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Norwich Selectboard chooses firefighter to fill vacant seat

  • Aaron Lamperti of the Norwich Energy Committee disinfects one of the three E-bikes members of the community could try for an hour in Norwich on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 7/28/2022 6:34:43 PM
Modified: 7/28/2022 6:34:42 PM

NORWICH — The appointment of a new Selectboard member in Norwich this week spurred a debate between residents over what the town’s priorities should be and the ideal candidate to fill the vacant board position.

On Wednesday, the Norwich Selectboard voted, 3-1, to appoint town firefighter Aaron Lamperti to fill the vacant Selectboard seat previously held by Claudette Brochu, who resigned from the board on July 11.

The board selected Lamperti over retired business owner Pamela Smith, a second applicant for the vacant seat.

Lamperti, a lifelong resident, serves on the town Energy Committee and the Article 36 Task Force, a town committee dedicated to create a strategic plan to reduce the town’s consumption of fossil fuels.

“I feel that the town government has experienced some shock during the last couple of years, between COVID, the Great Resignation and various other events,” Lamperti said during his interview with the board Wednesday. “And I feel like I am somebody who can help bring a calm, deliberative, problem-solving and productive kind of approach.”

Smith, a regular attendee in town meetings, has 35 years of experience in finance management and holds multiple town office positions, including town lister, assistant treasurer and trustee of public funds.

Smith has run twice as a Selectboard candidate though was unsuccessful in her bids, losing to Selectboard member Mary Layton in 2021, 577 votes to 334, and to Selectboard Chairman Roger Arnold, 550-364, in March.

In her interview with the Selectboard on Wednesday, Smith said her strong knowledge of the town’s operations and her financial expertise would make her an informed and fiscally responsible board member who could transition quickly into the role.

“I believe that good governance involves balancing the costs of needed services while being mindful of the tax burden that our budgets place on our citizens,” Smith said. “And we need to be respectful of those concerns (by) our residents.”

Several residents in attendance voiced their support for their preferred candidate to the Selectboard and what town priorities should drive the Selectboard’s appointment decision.

Supporters of Smith touted her experience and knowledge, saying she is more prepared than Lamperti to contribute immediately as a board member.

“The Selectboard said they wanted someone who understood finance and who could come up to speed quickly about how the board worked,” resident Amy Stringer said. “It is so obvious to me that Smith, who has been to every single (board) meeting, is very interested in the town, and that is what I think we need.”

Supporters of Smith frequently cited the town’s budget and the Police Department, whose last police chief resigned in June, just six months after being hired, as the town’s biggest priorities.

Residents favoring Lamperti touted his leadership on the issue of climate change, which several Lamperti supporters contended should be the town’s top issue.

“Climate change is going to be the biggest opportunity this town has ever had,” resident Jim Antal said. “New reports show that Vermont has more counties than any other state that will be less affected by climate change going forward, and we need our Selectboard to organize our town in a way that will receive the migration of people who will be knocking on our door.”

An analysis of climate data by Safe Home, a home security research company, calculated that Vermont has the lowest risk of impact from climate-related threats of any state in the country, followed by New Hampshire. While Vermont will be impacted by extreme heat like other states, the report finds that Vermont is less susceptible to risks posed by drought, or coastal or inland flooding.

Several residents objected to an appeal by Smith supporters that she has wider community support, based on the “hundreds of votes” that Smith received in the last two town elections.

Mary Gorman, advocating for Smith, told the board that appointing Smith was a matter of “fairness and democracy.”

“Pam Smith has run for this position twice and (nearly) 400 people supported her last election,” Gorman said. “And in that spirit, I think that 400 people’s votes, as opposed to four people’s votes, should be taken very seriously, and I would be very disappointed if the Selectboard believes that its sensibility should supersede 400 citizens.”

Lamperti supporters dismissed this rationale as misleading and irrelevant, given that Smith never ran head-to-head against Lamperti, nor did Smith come close to winning either election.

“I am very concerned about the idea that just because a person ran before and, I should say, lost resoundingly, is somehow entitled through fairness or some notion of ‘democracy’ and should be given the position,” resident Lynn Wood Andrews said.

Board member Marcia Calloway cast the lone minority vote against Lamperti, after her motion to appoint Smith failed to receive a second.

Calloway said climate planning is an important but expensive project, which will require someone with Smith’s financial expertise to help fund.

Arnold, the board’s chairman, explained his vote for Lamperti by saying that Lamperti has been an effective advocate to the board on issues such as energy policies and would work well with the board members.

“Aaron has agitated this board about its lack of meaningful progress on certain issues, and I think he has done that agitation in a respectful, lawful and meaningful way,” Arnold said. “I welcome working with agitators who can help us move toward meaningful collaboration.”

Lamperti still needed to be sworn in by the Town Clerk before joining the board and will officially fill the vacant seat at the board’s next meeting on Aug. 10.

In his application for the Selectboard seat, Lamperti said he plans to recuse himself from board discussions or actions pertaining to the Norwich Fire Department to avoid a conflict of interest.

Patrick Adrian can be reached at pfadrian25@gmail.com.




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