City voters are looking at the most extensive town meeting ballot in living memory, with the most populated mayoral race in city history.
“It’s the first time in a long time we’ve had an inordinate amount of extremely interested people for every elected position,” said City Clerk Henry Heck.
Seven people are seeking the mayor’s office and 18 candidates are vying for six seats on the Board of Aldermen. Seven people are competing for three seats on the school board and another seven are competing to replace retiring City Assessor Barry Keefe. On top of that, voters have three choices for city treasurer.
Some of those candidates are duplicated across races. Kam Johnston is once again running for all of the positions while his mother, Marge Johnston, is running against him in the mayoral, assessor and treasurer’s races. Despite them running against one another, the younger Johnston said he is serving as his mother’s “press assistant” in her races.
Mayor David Allaire is running for re-election to a third term. Opposing him are two members of the Board of Aldermen — Chris Ettori and Sam Gorruso — political newcomer Matthew Seager, community activist Kathleen Krevetski, and the Johnstons. Kam Johnston is a former school board member; Marge Johnston, who owns a number of properties in the city, has made previous unsuccessful bids for mayor.
The previous record for the most mayoral candidates was held by the 2007 election, when six people vied to replace outgoing mayor John Cassarino.
On the ballot for city assessor are the Johnstons, Melinda Eaton, Michel Messier, Katie Langlois, Gregory Thayer and CC Wiegel. Messier who challenged Allaire for mayor in 2019, is making a bid for alderman.
There will at least be three new members on Board of Aldermen in March — Lisa Ryan and Melinda Humphrey are not running again. Neither is Ettori, choosing instead to go all-in on his mayoral bid. That leaves Alderwoman Rebecca Mattis seeking re-election alongside Aldermen Tom Depoy and William Gillam.
Seeking to join the board this year are Messier, John Atwood, Rick Battles, John Cioffi Jr., Mike Doenges, Chad Snyder-DeAngelis, Thomas Franco, Russell Glitman, Kam Johnston, Robert Miles, Devon Neary, David O’Brien, Matthew Merritt, Matthew Reveal and Carrie Savage.
Three seats are available on the School Board, with Marisa Kiefaber, Kam Johnston, Tricia O’Connor, Matthew Olewnik, Charlene Seward, Stephanie Stoodley and Anna Pavio all in the running.
Heck said that these are the most crowded fields he can remember, though he said he has seen the list of aldermanic candidates hit the mid- to high-teens. Even in 2007, he said, the other races were not as crowded as the mayorals race.
“Without question, the School Board has seen more interest than I’ve seen in my tenure as clerk,” he said. “I can’t tell you when we’ve had seven people running for three seats.”
The School Board sparked significant controversy last year when it voted to retire the “Raider” nickname for the high school due to concerns about cultural insensitivity. Heck said he supposed that the overall political climate might have contributed to the level of interest in other offices.
Former Mayor Jeffrey Wennberg — who reacted “that’s crowded” when he heard the size of the mayoral field — suggested it was also in part because the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the state to waive the requirement that candidates for public office file a petition with at least 35 signatures. Wennberg said 35 signatures were not hard to get, and that he never supported making it harder to run for office, but that removing the requirement altogether might be making it too easy.
“If you can’t find 35 people who are willing to even support putting your name on the ballot — much less commit to voting for you, maybe you’re not a serious candidate,” he said. “Now there’s literally no effort involved. ... Then, maybe somebody just needs a job and they’re looking for a paycheck.”
As Vermont rolls out its next wave of COVID-19 vaccinations to individuals ages 75 and up this week, school teachers are putting pressure on the state to provide a plan for them.
Earlier this month, Samantha Brehm, a teacher working in the Mount Mansfield Unified Union School District, launched a petition on Change.org urging Gov. Phil Scott to “prioritize the COVID-19 vaccination for K-12 teachers and school staff, in accordance with the CDC and Federal guidelines.”
As of Monday, it had garnered more than 5,100 signatures.
In December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classified people working in the education sector as “frontline essential workers,” putting them just after the elderly living in long-term care facilities and health care workers in the vaccine queue.
Both Colorado and Tennessee have since announced plans to prioritize inoculations for teachers to better align with CDC guidance.
