BY ANGELO LYNN
BRANDON — In the one contested race in Brandon this year, one-term incumbent Tim Guiles will face challenger Marielle Blais for a three-year seat on the Brandon selectboard. This past week The Reporter sent each candidate seven questions to address in a question-answer format and given a word limit per answer.
What follows are brief profiles of each candidate followed by their responses to the seven questions. We’ve separated their responses so readers can read all the comments of each candidate to get a fuller sense of the candidate’s positions on the issues addressed. A candidate’s forum by the Brandon Chamber of Commerce was to be held Tuesday night, Feb. 15.
Incumbent Guiles runs for second 3-year term
BRANDON — Tim Guiles, 62, was born in Waterville, Maine, and got his first job (age 12) as as a paperboy. He graduated from Gorham High School in Maine in 1977, then studied engineering at Dartmouth College receiving two degrees in 1981.
After college, Guiles used his “computer skills to do robotics for different large and small firms.” In 1989, he entered the PHD program at Johns Hopkins University in their environmental engineering department. His thesis, he wrote, “focused on social and environmental sustainability issues. In 1992, I decided to leave academia to pursue my interest in sustainability by moving to Vermont.”
In Vermont, Guiles said he has done “many different kinds of jobs. I worked as a farm hand for several years. I trained to become a small town librarian. I trained to become an EMT with the Williamstown Ambulance Service. I ran a tiny house building company.”
Through all the years, he continued, “I have made some (or all) of my living by playing the piano. I was the music director for several big shows at the Montpelier Lost Nation Theater. Currently I am the rehearsal accompanist for the Vermont Symphony Orchestra Chorus, and, more locally, I play for the Middlebury College Community Chorus. I also maintain a small group of music students, young and not-so-young, who want to improve their music making skills.”
As for his concerns, passions and hobbies, Guiles wrote that “in addition to environmental concerns, I am very interested in restorative justice. In the past I was an active part of rebuilding the Brandon BRAVO restorative justice program. Before COVID, I volunteered 3 days a week teaching piano lessons at the Rutland prison. I enjoy being part of the Brandon Greenways group that promotes walking trails both downtown and more rurally in Brandon.”
He has a son, Zachary, 31, who is an orchestral trombonist and lives in Japan with his wife.
Guiles responses to the seven questions are below:
1) After 4 years of work around the Segment 6 project, what other infrastructure projects does Brandon need to address and what do you think should be the town’s top priorities?
A: The next large infrastructure project facing Brandon is the wastewater treatment plant. This is an aging facility that has been upgraded over the years to keep up with the necessary tightening of environmental regulations. With this work over the next year or two, our treatment facility will be more capable of handling the momentary surges of rain events that have sometimes overwhelmed the system in the past. This is clearly the most responsible thing for our generation to address. We are accessing available grants so that the final bill to the sewer ratepayers will be quite reasonable.
There are several smaller water/sewer projects that we are hoping to use the recent flush of ARPA funds from the federal (and state) governments. These are necessary improvements that will save us money in the long run.
Our roads are well maintained and we have a good strategy for keeping them that way. Another important infrastructure project that is a more pressing need is high speed internet FOR EVERYBODY. The town is part of the Otter Creek Communications Union District which is focused on how to solve the last mile challenges of high speed internet for homes and businesses.
2) Every town in Vermont faces a housing shortage, and particularly an affordable housing shortage, what can Brandon do to help alleviate that problem?
A: All over the United States there are older homes that need to be rehabilitated to make them more affordable by reducing their energy costs. I have rehabbed two homes in Brandon that included insulating them to current best practice standards, installing heat pumps for heating/cooling, replacing older appliances with newer more energy-efficient ones,
and, importantly, installing solar panels on the roof to drive the cost of operating the home down to make it more affordable.
I believe that there are ways to harness local resources, financial and volunteer people power, to help homes become more affordable by making them environmentally more friendly.
In addition to rehabilitating, I have been active in a small group that gathers to discuss how to create more affordable housing in Brandon. There are several programs at the regional and state levels that may be helpful in helping Brandon create small, affordable homes.
