District 1 City Councilor Lauren Hierl had no competition in winning her first term two years ago, but this year she faces a challenge from retired newspaper publisher Nat Frothingham.
Environment, Inclusion Top Issues for Hierl
Hierl, executive director of the environmental group Vermont Conservation Voters, lists the city’s net zero energy goals, improving social justice, and gathering input from unheard residents among her priorities for a second term.
“I am excited to move forward with our net zero goals and map out our steps to become the first U.S. capital to get to net zero,” she said. “As a community we will determine together how to be resilient and clean and serve as a model for a sustainable path to the future.”
The city’s goal is to produce or offset all of its energy needs by 2030.
She is also part of a new city effort to identify the needs of “bypassed” residents, such as the disabled, LGBTQ, and lower income communities and integrate those needs into city planning.
Hierl serves on the city’s social and economic justice committee, which is working with Vermont-based Creative Discourse. Creative Discourse specializes in creating community conversations to ensure that all voices are heard.
“It’s important that we really try to understand directly from people who I think, in a lot of cases, have been hurt the most by the pandemic and by the economic repercussions and to try to take the lead from those communities on what the city can do to better support all of our residents,” she said.
Hierl also serves on the newly created Police Review Committee, which will gather data and eventually make recommendations on the future of policing in the city. Focus on the department was sharpened last summer by protests across the nation against the continued killing of black suspects by police. Several city residents have repeatedly called for a reduction in the police department budget and redirecting the money to social workers, but no cuts were proposed in the FY22 spending plan.
Hierl said the city needs an open discussion of what the community expects from its police force.
“We need an inclusive and broad participation from the community on what the policing looks like in the future and if we change that system to make sure that it goes beyond just cutting funding by being thoughtful and having a vision that we’re working toward together.”
Like other council members, Hierl also hopes that federal or state stimulus money comes soon and the city has many shovel-ready infrastructure projects that are overdue.
She also agreed that more affordable housing is needed and suggested that if all of the work-from-home state office and other white-collar workers don’t return post-pandemic that perhaps some buildings might be turned into housing. The city also needs to be ready to adapt to changing work conditions by seeking more diverse businesses, she said.
“I’m eager to keep serving in this role,” she said. “The council has been really trying to approach the pandemic response for the community by being creative and by trying to hear from as many people as possible.”
Frothingham Seeks Accountability
After decades of writing about city issues, Nat Frothingham says he’s ready to take a more direct role. The co-founder and Publisher Emeritus of The Bridge newspaper believes his history of involvement in public affairs, as a journalist and as a member of several boards and service organizations, could be of value on the City Council.
He said he’s making his first run for elected office since a 1970s bid for school board because competition for public office forces a higher level of accountability.
“I like to see accountability and I don’t think we get accountability by electing the same people year in and year out,” he said. “We don’t have the conversation we need.”
He said he will take a business-like approach for city governance and is concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on local merchants and business owners.
“I know that there are people in business who are either pinned to the wall, or have lost a great deal of money, or have been forced to shut down their business,” he said. “That is the concern that if we can get a handle on the virus, how do we bring the downtown community back to life.”
Frothingham expressed frustration with the $17 million Taylor Street transit center, saying it failed to deliver on its promises despite decades of planning. He believes the limited staffing provided by GMTA means that interstate travelers are left out in the cold.
On other city issues, Frothingham outlined his stance in a news release:
- We need to keep our commitment to historic preservation.
- We need to protect the water quality and shorelines of our rivers and the purity of our drinking water supplies from Berlin Pond.
- We need to build on the success of the Capital City Farmers Market. That market supplies us with fresh food, connects us with rural Vermont, and provides an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to have a chance at a business start-up.
- On climate change issues, we need to focus on better planning, transportation alternatives, and a vigorous home insulation program.
- Let’s insist that the new transit center delivers on what was promised: The transit center needs to be reliably open, staffed, and safe. It needs to provide public restrooms and a warm, welcoming lobby.
Frothingham said he ran, in part, because he feels every race should be contested and that he believes his experience would be a good fit for the council.
“Maybe I could be useful on the council,” he said. “Maybe I could ask some questions, maybe they’d be good questions, and maybe we could solve some of our problems.”