Calls for getting the vaccine into the arms of school workers comes on the heels of Scott’s announcement earlier this month of his goal to have K-12 school return to full in-person learning by the end of April.
That plan is being met with scrutiny by educators as a timeline for vaccinations for school workers remains unset, and increased community spread of COVID has forced many schools to toggle between in-person and remote learning.
On Monday, Fair Haven Grade School and Fair Haven Union High School both began a week of remote learning due to a pair of positive cases. Also on Monday both the Rutland Middle School and Rutland High School were remote while the district conducted contract tracing following the report of several positive cases. RHS and all but one RMS learning cohort returned to in-person learning today.
But despite those instances, schools around the state have been largely successful at keeping COVID at bay.
As of Jan. 20, 46 cases of COVID had been reported in the previous seven days and a total of 373 cases had been reported since March, according to data released by the Vermont Department of Health. Those numbers reflect individuals with COVID who were in attendance at a K-12 school while infectious.
“When we look at our data, our mortality rates are currently highest among our oldest,” said Tracy Dolan, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health.
Dolan explained that regular surveillance testing of teachers, which began late last year, has helped the state monitor how much COVID is spreading through schools.
“If teachers were showing up as a high-risk group, based on what we see in the data, we may have a different conversation. But right now, our surveillance data shows that teachers are actually coming in at a very low rate of positivity,” she said, noting teachers are at about a 10th of the rate of the statewide positivity rate.
The state is backed up new research that suggests reopening schools in areas with low caseloads doesn’t increase the spread of COVID. One study released by the National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice found it was safe to reopen schools in counties where “there are fewer than 36 to 44 new COVID-19 county hospitalizations per 100,000 people per week.” Since March, Vermont counties, with a handful of exceptions, has sat comfortably below this threshold.
With an eye toward Gov. Phil Scott’s plan of returning to full in-person learning in April, Dolan said it was unclear if teachers would receive the vaccine before then.
“Hopefully, in April, we’re in a good place,” she said. “Again, it’s a goal. We’ll have to look at where we are with infection rates and positivity rates at that time. But so far, schools have demonstrated really excellent work.”
Erin Cusson is a science teacher at Enosburg Falls High School in Franklin County. She said she supports the governor’s strategy and understands the data, but believes bringing more students into the classroom without giving educators the vaccine is “reckless.”
EFHS is on a hybrid model that alternates students between remote and in-person learning.
According to Cusson, she she sees approximately 30 individual students a week on an alternating schedule, which creates the opportunity for 60 potential exposures to COVID per week. A full return to in-person learning would bring about 55 individual students back into her classroom each day, upping potential exposures to 275 per week — a four-fold increase.
“As much as I value in-person learning and I miss what a typical school year feels like, to not prioritize teachers and to then want to go full time, it just doesn’t seem thoughtful — it doesn’t seem cautious,” she said.
Cusson said the statewide spikes in November and after Christmas have put educators on edge. Unlike health care professionals, for whom putting themselves at risk is part of the job, she said it’s not what she signed up for as a teacher.
“At what point does our risk matter more than what we provide to students?” she asked, acknowledging a sentiment she said is common among her colleagues.
Cusson’s concerns were echoed by David Younce, president of the Vermont Superintendents Association. Last week, he testified before the State Senate Education Committee that vaccinations are increasingly becoming “an area of focus for school district employees” and creating a sense of “cognitive dissonance.”
“They are struggling with understanding why, if schools are critical to remain open to best serve students and society, school employees are not considered worthy of early vaccine administration,” he said. “They realize that others are essential as well, but have not seen others mandated to return to in-person work in the interest of opening the economy.”
He added that school employees having access the vaccine “seems to be an important milestone” to a return to full in-person learning in April.
Don Tinney, president of the Vermont-National Education Association, which serves more than 13,000 teachers and school workers in Vermont, said that while the state’s strategy of prioritizing the most vulnerable populations “makes sense,” the union believes school workers should be vaccinated “as early as humanly possible.”
“If keeping schools open is imperative, it’s imperative to protect the workforce that’s keeping those schools open,” he said.
Tinney, who has taught English for more than 30 years, explained that even though the data suggests that schools are relatively safe from COVID, it doesn’t always feel that way for teachers on the frontlines.
