Brandon Selectboard candidates give answers to Reporter questionnaire

The Reporter sent the same list of 7 questions to all official candidates for Brandon Selectboard (in alphabetical order): David Atherton, Doug Bailey, Ralph Ethier, Ray Marcoux, Heather Nelson, Aida Nielsen, and David Snow.

Here we present the questions and the candidates’ responses, presented alphabetically by last name.

  1. What is your background and experience?

David Atherton: I am currently the Town Manager in Pittsford, VT.  I was on the Brandon Selectboard from 2012 to 2015 and then became the Town Manager in Brandon until February of 2023.

Doug Bailey: I have been a resident in Brandon for the last 40 years.  I am retired after working 35 years in the banking field as a loan officer and a regional manager.  In Brandon I was a board member of the Brandon Chamber and served as president for 3 years.  I was on the Otter Valley School Board and also the Brandon Selectboard for 6 years.

Ralph Ethier: I come from a family of 11 children.  I’m married and we have 2 grown daughters and 1 grandson.  I went to Seminary Hill School and then to Otter Valley, where I graduated in 1982.  I live on Pearl Street.  I also work on Pearl Street in a business I started back in 1998.  I’ve coached and sponsored several rec league teams over the years.  I’ve also coached at Neshobe and Otter Valley.  I’ve been a member of the Planning Commission, Development Review Board, Selectboard, and am currently an alternate on the Development Review Board.

Ray Marcoux: I’ve lived in Brandon since 1993, raised children here, am a small-business owner, and I’m concerned about out-of-control spending and tax increases.

Heather Nelson: I am a native Vermonter, born and raised right here in Brandon.  I moved away to attend college and earn my Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees at UVM.  After working in St. Albans, VT and Washington state, my husband and I chose to return to Brandon to purchase a home and start our family.  We now have three school-aged children.  I worked in public schools for about 6 years before starting my own business.  As a speech-language pathologist, I support communication-skill development with children in Rutland and Addison Counties.  I’ve had the privilege to work with hundreds of families in our community, which allowed me to meet an incredible cross-section of Vermonters.

Aida Nielsen: I was born in Lithuania.  Came to USA in 1994.  I got my Associate’s degree in nursing with honors in 2005.  We moved to Brandon from Westhampton, NY in 2010.  Since then, I am working as RN at HPHRC in Middlebury.  We raised our 2 sons in Brandon.

David Snow: I am a lifelong resident of Brandon (46 years).  I, along with my wife, own 3 businesses.  I am on the Prudential Board in Brandon, this being my second year.  I have a very good understanding of budgets, projections, planning, and being able to listen to all opinions and feel I am able to decide what is best for everyone in Brandon.

  1. Why have you chosen to run for Selectboard this cycle?

David Atherton: I decided to run for a 1-year Selectboard seat after many Brandon residents asked me to get involved again.  I am concerned about the amount of spending that has happened during the past 11 months by the Selectboard and current administration.  I think it’s time to get back to being fiscally responsible instead of asking for a sizable budget increase that will continue the spending.

Doug Bailey: I am on the Budget Committee and feel that my financial experience and board history could be important at this time.

Ralph Ethier: I believe my business experience, management skills, and background in Brandon would be a good fit on the board.  I like being involved with decision making.  I can have an opinion and be able to listen to and respect other opinions and sometimes change my mind.

Ray Marcoux: I’m local and Brandon needs to stop the big spending so people can afford to live here.

Heather Nelson: I was appointed to the Selectboard in spring 2023.  I have learned so much during the past 9 months!  Sitting on the Selectboard provides me an incredible opportunity to give back to our town.  I love living here and I want to make sure our town is affordable and that it continues to be a great place to live.  I am fair, honest, and I ask for more information when I need it.  As a 38-year-old female professional with a family at home, I offer a unique perspective that wasn’t previously represented on the board.

Aida Nielsen: I chose to run for Selectboard because I do not like how my tax money is spent.  I do not support an idea that the Town of Brandon should run other businesses, such as solar production, besides making sure that taxpayers’ money is spent to run the town in the most efficient way.

David Snow: I have chosen to run for the 3-year seat to try and get the voice of every member of Brandon heard and do what’s right for everyone.  I feel a lot of citizens for one reason or another can’t make it to meetings, aren’t vocal because they feel they don’t get heard, but I will say that in conversation one on one with many citizens from all walks of life, they want things to be done differently and I hope to be able to help with that.  One seat is only 20% of the vote, so it takes a group that has the same visions to help the entire community.

