Six vie for three Hartford Selectboard seats

Sue Buckholz (Courtesy photograph)

Sue Buckholz (Courtesy photograph)

Patrick Danaher (Courtesy photograph)

Patrick Danaher (Courtesy photograph)

Ida Griesemer (Courtesy photograph)

Ida Griesemer (Courtesy photograph)

Rocket (Courtesy photograph)

Rocket (Courtesy photograph)

Brandon Smith (Courtesy photograph)

Brandon Smith (Courtesy photograph)

Aaron Warner (Courtesy photograph)

Aaron Warner (Courtesy photograph)

By PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 02-19-2024 10:01 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Voters will be asked at Town Meeting to elect three candidates to the Hartford Selectboard, two of whom will replace board members who did not seek reelection.

Rocket, an incumbent who goes by a single name, and three challengers — Sue Buckholz, Brandon Smith and Aaron Warner — are vying for two seats with two-year terms.

In a separate race, Ida Griesemer is competing against Patrick Danaher for a seat with a three-year term.

The outgoing Selectboard members are Vice Chairman Dan Fraser and Ally Tufenkjian.

Two seats with two-year terms

Rocket, a 32-year-old law student and entrepreneur, was first elected to the Selectboard in March 2022. During his first term, the Selectboard oversaw a change in administrative leadership, parting ways with former Town Manager Tracy Yarlott-Davis in December 2022 after placing her on administrative leave and hiring new Town Manager John Haverstock last September.

“The last two years of my term have been largely occupied with stabilizing town leadership,” Rocket said in an interview. “Now, with an adept town manager and equally competent department heads, I feel there’s an opportunity for the Selectboard to focus on infrastructure and budget matters.”

Rocket said he is a strong communicator and independent thinker with a mind for municipal budgeting and “the courage to say or act in accordance with what I feel is right.”

One of Rocket’s top priorities is to reduce the tax burden on households.

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Part of this solution will require broadening the tax base, which will depend in part on addressing the housing shortage, he said.

“Getting more housing built will take time and require efforts along zoning, permitting, infrastructure, financing and other factors,” Rocket said. “The Selectboard should identify specific ways we can help improve the possibility of housing growth across these factors.”

Susan Buckholz, 67, is an attorney from Quechee who served one-term, from 2017 to 2019, in the Vermont House, representing a district that included Hartford.

Buckholz also served past roles as town moderator and as chairwoman of the Hartford Board of Civil Authority.

“(As an attorney) I spend most of my days weighing and contrasting and analyzing different outcomes for a wide variety of problems that people bring to my office door (and) I enjoy respectful debate because it often brings everyone involved some level of new understanding,” Buckholz said in an email.

Buckholz said that she is running primarily to help restore civility and teamwork to the Selectboard, which she believes has frequently been sidetracked by arguments between board members.

“I find it increasingly difficult to watch the Hartford Selectboard meetings, where some members seem to only want to score points against each other,” Buckholz wrote in a candidate statement to the community. “It seems that some of them have forgotten, if they ever knew, that they’re supposed to be working for the community to move it forward for everyone who lives here.”

Arguments between Selectboard members waste time and energy and distract the board from working on priorities such as housing and maintaining infrastructure, Buckholz said. Having served on many boards and committees, including in the state Legislature, Buckholz said she is good at helping people stay on task.

Brandon Smith, 37, is a production coordinator at Earthshare Construction, a housing construction firm based in Lebanon. He has lived in Hartford for two years and has not served in public office before.

If elected, Smith, a former journalist, said he hopes to use his communication skills to inform and engage the public in the local governing process.

“Not everyone has the time or familiarity to read all the budget, all the policy, tell everyone about it in plain language and solicit feedback,” Smith said in an interview. “So I thought, ‘perhaps I could do that.’ ”

Smith said his priority as a Selectboard member would be to make housing more affordable.

“The price of housing is too high here,” Smith said in a written statement. “We’re both forcing out older folks and we’re prohibiting younger folks from coming.”

While part of this solution may involve reduce the cost of home building, Smith also said that town needs to consider regulatory measures to keep home prices and rents affordable, such as a cap on rents for tenants earning minimum wage.

Aaron Warner, 50, is a small business owner and a part time journalist who writes for Vermont Daily Chronicle, an online news site about Vermont government and policy. Warner owns two businesses in White River Junction — Sheer Excellence, a car detailing service, and Good News Training, a personal fitness center. He has lived in Hartford for 14 years and has not held a position in public office before.

Warner said that the Selectboard’s focus needs to be on “the business of the town” — creating a budget and setting policies to ensure the town is providing essential services.

“I think the business of the town is simply to enable its hired and elected workers to do their jobs so the roads are safe and maintained, the public feels safe and served by law enforcement, current businesses are supported and new ones attracted, families feel safe and want to live here and public utilities and services are run efficiently and at reasonable costs,” Warner said in an email.

Warner also prioritizes public safety and said he supports providing the Hartford Police Department with the resources they need, as well as adequate staffing, to keep the public safe.

Warner attributed his leadership abilities in part to his 19 years of experience as a personal fitness trainer.

“I understand how to coach a diverse group of people and motivate them to achieve great things,” he said.

One three-year term

Patrick Danaher, 66, is a retired sea captain and a lifelong Hartford resident.

He said he is running for the Selectboard because he is deeply connected to the community and wants to ensure that the interests and concerns of residents are being represented in the board’s decision making.

“My top priorities would revolve around promoting economic vitality, fiscal responsibility, and community well-being,” Danaher said. “By supporting local businesses, advocating for responsible budgeting, and ensuring the provision of essential services, we can create a thriving and sustainable community.”

Danaher said the town’s priorities should be on funding and supporting the essential services, such as maintaining infrastructure and keeping roads plowed during winter storms.

“We’re not here to hash out social issues,” Danaher said.

Danaher said that some members of the current Selectboard have been overly preoccupied with broader issues such as the town climate action plan. While open to considering climate change initiatives if funding sources were available, Danaher said that it should not take priority over town infrastructure or services.

Ida Griesemer, 36, is a health services research scientist at the VA Medical Center. Formerly from Lyme, she has lived in Hartford for two years. She said she wishes to serve on the Selectboard to help the community thrive.

Her top priorities as a Selectboard member include supporting the town’s climate action plan to reduce carbon emissions and improve the community’s resilience to climate change.

“Climate change is an enormous challenge everywhere and one that we must be willing to confront at the local level so that we can have infrastructure that is resilient to more extreme weather, while also doing our part to lessen how much carbon we’re adding to the atmosphere,” Griesemer said.

Griesemer also stressed the need to increase affordable housing by using zoning to encourage development in high-density areas.

“Affordable housing is needed so people and families who want to remain in Hartford can do so without spending more than half their income on rent,” Griesemer said. “It’s also important so our businesses can hire people who want to come here to work, without housing being a major barrier.”

Candidates Night will be held on Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. in Hartford High School Auditorium. Voting Day will be held on Tuesday, Mar. 5 in Hartford High School Gym. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Patrick Adrian may be reached at padrian@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.