By Chea Waters Evans with Lewis Mudge
Lewis Mudge is the newest member of the Charlotte Selectboard and he took a minute to let us know what he’s into, what he hopes for, and what he wants to accomplish for the town and its citizens.
Tell us anything you care to share about your personal life–family, work, hobbies, etc.
I live on Greenbush with my wife, Nikki, and our three boys, ages 7, 6 and 4. It’s a lot of work (and testosterone) for the matriarch. We moved to Charlotte from Nairobi, Kenya—a bustling city of over 4 million—in part to allow our boys the space and safety to grow, to reconnect with nature and instill a sense of community. We love going to the Congregational Church and our home life revolves around skiing in the winter, the lake in the summer and visiting family in Vershire (Orange County) or my wife’s family in Canada. Every fall I try to get as much time in the deer stand as family obligations will allow…sadly, it’s never enough time.
I am the Central Africa Director at Human Rights Watch, where I have been for over 10 years. I manage teams across the region as we focus on documenting and exposing serious human rights abuse.
Why did you run for Selectboard?
I saw an opportunity to do several things: to bring a new perspective, to represent the voices of those in town with young children, and to step up and try to help manage the town we all love. Ultimately, I just want to be a valuable contributor and hope to encourage others to serve on the Selectboard or other commissions and committees.
What are the top three issues or topics that you’re interested in working on over the coming years?
My immediate goal is to try learn as much as I can as fast as I can. I knew that serving on the Selectboard was to be a lot of work, but I must admit I already have a newfound appreciation for those who serve on it or who served on it in the past. Second, I think we need to better clarify our conflict of interest policy and address how conflict of interest is perceived. I think there should be some lessons learned from the past election on this. Finally, I’d like to lend a moderate and neutral voice to how the town envisions growth, whether it be addressing a greater density in the villages or in town-wide projects like a community center.
Articles 6 & 7, though they didn’t pass, clearly brought up a lot of passionate opinions in Charlotte about development and the future of Charlotte. What’s your vision or philosophy of growth as it pertains to the Town Plan?
The town’s voters were very clear on Articles 6 & 7; I think we need to recognize that. People told me a variety of things on the articles: they did not understand the changing acreage allotments, they were not happy that some landowners were also decision-makers who put this to a vote, they felt the reduction from five acres to one was excessive, etc. I think we need to adequately reflect those concerns. However, I do feel that the Town Plan, while not perfect, is still the right path forward for Charlotte and that we should strive to implement it as best as we can. I don’t want the town to be disconnected on five-acre minimum plots that are prohibitively expensive for would-be Charlotters to move to.
I also feel strongly we should avoid the urban sprawl that we see across other parts of the county. So it will be about a compromise, hopefully following respectful conversations, about what kind of town we are with regards to growth. Even though I’ve only been on the Selectboard a week, I’m already confident we have a good team in place to address this.
What subcommittees or Selectboard projects are you going to work on?
Conservation goes hand in hand with hunting. Hunters can’t hunt if ecosystems and wild habitats aren’t protected. My wife calls hunting a “hobby,” but I call it a “way of life” and I’m thrilled that I will be working with the Conservation Commission.
I’m also very happy to be working with the Energy Committee. I’ve seen firsthand the effects of climate change in Africa and watched Irene ravage parts of the state from afar. I’ll be looking to work with the Energy Committee on building the town’s resiliency and also on ensuring that we do our part to address climate change.
Civic engagement has been a bit of a hit or miss in Charlotte in recent years, though this year, either despite or because of the pandemic, people have been somewhat more engaged. Why do you think this is, and what do you think the Selectboard can or should do to encourage Charlotters to participate in local government—being on a committee, or running for office, or asking for an appointment, or simply attending meetings?
I think this is a great question and it’s something I hope to address. Our town will only thrive if our town’s folks step up. I’d especially like to see some of our residents with younger children get involved. Those who haven’t grown up here came for a reason, and we all want to see this town remain such a special place to raise our kids. But it’s a hard ask when it’s a time-consuming volunteer position that exposes one to potential grief. I get it! But I hope that over the next two years I will be able to encourage some of our less-engaged Charlotters to participate. Frankly, if I can achieve that, even to some degree, then I’ll consider my time on the Selectboard a success!