In the past, affordable housing has often meant that it needed to be subsidized by the government. I disagree with that model. I believe that the way to create affordable housing is to build small 2-3 bedroom “starter” homes that can be sold for $120,000 – $140,000 — and they are affordable because they are hyper efficient and they create almost all of their power requirements with solar panels on the roof — thus the cost of living is very low.
3) In what other ways (other than creating new affordable housing) can Brandon attract new workers and young families?
A: Brandon is a beautiful, successful, and welcoming Vermont community. We are attractive to people who are considering coming to Vermont. We have a healthy economy with several businesses that employ local people (example: New England Woodcraft in Forest Dale), and we have an easy commute to Rutland to the south, and Middlebury to the North.
We are in a great location for our residents to enjoy the Vermont seasons — the ski mountains are nearby, bicycle tours abound, and Lake Champlain is only 25 minutes away in Orwell. We have a fine recreation department for all ages. Our roads are well maintained. We have a fiscally conservative select board that keeps our taxes reasonably low and wisely managed.
I think we need to keep being the fine community that we are — and good people will keep finding us.
4) Local committees have done good work on creating GreenWays, parks, and trail systems throughout the community. Should the town play a bigger role in creating a walking/biking trail system and other recreational opportunities? If so, in what way and what would be the end goal?
A: It is appropriate for the GreenWays group to pursue their dream of creating wonderful parks and trails systems throughout Brandon. In my opinion, it is appropriate for the GreenWays group to request support from the town either in the form of funding, or, when it would be helpful, manpower and equipment.
I believe that the town manager and the select board are ready to be supportive of the GreenWays group’s efforts. I do not think that the town needs to be more involved in creating a walking/biking trail system.
5) What do you see as the three biggest problems facing Brandon in the next 5-10 years? And how would you begin to address them?
A: Locally, Brandon is in great shape. We are well managed — we have a strong financial position with relatively little debt — we are paying attention to what needs to be addressed in a responsible way. However, Brandon is also part of a much larger picture. There are state and national issues, which will reverberate in Brandon. Here are four examples, from smaller to larger:
A) Marijuana sales — The move towards the decriminalization of marijuana is, in my opinion, a good thing. While I do not use marijuana, I believe that marijuana usage is on the same scale as alcohol consumption. A large number of people in our community are going to consume alcohol/marijuana. I believe that our communities will be safer when we remove the criminal element that has (in the past) produced the needed supply. I believe that we need to continue to address substance abuse primarily as a health problem — thus, we need to promote: good education to help people avoid problems of substance abuse, and necessary treatment programs for those who need help overcoming an addiction.
B) Policing — First, let me say that I think the Brandon Police are doing a good job. In my lifetime, policing has evolved a lot. In my opinion, some of today’s policing challenges are a result of asking the police to do too much. They are often being put in a position of dealing with mental health issues that would be better handled by a mental health professional. I think that it is likely that our country will evolve a new way to provide police services to a community that could be a blended mix of social service professionals acting in harmony with more traditional police men and women. The needs of the community will be better met and there will be fewer tragic outcomes.
C) Racial Equity — While Brandon is doing a very good job about trying to be self aware of possible shortcomings when it comes to racial equity, it is important, in a state as “white” as Vermont, to be constantly vigilant about any possible unintended impediments our rules, policies, and staff protocols might produce. Our country is grappling with how to make our schools, businesses, government, and every aspect of living in our country more equitable for all people. This is a worthy endeavor.
D) Global Warming — Vermont has a goal of meeting 90% of our energy needs with renewable resources, and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 75% from the 1990 level. Brandon is on a solid path towards doing its’ part to meet those goals. We must keep looking for ways to insure our success. I have been an active part of getting SolarFest to come to Brandon where they intend to build a community solar project for people who are unable to put solar on their own homes for various reasons. Another useful tool to help Brandon succeed is the Green Fleet Policy (which I introduced), which ensures that we will try to replace our gas consuming equipment and vehicles with electric ones whenever feasible.
6) Every select board member brings a particular expertise or issues they want to focus on during their terms. What are those issues for you, and how would you address them?