“I think one of the things that’s confusing for (teachers) is that they are aware of cases in their schools … and then they hear on the news that there are no outbreaks in schools,” he said. “The statistical part of that is not significant to an educator … who is either infected or has a friend or colleague infected and has to quarantine and has all the stress and anxiety about that case.”
While Tinney said he respects Scott’s “aspirational” April goal, he thinks it’s a decision that needs to be made at the local level.
“I think it is unfair to Vermont educators to have this end of April deadline even suggested because it places an unreasonable expectation upon them when they are in the middle of this pandemic, when they are waiting to find out when they’re going to be vaccinated, (and) when they continue to experience the stress and anxiety of the chronic unpredictability as they’ve experienced since last March,” he said.
Ultimately, all parties acknowledge having enough vaccine remains the biggest impediment to a more robust distribution strategy.
Last Friday, at his regular news conference, the govenor said the state is receiving about 8,800 doses per week. He added that if more doses come, the state would be able to broaden its vaccination efforts.
Dolan said the vaccine is coming into the state “at a trickle,” and the priority remains making sure it’s being used to prevent illness and death for the most at-risk parts of the population.
“If we had more vaccines, we might be able to make different decisions,” she said.
Numerous Rutland County Towns will have only one choice for officers on their town meeting ballots.
Sudbury has opted to delay its local elections until June. Several other towns reported a shortage of candidates when the deadline to run for public office arrived Monday.
Benson, which is foregoing its floor meeting this year, has no contested races.
Four people are running for two one-year terms on the Brandon Select Board — incumbent Seth Hopkins, Lindsey Berk, Alexandra “Allie” Breyer, and Michael Markowski. Natalie Steen is running against incumbent Barry Varian for Brandon’s three-year seat on the Otter Valley School Board. Voters are being asked whether they want to take out a $5.7 million sewer bond and the ballot may contain a question about allowing retail cannabis sales.
Castleton has no contested races.
In Clarendon, Matthew Gouchberg is challenging John McKenna for a three-year seat on the Mill River Unified Union School Board.
Chittenden also has no contested races.
Fair Haven Selectman Bob Richard is being challenged for a three-year seat by Chris Cole. Two one-year seats are being sought by incumbent Carol Egan, John Lulek and Rod Holzworth II. Incumbent Jay Brown will not be seeking re-election.
In Danby, Selectman Bradley J. Bender is running against Suzanne Kantorski for his three-year seat on the board. Thomas Fuller Jr. is challenging incumbent Lynn Bondurant for a two-year seat on the Select Board. Byron Battease is running against Marianne McCluire for auditor. The ballot also includes a referendum on retail cannabis.
Hubbardton has no contested races.
Information from Ira was not available Monday
Killington has no contested races
Information from Mendon also was not readily available Monday
Robin Chesnut-Tangerman is seeking to return to the Middletown Springs Select Board, challenging Selectman Carl Haynes. Selectwoman Patty Kenyon is running to unseat Town Clerk Laura Castle, while Denny Munyak and Ryan DeCelle vie for town treasurer.
Mount Holly has no contested races.
Information from Mount Tabor was not readily available Monday.
Pawlet has no contested races, but the ballot will include a referendum on retail cannabis sales.
Information from Pittsfield was not readily available Monday.
Pittsford and Poultney have no contested races.
Proctor has no contested races, but voters will be asked to decide a $1.4 million bond for sewer improvements.
Information from Rutland Town was not readily available Monday.
In Shrewsbury, Todd Fillmore and Samantha Green are running for a three-year seat on the School Board.
In Tinmouth, Selectman Michael Fallar is facing challenges from Meadow Squier and Nathaniel Miner for a three-year seat on the Select Board. Fallar is challenging incumbent Road Commissioner Eric Buffum. On the School Board. Arne Majorell and Asha Carroll are competing to fill the remaining year of Amy Martone’s seat.
Five candidates are competing for a pair of three-year seats on the School Board in Wallingford, with incumbent Maria French facing challenges from Bruce Moreton, Erika Berner, Theresa Biasuzzi and Julie Petrossi. Petrossi’s husband, Anthony Petrossi, is challenging incumbent Selectwoman Patricial Pranger alongside Kathy Luzader for a two-year seat on that board.