  1. What do you think is positive about Brandon and how it’s been managed?

David Atherton: Honestly, I don’t think we are being managed or represented well right now.  Attendance at Selectboard meetings has significantly increased and there are more folks running for board seats this year than in the last 10 years.  This should be a sign to the Selectboard and administration that Brandon residents are concerned.

Doug Bailey: Brandon is a thriving small town with many activities for people to become involved in.  Our new town manager has a style that is positive and he communicates well with groups and individuals alike.

Ralph Ethier: Brandon has recently completed several large projects.  The wastewater plant is being done right now.  The 1% options tax is probably one of the best decisions.

Ray Marcoux: Brandon used to have stores for local people’s needs, water/sewer, and everything was cheaper.

Heather Nelson: Brandon is a wonderful community and I love living here.  Brandon has improved its infrastructure over the past several years, with more changes coming soon (for example, the Union Street sidewalk project is coming up).  It’s amazing to have a robust recreation department, especially since I have children.  The recreation department is a major draw for families from surrounding towns as well—it’s a great way to bring potential customers to Brandon!  The new project tracker provided by the town manager approximately bi-monthly (which can be requested at any point in between) has improved transparency and protects us from inadvertently overextending ourselves financially.

Aida Nielsen: The Town of Brandon did a good job paving roads, upgrading downtown.  The town still does a good job maintaining safe roads during winter.

David Snow: Brandon is different than when I grew up, that’s for sure.  Brandon used to be a town you didn’t have to leave at all.  There was work, clothing stores, car dealerships, appliance stores, department store outlets, you name it.  Brandon’s infrastructure has come a long way for sure; it looks nice in town.  I feel there are areas that need improving from a management standpoint and I’ll leave it at that.

  1. What aspects of Brandon need more attention than they’ve received?

David Atherton: My only answer to this is the mess on Newton Road.  It’s been eight months since it was damaged by flooding and it’s still in disarray.

Doug Bailey: Marketing the many positive aspects of our small town.  There is always room to improve, yet there’s the fear that we want to maintain our town’s personality and not become another Woodstock.

Ralph Ethier: I think the aspect of Brandon that needs more attention is to keep it affordable for everyone.  We talk about how nice Brandon looks, wanting 24-hour police coverage, all of the rec programs we have, and then we complain about how expensive it is to live here.  There needs to be a balance.

Ray Marcoux: The Selectboard needs to curb spending and pet projects, and plan ahead with emergencies down the road, such as broken water mains, equipment, trucks, etc.

Heather Nelson: Since completion of the Segment 6 construction, our town has had a lot of changes.  For example, we now have beautiful gardens to enjoy—and take care of!  We now have to manage the care of these new things, and there has turned out to be a learning curve to this.  It would also be prudent to stay ahead of paving—I have learned that it costs less overall to maintain roads so that they don’t require larger construction projects to get them in order.  Making a plan to handle this proactively is important as we move forward.

Aida Nielsen: The Town of Brandon needs to pay more attention to recreation.  Exploring the possibility of more nature walking and biking trails, promote outdoor activities.

David Snow: I feel the budgets and how the spending increases needs attention.  We don’t have an open checkbook.  Many citizens simply can’t afford increases.  I understand money has to be spent, that’s a given.  However, planning for larger expenses needs a lot of attention rather than just approve large items and increase taxes.  Our 1% options tax could be used sparingly and when we have a surplus, we could invest that in short-term CDs, money market accounts, etc., to help that money grow before we just spend it.

  1. Please identify a recent issue that the Selectboard handled well.

David Atherton: I am having a difficult time finding anything that I see as a positive outcome that has benefitted the town.

Doug Bailey: The Selectboard and the town manager have allocated funds for all pending projects requiring money.  This is very important for the future soundness of Brandon.

Ralph Ethier: I believe the issue of the police dog was handled well in that 3 board members listened to the public input and changed their votes.

Ray Marcoux: There are none.  They mishandled the canine deal, town leased out property for solar panels, and now the town wants to leaser another property for town solar, nobody budgeted for a new town truck but it was ordered, sidewalks need repair but they want a huge solar project, and the budget increase is crazy and there is no need for it.  They need to close the checkbook and stop the spending.

Heather Nelson: During my tenure on the Selectboard, we allocated the remainder of the ARPA funds.  At one point during the year, a road construction project on Arnold District Road cost more than expected.  Initially, the Selectboard was split, with some members wanting to use ARPA funds for the entirety of the construction costs and some not wanting to use any ARPA funds for the construction costs.  I proposed that we pay the expected road construction costs from our regular funds and the excess (unexpected portion) from the ARPA funds.  In my view, this was a reasonable compromise.

Aida Nielsen: The Selectboard does a good job maintaining the town.

