Two seats contested on Norwich Selectboard in tumultuous period for town government


Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 02-22-2023 12:46 PM

NORWICH — Police staffing, administrative vacancies and the stability of town leadership are among the key issues in the campaign for the Selectboard, where five residents are vying to fill three open seats in voting on March 7.

Selectboard Chairwoman Marcia Calloway and fellow incumbent Rob Gere will go head-to-head for a three-year term.

In the second contested race, incumbent Aaron Lamperti is facing a challenge from Priscilla Vincent for a one-year term.

And Pam Smith, a town lister and the assistant town treasurer, is running uncontested for a two-year seat.

The candidates, who participated in a forum last Thursday hosted by the Norwich Women’s Club, discussed their visions for restoring governing and administrative stability in Norwich, which is currently seeking permanent hires for town manager, finance director and planning director.

The candidates also discussed a petitioned article on the Town Meeting warning that asks voters whether the Selectboard should consider hiring an additional full-time police officer, which would increase the department’s staffing to six full-time employees — the police chief, four full-time officers and an administrative assistant.

Police Chief Wade Cochran has said that adding a fourth full-time officer would provide the minimum staffing needed to have continuous police coverage, including when officers are on vacation.

The article is advisory only, meaning that the Selectboard could choose whether to follow voter sentiment.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Calloway, who is finishing her second year on the board, characterized the last couple of years in Norwich as “a tumultuous time.” Since she joined the board, the town has had three different town managers, including Acting Town Manager Brennan Duffy, who was hired in December.

Calloway, a retired Dartmouth College administrator, said the town needs to update its personnel policies and employee job descriptions, which she called “woefully out of date” or lacking.

“I think that everyone from the town manager down needs to understand what their role is and that the personnel policies apply to all of them,” Calloway said last week. “And the Selectboard’s role is to make sure the town manager is managing to all of those policies.”

Calloway said the Selectboard should strongly consider Cochran’s recommendations for the department, including adding a fourth officer.

“I am in favor of doing what is needed,” Calloway said. “If the police chief is the expert we hired and he says he needs something, then we look at how much money there is, and then it’s up to the town manager to work that out.”

Gere, elected to the board in 2020, said he wants to address needed infrastructure projects, such as sidewalk improvements to aid pedestrians and to strengthen Norwich’s ability to attract and retain high-quality professional staff.

Gere said the board needs to be patient to find the right candidate for the permanent town manager role but also must give that manager “the support they need to get the job done” and “not to interfere.”

In regard to the police staffing, Gere — in a written campaign statement — questioned the need for a fourth officer, which would cost between “$75,000 to $100,000 per year” and only result in “a faster response time” during overnight hours.

“Norwich has gotten by reasonably well with (only) three full time officers, a chief of police and an administrative assistant,” Gere said. “I emphatically support staffing at that level.”

However, Gere said on Thursday that he would consider supporting the position if voters pass the article.

Lamperti, a Norwich firefighter, was appointed last year by the Selectboard to fill a vacant seat previously held by Claudette Brochu, who was elected to a term that expires next March.

Lamperti said his top priorities include upgrades to town buildings, initiatives to eliminate the town’s carbon emissions and the development of a town plan that encourages affordable housing.

“I believe (a carbon-reduction initiative) is going to be one of the big issues this year for the board,” Lamperti said last week. “We have moved as a nation from (climate change) denial to dysfunction. The next step is to move to action.”

Lamperti said he would be open to considering a fourth police officer, though he questioned plans for funding.

“I am very, very cautious against the use of one-time temporary funding for an ongoing, permanent commitment,” Lamperti said. “Using (one-time) funds for a new position is going to be a hard sell for me, because what about next year?”

Vincent, a former advertising executive who left the profession to focus on raising her children, said she only became engaged in the Selectboard meetings a few months ago.

While prioritizing the need to reduce taxes, Vincent also advocated for renovating Tracy Hall, which requires upgrades to its plumbing, heating and air systems.

Vincent said she was hesitant to endorse costly energy-efficient upgrades to the town hall.

“It’s important to do the right thing,” Vincent said. ” But people also have to be able to afford to live here. ”

Vincent, whose home was subject to an unlawful intrusion in December, said she strongly supports increasing the police staff to allow for continuous department coverage.

Norwich’s police officers deserve to have “an acceptable work and life balance,” Vincent said on Thursday.

Smith, a retired business owner and former accounting professional, prioritized having a town plan for how to spend the $1 million in funds received from the American Recovery Plan Act, or ARPA. Smith listed a number of projects in need of a funding plan, including the town hall renovations and upgrades to the town phone system and website.

As an elected town lister, Smith encouraged the Selectboard to consider its “tone” when communicating to the public, noting that some other elected town officials have claimed feeling disrespected during their discussions with Selectboard members.

“If the Selectboard is being disrespectful of other elected officials, what is that saying to the employees of the town?” Smith said during the forum. “It really comes down to the Selectboard setting the tone of how we interact with each other. If we’re not collaborative or respectful, that’s where the problems come.”

Smith did not specify her personal position on the police article, but also said that the article would be challenging to implement because it did not include a long-term funding mechanism.

“So if the voters approve that position, the Selectboard is going to have to figure out how to fund it or just ignore the vote,” Smith said.

Voting for elected officials and articles on the town warning will take place on Tuesday, March 7, at Tracy Memorial Hall. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Patrick Adrian can be reached at or at 603-727-3216.

CORRECTION: Brennan Duffy is Norwich’s Acting Town Manager. His name was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.