Essex Reporter Letters to the EditorSupport Elaine Sopchak

In the Feb. 13 Channel 17 interview of the three select board candidates, Ramona Sheppard described what she felt was an imbalance of representation in the village and town. The idea is that town residents are represented by five selectboard members and village residents are represented by five trustees, and also the five selectboard members. The suggestion is that village residents have 10 representatives and the residents of the town outside the village (or TOV) have only five representatives.

While understandable, this is a false perception. Suppose two companies were considering a merger. If I owned stock in company A, I would have a vote in the matter. If you owned stock in both company A and company B, you’d be able to vote once for each company. Since I don’t own stock in company B, I have no standing to object to your two votes.

Town residents own “stock” in the town by way of paying taxes to the town. Residents of the village own “stock” in both the town and village as they pay taxes to both municipalities. As TOV residents don’t pay taxes to the village, they do not have responsibility for village assets and debts. This is in keeping with the charters of both the village and town. The only way to change this is to continue the consolidation work that’s already happening and start to explore changes in governance.

When I contacted Elaine Sopchak about this, she said, “When you vote for me, you trust that I will represent you at the table.” I do not trust that Ramona Sheppard will faithfully represent the interests of the entire town. Please join me in voting for Elaine Sopchak so that we may continue the progress we have made in bringing the people and services of the town and village together.

Daryl Stultz

Essex Jct.

Sheppard for Essex Selectboard

Electing Mona Sheppard to the Essex Selectboard will give Essex Town the dedicated representation that it needs: representation that will be 100 percent focused on town concerns.

Town-focused representation is essential because town concerns cannot be addressed by an outsider from the village any more than a cat can bark like a dog.

Mona’s vision for Essex Town is to preserve our natural resources, to maintain our infrastructure and to protect the public safety all within the framework of keeping our taxes under strict control.

Mona is a longtime town resident, and with over 30 years of experience as a business owner, financial analyst, municipal finance director, controller and HR manager, Mona Sheppard has the leadership and skills to see this through.

Let’s do this. Let’s elect Mona Sheppard.

Gail Ann Konopka

Essex Town

Endorsing Elaine

With enthusiasm I endorse Elaine Sopchak in her run for Essex Town Selectboard – please join me in voting for her by going to the polls in the town and the village on March 6.

I believe the Essex Selectboard and Essex Jct. Trustees need to improve communication as they negotiate a complex consolidation of services. Using her governing experience and interpersonal skills, I am confident Elaine can serve as an effective bridge. If Elaine can gain a seat on the selectboard and keep her role as a trustee, our communities will have a better chance to fix the overly complex governing structure we live with now.

I remember the role played by Rep. Bernard Parizo over 25 years ago when he was elected to both boards as well as representing Essex Jct. in the Vermont Legislature. From what I observed then, Bernie served as an effective connecting role at a critical time. I believe Elaine can do the same today.

Remember, absentee ballots are now available. You can visit or call the town offices (81 Main Street / 879-0413) to vote before Election Day.

Thank you for considering a vote for Elaine – and thank you for paying attention to the important issues that face our community.

Greg Morgan

Essex Jct

Can you say “conflict of interest?”

The Essex Jct. Board of Trustees is the governing, legislative body for the municipality of the Village of Essex Jct. Elaine Sopchak is vice-president of the trustees and says she will re-run for that seat in April. Given how often incumbents win, I expect her to maintain that seat and her role as VP.

The Essex Selectboard is the governing, legislative body for the municipality of the Town of Essex. Elaine is also running for the Essex Selectboard, a three-year term which would run concurrently with her trustee position.

If elected to both, she would represent our total population of 20,000 on Mondays and then represent an exclusive 10,000-person subset of that population on Tuesdays. Who would she represent the other days of the year?

A selectboard member whose attention is divided and decisions are clouded by this serious conflict of interest will give short shrift to both populations. She has proven her value on the trustees and presumably has more to offer there.

Send a clear message with your vote for Mona Sheppard on March 6 that the selectboard deserves a member who gives their attention to those duties every day of the week.

Dawn McGinnis

Essex Jct.

