By Curt Peterson
Two Hartland Select Board incumbents, Phil Hobbie and Mary O’Brien, are facing challengers. Every registered voter received paper ballots that must be submitted on or before Town Meeting Day, May 4. There will be no in-person town meeting this year due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Hartland Library director Nancy Tusinski hosted “Candidates’ Night” on April 21, and Matt Dunne moderated a virtual Town Meeting Information Session Saturday, April 24.
Hobbie, a Hartland resident for 44 years, was elected last year to finish Joe Olmstead’s term. He’s now running for a full three-year term. His life experiences include automobile restoration, five years as a stone mason, sheep-raising, and 35 years in information technology.
John Sammel, a 50-year resident who has worked in maintenance at Hartland Elementary School for 30 years, is challenging Hobbie.
Mary O’Brien has served on the Select Board for more than 12 years, and is seeking another 2-year term. Jacob Holmes, who grew up in Hartland, has two young sons and works a night shift, is O’Brien’s competition. Holmes has a master’s degree in counter-terrorism with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
Hartland selectmen are not in it “for the money,” Mary O’Brien quipped — the budget provides $600/year in compensation. Responsibilities and meetings require a lot of hours. O’Brien and Hobbie said they have never calculated their hourly pay rate, but Selectman Curtis Atkisson has — $1.44/hour in his case.
Hartland officials are not political. None of the candidates mentioned politics, and the topic is never brought up in Select Board discussions.
“I have political opinions,” Holmes told the Mountain Times, “but for the Select Board I am remaining neutral, which is what the Select Board needs.”
John Sammel said, “I have no political ties to either party, and have … voted a split ticket looking for the very best person to fill the job.”
“We leave our political labels at the door,” Hobbie said.
O’Brien agreed. “Politics has no place at the town level,” she said.
Candidates revealed no axes to grind. Sammel and Holmes both said the current Select Board was doing a good job, but they think “new ideas” would benefit the town.
So, what inspires a small-town Vermonter to seek an underpaid, overworked Select Board post?
John Sammel’s passions include planning for water and sewer systems in the Three Corners area, and suggesting changes in plans for the Three Corners intersection.
Jacob Holmes’s ideas include “Planning ahead so … Hartland is the most prepared during a possible natural disaster or any unforeseen events,” he said. “I feel … some plans that are too expensive … should be re-evaluated due to this past year’s financial troubles [caused by] the pandemic.”
“The Select Board … accepted recommendations in each of key component areas [regarding] roads,” Hobbie said. Long-range road maintenance plans are his passion.
Hobbie is working with a group on enhancing and coordinating various public services, and he advocates for better management of the Merritt/Campbell Fund that’s meant to help Hartland residents in need.
He hopes to help implement one-time projects with funds from the American Rescue Act, Hobbie said. “And I’m excited about a possible community housing project. I’d like to see more small industry in our commercial area on Ferry Road.”
“One of my interests is to ensure that [our town buildings] are maintained and kept in use for the present and future,” Mary O’Brien said, adding the Select Board moves slowly but surely and always with consensus.
Incumbents are obviously current regarding Select Board issues and know intimately what is going on in Hartland’s seat of power. How up-to-date are the challengers? How many Select Board meetings have they attended in the past two years?
“As many as possible, either by iPhone or iPad,” Holmes said. “Most of the time I’m cooking dinner or getting kids to bed.”
Sammel said he hasn’t attended any Select Board meetings, but reads the agendas and minutes.
“I will have to learn,” Sammel said, “as [the current board] must have when they first started. When you want to make the town the best town possible, you find time!”