and that he felt there was a conflict of interest with two members on the Selectboard regarding the recent discussions about East Charlotte.
Tenney responded to Dunbar’s comment by pointing out that he had “held off until pretty much tonight on my opinion on the zoning bylaws.” He also said that “there have been situations on the board that I have recused myself” and that he “knows what the rules for conflict of interest are.”
Mudge answered by saying he would recuse himself if there ever was a possible conflict of interest. He also said that the term had become “a loaded expression” and that to avoid this the town should “put forward a panel to put forward procedures that address conflicts of interest so we can actually get it out of the way and focus on the real plan.”