A: There are two aspects to almost every issue that comes before the Brandon select board: fairness and environmental stewardship. When asked to make a decision, I try to understand all sides of an issue and look for the fairest solution. I am always mindful of the importance of taking care of the environment on which we all depend.
I have a strong engineering background so I tend to approach problems with that logical problem solving attitude. Another strength is my many years of experience with promoting energy efficient lifestyles. I am always ready to talk with people about the economic, social and environmental benefits of using less energy.
7) Why are you proud of Brandon and, in the short-term, what could the select board do to make the town better?
A: See number 3 above! And I think our select board needs to keep having open and honest conversations about how to move forward, one day at a time.
Blais jumps into race with career in teaching
BRANDON — Marielle Blais grew up in a large family in Derby on a small dairy farm until, she says, she and her family moved to Newport, where she graduated from Sacred Heart Schools. After graduating from UVM, she earned graduate degrees from UVM, Middlebury College, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
She taught a variety of subjects in her teaching career and retired in 2020 after teaching as a speech language pathologist in the Addison Central and Rutland Northeast Supervisory Unions for 18 years.
She now volunteers, among a few other places and groups, for the Rutland County Humane Society, the Brandon Restorative Justice committee, and the Four Winds Nature Program at Neshobe School. She says she enjoys “reading, gardening, knitting, baking, and practicing Tai Chi” as some of her favorite hobbies or pastimes.
Below are her responses to the seven questions asked:
1: Infrastructure priorities:
A: Making the town more walkable requires the expansion of road paving and improved sidewalks on streets just outside the Segment 6 project. Ongoing work on wastewater treatment and the Union Street sewer is essential.
It’s hard to tell from downtown traffic that pedestrians have the right of way at crosswalks, where it is not unusual for more than three cars to drive right past a pedestrian waiting to cross. This trend is not a mere annoyance, but a potential cause of a serious accident. The crosswalks need to be marked more clearly.
Bicyclists would like more racks in town for parking and locking their bikes. A dream project, put on indefinite hold, is adding a sidewalk from Otter Valley Union School to Neshobe School that walkers and bicyclists could use to get safely past several dangerous blind curves.
The town is considering a Brandon Solar Farm, which could provide significant energy savings.
2. Housing shortage:
A: Like many towns in Vermont, Brandon has very few apartments, condos, or houses for rent or sale. This severe shortage did not develop overnight and cannot be resolved quickly. Creating housing for a broader range of incomes is a multifaceted challenge. We need a survey of existing housing stock to see which units could be renovated and retrofitted to be more energy efficient. Some larger existing homes might be converted to duplexes or triplexes.
When it comes to newly built homes, we should be building smarter, greener, smaller ones. Home sharing can be mutually beneficial to a homeowner who can provide housing and a housemate who needs a safe home.
We might have to consider changing zoning regulations and move away, in some cases, from “one lot, one dwelling.” Small, accessory dwelling units can be ideal for singles, couples, or small families. Brandon is considering a revolving loan fund, the Brandon Housing Coalition, to help finance renovations and retrofits. Vermont is allocating $150,000 in coronavirus funding for building or renovating housing stock.
We have potential partners in this challenge: Efficiency Vermont, Neighborworks, Bennington Rutland Opportunity Council (BROC), Yestermorrow Design Build School, Rural Studio of Auburn University, etc.
3. Attracting new workers and young families:
A: Brandon is a wonderful town, which I thought had great curb appeal even before the Segment 6 project. In 2008, I became a first-time homeowner when I bought an old house in Forest Dale. One of my first Brandon events was the Great Brandon Auction. Yes, there were amazing bargains, but the best part was how much fun the sellers and buyers were having.
Brandon has a number of townwide events that draw good crowds, at least before COVID. A young newcomer told me he bought his house here because “Brandon is an up and coming town.”
How do we attract more singles, couples, and young families to come to Brandon? We do a better job of advertising the town’s many advantages—arts, music, food, craft beer, independent bookstore, distillery, beautiful downtown, great natural resources, friendly people.
