Town of Essex Select Board Member, 2007-2019
"Connecting You to Local Government " since 2005
because I care"
- Just Outcomes
"My passion for local government grew out of positive 'public good' experiences as a child."
"Government at all levels needs checks and balances – and fair play."
An Independent Voice
I’m a non-partisan representative of the people.
That is, I am accountable to no political party.
I decide every issue on its own merit.
And have self-funded my re-election campaigns.
I am beholden to only the voters.
My decisions are made not for personal gain but for the greater good.
Every Day I work to represent the interests of voters who want:
Safe Spaces in which to Live and Recreate,
Local Control, and
I’m sensitive to the differences and commonalities among the 22,000 residents of Essex / Essex Jct. I regularly knock on doors to hear a variety of residents' perspectives.
I'm a "fixture" at one polling place or the other at every election, greeting voters and offering a willing ear to anyone who has input or questions.
I attend 100+ meetings each year to ensure that I can see the big picture as well as other perspectives.
At my request, FairVote helped explore
for Essex in 2006.
Your Check-and-Balance in Local Government
My passion for 17 years has been learning about local government. I listen to residents and work to provide better communication and public service to all.
My 10,000 hours of deliberate practice has made me expert in Essex governance.
I frequently speak up for the marginalized, the powerless, the under-informed.
I'm known for calling out behavior that doesn’t serve the greater good.
I’ve worked to expose people who have attempted to pull the wool over voters’ eyes.
From 2007 to 2019, I fulfilled my pledge to be a deeply engaged Select Board Member. As an engaged citizen, I continue to work toward "the greater good" every day.
My track record – on saving money, finding efficiencies, helping good things to happen, and nudging us to rethink some unwise proposals – is both extraordinary and clear.
In fact, I was out-front, promoting the following ideas, often ahead-of-the-curve:
Consolidating Town and Village Departments, one-at-a-time, from the bottom-up (since 2006), rather than an instantaneous, top-down municipal merger
Advocating for equal representation of Village and TOV voters on governing boards (since 2006)
Attending Village Annual Meetings (since 2006) before that became popular among SB members
Purchasing the Tree Farm recreation facility from the State by local municipalities (2009–2013)
Aligning the Salaries of the two Fire Chiefs (since 2009)
Saving taxpayers $10,000 by debunking the hype around a custom search app, ShopQA (2011)
Building an energy-efficient, state-of-the-art Police Facility to benefit current cops / attract new ones, creatively communicating costs per household (2010–2012)
Establishing a Public Shooting Range to reduce backyard target practice noise / risks (since 2011)
Advocating for hikers, not new houses, on Saxon Hill (2012–2014)
Requesting the renaming of the Columbus Day holiday (since 2015)
Renovating Essex Town Offices with remainder of Police Facility Funding (2015)
Researching, communicating the downsides of a proposed Special Taxing District for Recreation (2016–2017)
Requesting pre-merger parity vote of the Town School District to retain 165.2 acres of park land worth $4.5 million (2017)
Attending Regional Dispatch planning meetings, communicating findings (2017–2018)
Updating the Town's Sexual Harassment Policy and Reporting Process to prevent re-victimization (since 2017)
Identifying an April ballot warning that denied proper representation to a voting district (2018)
Proposing an expanded 10-member Select Board to set policy for a merged community: 5 members each from the Village and Town-outside-the-Village (2018–2019)
Petitioning for a municipal charter change so that the Select Board – like the merged school board – has equal representation from each (Village and TOV) district (since August 2019). This charter change passed town-wide (61% of voters) on 3/3/20 but was torpedoed by House Reps from here before it could get a fair hearing in Montpelier.
Promoting a better-than-merger alternative (Separate-and-Share by Ken Signorello) which allows consolidated functions to remain and resolves the governance and budgeting dilemmas for the four functions – fire, planning, rec, and libraries – for whom consolidation has not worked and merger would not (since Sept. 2019).
Reporting "the rest of the news" on Town and Village governing board meetings through my reader-supported website and monthly print newsletter (since July 2020).
Resisting a merger proposal, written by Village Trustee George Tyler to benefit his constituents, which had zero input from representatives of the majority of the population, who live outside-the-Village and would have paid for the bulk of the Village Budget had it passed in March '21 (failed by 19 votes) or April '21 (failed by 25 votes).
Requesting an advisory vote of the entire Town on the proposed Separation of the Village of Essex Junction. Thus far, in November 2021, fewer than 19% of registered voters in all of Essex approved Separation.
It's important to me to publish the above list because, when I first won a seat on the SB, I was advised never to "walk point" (go first, exposing oneself to attack or criticism) on any issue. In other words: go along to get along, to ensure your re-election.
However, my goal in running for and holding office has been to Make a Difference.
One only makes a difference by Being Different: not by keeping mum nor voting in lockstep.
