Local News

Longtime Select Board members ousted on Town Meeting

By Curt Peterson

Local Select Board races ended in upsets this year in Barnard and Hartland, where two long-time board members were ousted on Town Meeting Day.

Tim Johnson, a 21-year Barnard incumbent, was unseated by Richard Lancaster, 67, who has served as lister, and at one time, selectman, by 10 votes from the floor, 34-24.

In Hartland, Gordon Richardson, a 32-year Select Board veteran, lost to Clyde Jenne, the former town clerk of 28 years, by Australian ballot, 446-310. Jacob Holmes got 164 votes in the same race in Hartland.

Barnard hosted the “only true in-person Town Meeting in the local area”, Claire Potter reported in the Vermont Standard. There were 60 attendees, 58 of whom voted — representing just over 5% of Barnard’s 992 residents. They voted narrowly to have Richard Lancaster serve with Rock Webster and Bob Edmunds.

“I guess you could call it an ‘upset’,” Lancaster said.

There was no campaign. Lancaster’s brother Justin convinced him to run three days before the Town Meeting, and nominated him.

Lancaster said he just had a feeling from people, a “disquiet” that inspired his election try.

“There’s no problem, nothing needing correcting, no outrage,” Lancaster said. “The town is being run very well, actually.

“Tim was gracious about losing,” he added. “He often argues with people, but he’s willing to listen and goes along with the consensus.”

Tim Johnson, 61, the 21-year incumbent, admitted he was surprised at losing his seat, and feels low turnout affected the outcome.

“I was shocked only 60 people attended,” he said. “Unfortunately, more of them voted for Richard. It was democracy at its best, a fair and good election.”

Johnson has always supported Lancaster and has known him for years. “I have zero ill-will toward him, no animosity whatsoever,” he said. “I know he’ll do a good job for Barnard.”

If a reason arises, Johnson will run for Select Board again, but he wouldn’t run against either Bob Edmunds or Rock Webster, he said.

Barnard Town Meetings continued in-person throughout the pandemic. Johnson said the Select Board decided to go ahead as usual this year.

“We had masking, provided social distance, and opened the windows for air circulation,” he said. “I, for one, am not afraid of Covid.”

Most towns did not, however, vote in-person. Hartland held an online information meeting, and all issues and offices were voted by written ballots mailed, hand-delivered or completed at Town Hall on Town Meeting Day.

Gordon Richardson, 79, was “a little shocked” by his loss to Clyde Jenne by almost 14% of 921 votes cast, but he doesn’t think Holmes’s third candidate run affected the outcome. “Every vote for Jacob would have to be for me. That’s very unlikely,” he said.

“Clyde’s more visible, more out-and-about than I,” he said. “More people know him than know me. And, as clerk, he knows what’s going on in town and what needs to be done.”

Richardson said he’s also disappointed, because he’d like to finish upgrading town roads, and complete the Three Corners intersection. He’ll attend future Select Board meetings virtually, but will stay out of the Select Board’s way. “But I’m not worried,” he said. “The town will be in good hands.”

Richardson doubts he would run in the future, “unless something comes up that requires it,” he said.

Jenne, 76, said he’s going to approach his selectman position “one day at a time,” and shares the same major goals with his opponent — improving the roads and completing the controversial Three Corners intersection, of which he was not originally a proponent.

“The voters approved the intersection project overwhelmingly, and it’s the Select Board’s duty to find a way to get it done,” Jenne said. “Sometimes I wish we could have ‘the old days’ again, but we have to move forward. We can’t go back.”

Like Richardson, Jenne is nostalgic about in-person Town Meetings, which have been virtual during the pandemic. But, he said, the 5% of eligible voters present were making multi-million-dollar decisions for the other 95%.

“If by some miracle you got most of the registered voters to come, only about a third of them would fit in the hall,” he said.

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