One of my fondest memories in Brandon is getting down and dirty with my neighbors during the post Irene cleanup.
What makes Brandon so great? It’s the community. Let’s talk it up—in person and online—and let’s talk to our newcomers and learn what brought them to Brandon.
That, and better Wi-Fi. (Bristol has townwide Wi-Fi that’s really easy to access.)
4. GreenWays, parks, and trail systems; should town play a bigger role in walking/biking trail system and other recreational opportunities. How? What would be the end goal?
A: The Downtown Brandon Alliance is already playing a big part in GreenWays, parks, and trail systems, but in this case, bigger IS better. One proposal is a walking path from Estabrook Park to downtown. I’d like to smell the flowers along the paths by adding community garden sites, which have been discussed, but not created—yet.
Gardening can be widely accessible to a wide range of people of varying ages. It provides exercise, fresh air, new skills, food, and flowers. Imagine native pollinator plants—monarchs on milkweed—and blackberries along walking paths. Think about harvest dinners, contributions to the local food shelf and senior center.
Oh, and we need a rec center so teens can have a safe, cool place to hang out and the rest of us don’t have to drive to Middlebury to play pickle ball.
5. Three big problems facing Brandon?
A: We have an aging population, declining school enrollment in a community with limited diversity. (A fourth problem is the climate crisis, which may “solve” the other problems, but let’s hope not.) The aging population faces the Alzheimer’s epidemic, which is a huge public health concern—we have nowhere near the facilities to house and the staff to care for the Alzheimer’s population.
I don’t know what the solution is, but I know this is something we need much more public awareness about.
The only solution to declining school enrollment is attracting young families to Brandon, diverse families to Brandon. Why diverse? Because American demographics are changing. Census projections predict that by 2042 Hispanic, Black, Asian, and other ethnic and racial minorities will have become a majority of the population. So, if we want to attract young families, we are going to have to welcome diverse families.
In January 2021, the Brandon select board unanimously voted to accept a Declaration of Inclusion, which is a good step. If we genuinely want to be an inclusive town, we need honest and civil discussions about what it means to be inclusive. Inclusivity doesn’t just happen, we have to make it happen. We have good hearts, let’s use them to make Brandon a welcoming home for all residents, present and future.
6. Selectboard expertise and issues?
A: I keep up with select board issues by periodically attending meetings, reading select board minutes, reading The Reporter, and talking to other Brandon residents. I wouldn’t say I have select board expertise, but I do have good and relevant skills. I have a long history of working cooperatively with groups, as a teacher, colleague, union activist, and volunteer.
People want to be heard and I listen, ask questions. I deliberate over tough decisions. Initially, with a new group, I’m often more of a quiet observer while I develop a sense of how the group works. Learning about select board issues will be a challenge to me, but I like to learn. Since I became a select board candidate, I’ve heard from people I might not otherwise have gotten to know.
One woman told me she considers select board meetings a “hostile environment.” I responded that the select board members may come across as a little stiff and formal in meetings, which they, as they should, take very seriously. I said they’re generally nice guys. Generally, because I don’t know them that well. I’d like to think that my presence on the select board could make the meetings a little more welcoming to people who feel intimidated by formal meetings.
7. Why are you proud of Brandon? How could it be better?
A: I’m proud of Brandon because:
• When I do something silly, like get my car stuck in the snow, the town manager and the town rec director—people my mother would have thought of as “les big shots”—come out of the town offices with a shovel to push and dig me out.
• I always run into people I know everywhere I go.
• One of the most happening places in town is the transfer station.
• We have a lot of comedians.
• I share a raspberry patch with my neighbors who have three great kids and a dad who cleaned out my driveway after a recent big snowstorm.
• We have a nice mix of people whose families have been here for generations and people who started their families here.
• Our library and bookstore have good selections and great staff.
• We don’t always pass the bonds, but we do pass our school and town budgets.
• After the Brandon Pizza building was washed into the road during Tropical Storm Irene, they relocated the business to a new spot.
• This is where I want to grow old(er).
• Unhurried, unspoiled, unforgettable.