Serving the Entire Essex Community
Essex Select Board, 12 yrs (perfect attendance)
Essex Board of Civil Authority, 12 yrs
Essex Energy Committee, 13 yrs
Essex Regional Planning Commissioner, 4 yrs
ECOS (Million-Dollar Sustainability Grant) Steering Committee, 2 yrs
Heart & Soul Community Advisory Team, 2 yrs
Merger Task Force, 2 yrs
Thoughtful Growth in Action Work Group
Essex Governance Group
Select Board’s Subcommittee on Governance
Frequently Asked Questions
"What is a Select Board?"
Similar to a town council elsewhere, the Select Board is a team of 5 citizens elected to staggered 3-year terms. We meet twice a month to set policy for governing a wide range of activity in the Town of Essex. On any given night, the Select Board might discuss the sewer core, a new grocery store, stormwater reg’s, whether a merger has legs, funding for traffic lights, a source of dog bites, highway tax lore, and a whole lot more!
Each Select Board member is responsible for reading a large packet of information prior to attending between 30 and 45 SB meetings each year. (Members may serve on other committees as well.) Meetings are publicly warned, and most are broadcast live on Channel 17, available via the web at cctv.org.
Below are answers to some questions I am asked frequently:
"I live in the Village. What does the Select Board do for me?"
All Village residents have dual citizenship as both Village and Town residents. Therefore, Town policies, taxation, and management – in addition to Village policies, taxation, and management – impact Village residents.
I work to stay informed about Village issues, as they relate to my constituents living in the Village, by following their 4 Front Porch Forums, reading the Essex Reporter, attending semi-monthly Village Trustee meetings and the Village Annual Meeting, as well as doing research at Brownell Library, frequenting Village businesses, attending the Farmers Market and other special events, and knocking on doors to talk with Village residents on a regular basis. You will hear me advocate for the Town to cover joint meeting expenses, for example, so that Village residents aren't paying twice. And I have pushed for equal representation for the Village since 2005 when the Select Board had no Village residents.
"I live in the Town-outside-the-Village. What does the Select Board do for me?"
Unlike Village residents (whose Village-only interests are overseen by a Board of Trustees), Town-outside-the-Village residents have no board comprised of their neighbors that deals solely with TOV issues. They must compete with Village residents to get representation at the Town-wide level -- on both TOV and Town-wide policies, taxation, and management.
I work to stay informed about Town-outside-the-Village issues, as they relate to my constituents living in the TOV, by following their 5 Front Porch Forums, reading the Essex Reporter, and monitoring Town Planning and Zoning activity via their minutes, as well as visiting the Essex Free Library, attending lectures, concerts, and historical society events in Essex Center, and knocking on doors to talk with TOV residents on a regular basis. You will hear me advocate for the Town Charter to be modified, for example, so TOV residents someday get an equal voice in all matters affecting them.
"How do you put up with the way people treat you, both online and in public meetings?"
Having being bullied in Middle School, and survived, has its upsides. Nevertheless, it is truly frustrating as an adult – who spends a tremendous amount of time preparing for meetings, talking to constituents, and doing independent research – to feel threatened, marginalized, demonized, and ostracized for asking the types of questions that bestselling books recommend for critical-thinking and smart decision-making.
My experience in the business world, where new ideas were welcomed, if not rewarded, led me to expect my government peers might respect hard work and integrity. More than anything else, my volunteer-career in public service has been one big lesson in human psychology and a giant test of my faith in a greater good. Over that time, I have stayed above the fray and have become a stronger person for it.
"When are you running for State House?"
"Will you run for Selectboard again?"
My passion is local government. It's immediately, intimately important to the lives of its residents. Others may use local government as a stepping stone to statewide political office. I prefer to work at the community level one-to-one in a non-partisan role for the forseeable future.
After 12 years as a Selectman, I continue to attend meetings, as a member of the public, and am making the most of the extra time this provides me to creatively engage with other residents of Essex in projects to improve local government. I have no plans to run again. Other talented people and new blood are good for an organization. I am always willing to provide context, history and old documents to those sincerely interested in learning how things got the way they are.
Not long after moving to Essex, my phone rang. It was Norma, a friend from central Mass., where I once lived, checking in.
She had also called to vent: A board in her town had just approved construction of a Transfer Station among the wetlands at the end of her rural street.
"What gives these people the right?" was her frustrated inquiry, likely meant to be rhetorical, but I didn't handle it that way.
"I guess they attend town meetings at night, while you and I spend our free time singing in choirs." As these words sank in, a light bulb went on for me.
Maybe it was time to go to an Essex meeting or two in my spare time to find out what was going on here, before I had a rude awakening like Norma.
In 2005 I volunteered for a task force aiming to merge the Town and Village municipalities. Since then I've been captivated by local government, learning what works, what doesn't, and why, in an effort to improve its function, transparency, and communication.
© 2021 By Irene Wrenner
Paid for by Irene Wrenner, 15 Thrush Ln, Essex, VT 05452