David Snow: The K-9 officer is a young animal, has more training needed, but the fact that the program after spending what has been spent was going to be dissolved potentially, I am happy to see we didn’t just throw it away after the investment and the decision was made to continue it.  That being said, after this year, if the costs of training are going to continue at a high rate, perhaps it needs to be revisited.

  1. Please identify a recent issue that you think the Selectboard handled poorly and explain how you would have handled it differently.

David Atherton: I think that certain people on the Selectboard have personal agendas and it’s clouding their decisions in looking out for the best interest of the town.  I don’t think the push by some Selectboard members for electric police cruisers and the urgency to build a solar array is what we need to be focusing on while we have outstanding infrastructure projects that seem to have been all but forgotten.  The Union Street project and the Wheeler Road bridge and North Street bridge scoping studies should be first priority while a planning process begins for reducing fossil fuel consumption.

Doug Bailey: First, I would like to thank each member of the Selectboard.  They work diligently for all of us.  The one area of improvement could be better communication with each other and the public at meetings.  An unanswered or poorly answered question is a lost opportunity to get people to understand items as they come up.

Ralph Ethier: The recent issue the Selectboard handled poorly was the police dog.  I believe an issue that is important should not have been decided on so quickly.  There should have been time for public input.

Ray Marcoux: The Selectboard should have gone back and got the right figures for the canine program before they voted it down, could have put solar panels on their own property, they should fix the sidewalks, solar is an eyesore, is expensive, will have expenses to get rid of the panels down the road, and they should have cut back the budget.

Heather Nelson: In the past, we found matching money for grants from different place as we needed it.  Over the course of the past several months, we have adopted a practice of earmarking matching funds at the time that we accept the grant.  This practice, in combination with a prohect tracker developed by Town Manager Seth Hopkins, will help us to plan ahead financially.

Aida Nielsen: Solar project recommendation, canine program cancellation, and recommendation to buy 2 electric cars for the police department were not handled well.  I would research affordability, usefulness, and reliability for each project.

David Snow: I was at a Selectboard meeting when the topic of the new town truck was brought up.  The truck was order and the truck cost was not factored into the budget.  Rather than finance a large purchase, the Selectboard decided to use 1% option tax to just pay for that truck.  At the time, it was also decided to pay another equipment loan off to which half of the 1% money we had was depleted.  I would have chosen a different route and financed the truck, invested $400,000, and made enough money on investment to offset the interest cost of the loan.  Again a business decision not to deplete cash.

  1. What are the most pressing issues facing Brandon in the next five years and how would you address them?

David Atherton: Building a five-year plan is a great idea, if everyone follows it.  I think the first step is to stop this sudden urgency to spend money.  When I was on the Selectboard from 2012 to 2015, we actually had a “matrix” that was used as a to-do list, which eventually morphed into the “project tracker.”  I don’t know how or if the current Selectboard or town managers use anything like this anymore.

Doug Bailey: Two pressing issues that I see are (1) attracting meaningful small business and (2) protecting our town from the types of storms that seem to come from a changing climate.  To attract new business, we need to find ways to get outside shoppers into Brandon.  For protection to property loss due to storms, we need to maintain a strong public safety department that is ready when needed.

Ralph Ethier: Some of the issues facing Brandon in the next 5 years are cost of living, housing, jobs, and climate change.  To address some of these, we keep our budget affordable, work on zoning to make it easier to build or convert large houses into multifamily homes.

Ray Marcoux: Taxes, taxes, and spending.  Taxpayers can’t afford the plans that some have.  The town needs to plan ahead for equipment, police cars, town trucks, graders, building repairs, before they happen and have a reserve for emergencies.  They need to prioritize a replacement plan for police cruisers because they can’t be run until the wheels fall off of them.  Same with highway trucks.  We don’t need a solar array.

Heather Nelson: One of the most important issues facing Brandon is keeping the cost of housing (owning and renting) in check.  I want people to be able to afford to stay in our town, and for them to afford to purchase homes if they’d like to.  It will be important to support affordable housing as part of this.  Improving our capital plan for replacement of equipment will be important as we move forward as well.  We are currently piloting a new electronic government management software to help us collect the data we need to develop this formal plan.

Aida Nielsen: To find the fine line between making sure the town is safe and affordable.  We should consider a permanent tax-increase cap.

David Snow: Brandon still has infrastructure work that needs to be completed outside the village: sidewalks, salt shed, town garage, police vehicles, potential solar project, etc.  These are all expensive issues and the simple answer has been to raise taxes.  My thought is to plan the issues out, plan the spending—it can’t all happen at once—so it’s going to be a struggle that needs much attention.

Share this story:
Back to Top