Vote Elaine Sopchak on March 6

It is with great enthusiasm that I ask you to join me in supporting Elaine Sopchak for selectboard. I’ve worked with Elaine in several capacities including the creation of the Five Corners Farmers Market and for the last six years as trustee. In both of these endeavors she was, and is, instrumental in diving into the financials of our organizations. She understands we have a commitment to provide core services to our residents while eliminating wasteful spending. She is unequivocally fair and transparent in all her work in our community. Elaine is committed to the entire Essex community, serving as a trustee for the village but also actively working on several bi-community workgroups such as the Essex Governance Group and Public Works Review Committee. Elaine understands the value of our communities working together while recognizing the unique qualities of each.

I’ve heard people question Elaine’s capability to serve effectively as both trustee and selectboard member – given the time commitment of each. This is absolutely not a concern of mine. Witnessing first hand Elaine’s work commitment, her organization skills and enthusiasm for our entire community, I know Elaine will be thoroughly engaged as both a selectboard member and trustee member. In the past six years Elaine has not held the trustee role in a vacuum. She has served on other boards and work groups through the entire 6 years. As someone who is currently serving as state representation and trustee, I know Elaine will succeed at the dual role.

Please vote on March 6, and please vote for Elaine Sopchak.

Lori Houghton

Village trustee, Essex Jct.

We need Mona Sheppard

I want to express our need for Mona Sheppard on our selectboard for the town of Essex to expose the truth about the Town of Essex financial situation and her ability to agree to disagree with the status quo on how our existing board handles public concerns! She will listen to all sides and explain diplomatically the pros and cons of an issue! She will deflate the balloon of deception and present the facts on why Essex Town is in the driver’s seat because she will not only expose the position of the people, but will foster their voices at select board meetings so they have equal opportunity to be heard. That’s the kind of change in transparency we need from our selectboard members, that we vote into office.

Thanks for voting for Mona Sheppard!

Patty Davis

Essex Town

Financial management questions

I watched the video of the Essex Selectboard Candidate Forum on Channel 17. Ramona Sheppard talked a lot about transparency, and a lot about how the town needs better financial management. She said she has many years of financial management experience, and works as the finance manager for Underhill.

So I went online to look at Underhill’s budgets. It was very difficult to locate this information. She says she’ll make us more transparent, but she doesn’t say how. If she wants to make Essex’s media services more like Underhill’s, we’ll be taking a big step backwards.

I looked at last year’s budget for Underhill. Their operating budget was up 8.2 percent from FY17 with a corresponding tax rate increase of 3.49 percent. In the past four years in Essex, the tax rate increase was never that high. The highest tax rate increase we’ve had in Essex in the last four years was last year, and that was only 3.15 percent. Our average tax rate increase over the last four years has been 2.7 percent. Their capital improvement plan states “financing for highway equipment can be acquired by either bank loans or leasing contracts.” Currently Essex plans out over many years into the future how much it will spend on capital improvements. That’s smart financial management. That’s being responsible with taxpayer money. I don’t think its bad financial management like Ramona Sheppard says it is.

Erika Baldasaro

Vote sensibly – vote Mona

The municipal tax is approximately $14 million. This is in addition to the millions needed to finance our schools, all of which is paid with property taxes. The impact to families is real, and for some, the continued increase in taxes is seriously limiting their ability to “get ahead.”

There are numbers of issues the selectboard will be addressing that affects not only property taxes, but the quality and financial solvency of our community. For this reason, election to the board should not be a popularity contest, us against them mentality or the good old boy syndrome. We seriously need to elect an individual that will enhance the depth and knowledge of the selectboard, someone capable of assisting in addressing and evaluating the legitimate needs of the community.

We have an opportunity to elect an individual with a proven record as a financial director, a senior account manager and a financial analyst. Mona Sheppard has held both commercial and municipal positions of responsibility. Mona is familiar with federal and state compliance laws and has hands on experience interfacing with state and federal agencies.

Someone with Mona Sheppard’s credentials does not come along very often. Mona is an outstanding candidate, and to miss an opportunity to add her experience and skills to the selectboard would be most unfortunate. Please consider Mona when you cast your vote.

