By Brett Yates
With Bob Baird’s decision to step down at the end of his term, Chittenden voters had a vacancy to fill on the Select Board on Town Meeting Day. In an uncontested election for a two-year term, Dave Sargent won 182 votes.
As the newest member of the board, Sargent is not really new at all. The 82-year-old previously served 15 years, by his count, in the same capacity, exiting the office in 2015 to care for his wife after her diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.
Sargent’s wife died three years ago, and he aims now to involve himself again in civic life. He also ran unopposed for the town’s cemetery commission, where he’ll likewise serve two years.“Chittenden’s a great place, and since I grew up here, I’d kind of like to have a part in keeping it that way,” he said.
Family farms dominated the Chittenden of Sargent’s childhood. “I’ve seen a lot of changes here,” he observed. “Now all the hayfields are occupied by houses.”
Chittenden’s population rose from 379 to 1,237 between 1940 and 2020, a period during which the population of Rutland City declined.
“We have doctors and lawyers that live in Chittenden,” Sargent noted. These residents expect to be able to commute to work, even in challenging winter weather.
“The Select Board has a challenge, of course, because we have to maintain our roads, and that’s a big expense,” he said. “Years ago, when they were just dirt roads, we had one old truck that used to handle both sides of town, plowing and sanding.”
Today, traffic safety is “the one thing that we have to constantly think about” on the Select Board, according to Sargent. On Town Meeting Day, voters authorized a highway budget $774,027 for fiscal year 2023.
Chittenden’s evolution hasn’t dimmed Sargent’s affection for the town. “I like the people. Of course, most of the ones I knew as a kid, a lot of them have passed. But then there’s a lot of new people that have moved in that I’ve met, and I have a good respect for them, and I understand why they moved to Chittenden — because it’s a nice town,” he said.
Unfortunately, in Sargent’s eyes, some of the town’s affairs no longer lie within its control. “The one thing that concerns me that’s changed is that there’s an awful lot of new regulations, state regulations, federal regulations, that the town has to follow, and so I don’t believe that the townspeople have quite as much say about what goes on,” he said.
As an example, he pointed to the position of town constable, which has stood vacant for several years in Chittenden. Again, no candidates appeared on the ballot in 2022.
“To become a constable now, you have to have so much training. Most of the people that would want to do it are working people, and they can’t take the time, and it’s expensive. So we depend more now on the sheriffs or the state police, and as I understand, we’ve also had to contract with the town of Pittsford for policing,” Sargent explained.
Still, municipal government has an important role to play in Sargent’s view. He hopes that, as an elected official, he can help bring together the historically disconnected northern and southern sections of Chittenden, the largest town in Vermont by area. Key to this endeavor, as he sees it, will be continuing the town’s effort to revitalize the Grange Hall in North Chittenden. Events and programming at this community space could draw residents from across town.
“We’ve got the Barstow School and the fire station and the store here in South Chittenden, and that tends to bring the north side over here more, but we’ve not had much reason to go to the north side,” Sargent said.
A retired engineer, Sargent still maintains the farm where he grew up on the south side of town, tending to its cows and chickens with the occasional help of his grandchildren. “I have to do it at a little slower pace now that I’ve gotten older,” he said.
The night before giving up his seat on the Select Board to Sargent, Bob Baird called his tenure a “great experience” and hinted at a potential return. “There’s a pretty decent chance that I might run again next year or the year after once I get caught up with some things here at home and some of my other board commitments,” Baird said.