The only item for Wells voters is an at-large seat on the Wells Springs Unified School Board, contested by incumbent Meredith Morgan of Middletown Springs and challenger Sue Burke of Wells.
West Haven and West Rutland have no contested races.
“On Monday morning, members of the states press corps got a reality check via email. ... A notice, sent by more than 50 current and former state leaders, cautioned journalists about gender bias. It was humbling, especially for us.”
Rutland graduate Rylee Burgess won Little East Conference Rookie of the Week. B1
The Vermont Department of Health is accepting appointments from citizens 75 or older for vaccinations against COVID-19.
Vermont officials have been providing vaccinations for health care professionals who deal directly with patients, first responders, such as emergency medical technicians and police, and residents of long-term care facilities.
Kelly Dougherty, deputy health commissioner, said the department had taken a “data-informed approach” to expanding the availability of vaccines. The most vulnerable population and the area where there had been the most deaths was among older Vermonters, Dougherty said.
“We opted in Vermont to go with an age-based strategy for the second phase,” she said.
While other states have opened vaccination to anyone 65 or older, Dougherty said the staff at the Vermont Department of Health had to consider the amount of vaccine provided to the state by the federal government.
The goal is to vaccinate people 75 and older within the next five to six weeks, then 70 and older, then 65, and then people of any age if they have certain medical conditions that would put them at greater risk.
Online registration was available as of Monday morning and by noon. A call center was available to help Vermonters make their appointments. The call center can help people who are unable to make an appointment online, who need technical help or who use a language other than English.
To qualify for the vaccination, a person needs to be 75 or older and if they’re not a Vermonter, they need to either work in Vermont, receive their primary care in Vermont or be a transplant to Vermont who is establishing the state as the place of their primary residency.
“If people have a history of adverse reactions to vaccines or any of the components of the vaccine, they will be asked to contact their primary care provider rather than registering at a community site,” Dougherty said.
However, most of those who want to schedule their vaccination shot can do so directly through the state. The appointment does not need to be scheduled through a primary care physician.
The phone number to call is 855-722-7878. There is more information about making an appointment at https://www.healthvermont.gov/covid-19/vaccine/getting-covid-19-vaccine
While getting the shot, a person should be prepared to comply with the guidance of the federal Center for Disease Control and prevention or the Vermont Department of Health, including masking and observing social distancing.
Dougherty said she wanted to assure Vermonters there were enough appointments available for everyone expected to meet the age criteria. She said it was important to remember because state officials were expecting a lot of traffic in the first few days.
“So if people have difficulty getting through to the call center, for example, they don’t have to worry that all the appointments are going to fill up. We do have enough appointments in the system,” she said.
Because of the anticipated interest, Dougherty urged those who can to avoid the potential wait at the call center and register online on their own or through a friend or relative.
In a statement, Jeff Tieman, CEO of the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, called Vermont’s vaccine distribution program “among the most effective in the country to date.”
“We should take pride in our accomplishments thus far, but remember that it is more important now than at any other time in this pandemic that we continue to take safety precautions to prevent spread of this horrific virus. Our recent case counts are higher than they’ve ever been, which means all of us continue to be at greater risk of contracting COVID-19,” he said.
Tieman said members of VAHHS stood ready to do their part.
“We know the Phase 2 rollout will be rocky with so many Vermonters eager to be vaccinated. We also know that this work represents the bright light of recovery we all seek. That is why hospitals will maintain our resolve and continue to answer the call to serve,” he said.
The vaccination system is being refined.
Jane Trepanier, of West Rutland, works for the Community Care Network. On Monday, she said she was expecting to be vaccinated at Rutland Regional Medical Center on Wednesday. But then she got an email just two days before she was supposed to get the shot canceling her appointment.
“I just don’t know how they could do that. ... I just don’t know what the heck happened. It still doesn’t make sense to me,” she said.
Gerianne Smart, a spokeswoman for the Rutland hospital, said by email on Monday that late last week the hospital received notice from the health department that their vaccine allocation for this week was going to be diverted to the health department clinic at the Asa Bloomer Building in Rutland to start the more than 75 vaccinations that they are managing.