Paul Austin

Essex

Sopchak will stop divisiveness

The time has come where we must stop the divisiveness that exists within our community of town versus village as it becomes a barrier to properly legislating within our community. The town and village school districts figured out how to work together and even merge. Our children go to one high school where they look at each other as peers and not town or village residents. Our children participate in recreational sports with each other. Why do adults not follow the suit of our children? Calling any member of our community an “outsider” is ludicrous, ignorant and flat out wrong.

Elaine Sopchak understands that we are all Essex residents. Elaine has demonstrated this through her work with Essex Heart and Soul, Essex Governance Group, and most recently when she chaired the Essex Public Works Consolidation Committee, a committee of selectboard, trustee members and a resident expert, to deal with the complexities around consolidating public works departments. The recommendations from Elaine’s committee were unanimously approved of by both the selectboard and trustees. Elaine is the only candidate with the legislative experience who can hit the ground running on day one.

Electing Elaine to the selectboard will further help with town and village consolidations and help to break down barriers. When you go to the polls on March 6, please keep in mind that we are all a part of one Essex and that Elaine Sopchak is the best qualified candidate.

Andrew Brown

Essex Jct.

Sopchak doesn’t walk the walk

Among statements made last week by Essex Selectboard candidate Elaine Sopchak were references to transparency issues. She stated that elected officials “must model high ethical standards,” that “how we communicate needs improvement,” and she “will work to foster open communication from the staff and the selectboard.”

Since October 2017, when the first complaint of harassment against a village official was filed, Ms. Sopchak has followed other Essex Jct. Trustees in suppressing information legally available to the public. Personal names of those involved may be subject to privacy considerations. But the fact of the complaint being filed, and the amount of taxpayer funds spent on legal and investigative fees, were not subject to privacy laws.

This Essex resident thanks The Reporter for using the Freedom of Information Act to acquire town and village documents and to publish all facts on the harassment complaint legally open to the public. Village trustees could have released these facts long since. Instead the trustees, including Ms. Sopchak, suppressed this information. And except for the chair, other selectboard members were not told about what happened, though thousands of dollars in town funds went for legal expenses.

Talking the talk about high ethical standards, improved communication and fostering open communication to the voters has no meaning if Ms. Sopchak does not walk the walk when a major issue such as the harassment complaint happens. Her focus on maintaining collegiality clearly shows that as a trustee, going along with the majority outranks the principle of open communication to tax payers.

Ms. Sopchak has not walked the walk. Voters will have to decide whether talk about open communication which is not carried through in action qualifies someone for election to the town selectboard.

Paula DeMichele

Essex

Look beyond town-village politics

I’m very pleased that my good friend and colleague Elaine Sopchak is running for town selectboard. Through her efforts working with the other elected town and village officers over the last five years, Elaine has become well acquainted with the finances, internal operations and staff of town government. She’s uniquely qualified to represent the interests of everyone in the Essex community, as the town charter requires all selectmen to do, regardless of where they live in the town. I can say from years of experience working with her that Elaine loves this town and will be a tireless, fair-minded leader. Those who question her capacity to serve two boards need only consider her community service last year when she chaired the public works study committee, chaired the Channel 17 board on which she also represented Essex, and served as vice president of the village trustees. Elaine is also active in the Essex Governance Group, which is advocating for higher voter turnout in local elections.

The selectboard and trustees have made great strides in consolidating municipal services because we’ve moved slowly and gotten to know and trust each other. We know consolidation won’t work if voters in any part of the community feel they’ve been disadvantaged. It’s disappointing to see some people suddenly trying to poison the well by inserting town-village rivalry back into the process. It tells me they haven’t paid attention to the many hours of joint meetings between the selectboard and trustees in which we’ve worked openly and collaboratively. It also tells me they haven’t paid attention to the way we’ve reconfigured the manager’s office, administrative services, and public works, which now requires us to work as partners, not as rival boards with competing interests. Elaine was involved in hiring our new unified manager. He’ll be far more effective if we strengthen the alliance between town and village governments by having Elaine serve on both boards. It will also help all of us better understand how a consolidated governance board can work for everyone’s benefit, not just one group or another. Elaine has a kind heart and a strong mind. She’ll be a champion for town families and taxpayers. A vote for Elaine to serve on both boards is a vote to rise above the usual town-village politics, and say yes to a united, forward thinking community.

George Tyler

Village trustee president