Seven Vie For 3 Seats In Hartford
Sandra Mariotti, who is running for a 2-year selectboard position, campaigns outside Hartford High School on March 6, 2012. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
Mark Donka of Hartford, on August 8, 2012. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen)
Hartford — Two Selectboard members will face competition at Town Meeting as seven Hartford residents — some of them already well-known — have filed to run for three seats.
There are four candidates competing for two three-year terms and three candidates vying for a single two-year term.
The challengers this week expressed varying degrees of disappointment with the effectiveness of the current Selectboard, whose members have acknowledged a tendency toward tangential arguments and disharmony over the past year.
According to one of the incumbents seeking election, however, board relations might have turned a corner.
“I think the board has gelled more together now,” said Alex DeFelice, who is finishing his first three-year term on the board. “The problem is, unfortunately, that there’s only a month left for the existing board.”
Sandra Mariotti, one of DeFelice’s three opponents for the three-year seats, is running for the second consecutive year. Last year, Mariotti, a surgical technician at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, lost out to F.X. Flinn and Bethany Fleishman.
“I thought I’d give it another go,” said Mariotti, 45, who has lived in White River Junction for the past 16 years. “I have no particular agenda. I’m interested in giving back to the town.”
If elected, Mariotti said she’d work to advance the renovations and rebuilding of town and school facilities. (To that end, the schools and the town have teamed up on a $9 million proposal to be voted on next month.)
Also seeking one of the three-year terms is Matt Bucy, 49, who said he is running for Selectboard at the urging of other residents. Bucy owns the Tip Top Media and Arts Building as well as the Dreamland Building, and recently purchased the vacated American Legion Hall, all in White River Junction.
Bucy said he would like to focus on the town’s aging infrastructure, as well as use the town’s Master Plan as a means of preparing for the future, something he and other candidates worry the current board hasn’t done.
To get there, he said, the board first needs to work together.
“This time around, I think the board needs some stability,” Bucy said. “I’m a pretty rational, calm guy, and I’d like to see some real discussion going on on the board, rather than the infighting I’ve witnessed.”
The fourth candidate vying for a three-year seat is Chuck Wooster.
“I think the key is that the board needs to find the time and the space to be proactive,” said Wooster. “If you’re constantly feeling behind the eight-ball, there’s never a chance to be proactive and bring people together.”
Wooster, 46, a vegetable farmer in White River Junction, served on the board from 2007 to 2010, but decided against running for re-election to work on his expanding business. Now, with his business in a “better space,” Wooster has decided to run again.
Besides a desire for more long-term planning and big-picture discussions — he said he’d change how the town budget is prepared to avoid the last-minute changes that characterized this year’s tumultuous process — Wooster also said he’d work on the “five village trail.” The informal plan, which has been in various stages of limbo for the past seven years, would create one multi-use recreation trail that unites Hartford.
DeFelice, 62, said written bylaws would prevent the board from getting bogged down in matters that don’t improve the town.
“We’re there to represent the whole town,” DeFelice said. “It’s not what I want to do — it’s what the people that elected me want to do.”
The other Selectboard race, for a two-year term, will pit Parker, the current board chairman, against a political newcomer and a former Selectman.
Karen Ganey, who moved to White River Junction in 2006, teaches garden- and food-based lessons to elementary-aged children in after-school programs. At 31, she’s the youngest candidate in the field.
“I’d like to think that I represent the younger population,” she said. “I also want to inspire the younger, 30-, 40-somethings that are living in Hartford to become more engaged with local politics.
“Let’s create a really vibrant local atmosphere that is conducive to the arts, that is conducive to healthy living,” she continued. “An atmosphere that will draw young families that will want to stay and settle down there.”
The $9 million recreation bond is a good step forward, Ganey said, but she also wants the Selectboard to use the town’s Master Plan as a guidepost for long-range planning.
“Are we thinking ahead?” she said. “Are we looking at what’s coming down the pipeline?”
Mark Donka served on the Selectboard for a year in 2011 but was ousted last year by current Selectman Simon Dennis.
Donka, a retired Hartford police officer and current member of the Woodstock force, said he would like to boost the town’s tax base — this fiscal year, the grand list fell 3 percent, with another 3 percent loss projected — by attracting new businesses.
According to Donka, the current board hasn’t had success attracting new business, symptomatic of its lack of harmony.
“Of late, it seems like the board has been somewhat dysfunctional,” said Donka, a 20-year Hartford resident who ran unsuccessfully against U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., in November. “We’re there to do what’s best for the town. We’re not here to sit and bicker about our petty differences.”
Parker, 66, who owns an insurance agency in White River Junction, agreed that the board’s discourse the past year was less than ideal, saying that its members “spent too much time looking at the crumbs on the place mat in front of us.”
He said that his experience would allow him to see projects through to their completion, including the recreation bond and the $4.9 million Municipal Building renovation proposal, which also is on this year’s Town Meeting warrant.
“I’ve invested time and energy and intellect in some of this,” said Parker, “and I think that kind of experience is important if we’re going to move forward.”
Candidate Night, which will include presentations and a question-and-answer session, is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Feb. 25 in the Hartford High School auditorium. Residents will vote by Australian Ballot at Town Meeting on March 5.
There are no contested races for the Hartford School Board.
Jon Wolper can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3248.