A second candidate for Montpelier’s mayor has come forward since former mayor Anne Watson left city hall for the Statehouse. The community producer of Montpelier Civic Forum on ORCA Media, Richard Sheir, has thrown his hat in the ring alongside city councilor Jack McCullough to run for mayor, although neither has officially filed paperwork with the city clerk.
Voters elected Watson to serve as one of Washington County’s three state senators in the midterm elections last November. Voters will choose a new mayor to complete Watson’s term in a special election on Town Meeting Day, March 7. Until then, council president McCullough will chair the city council meetings. Candidates have until Jan. 30 to file paperwork to seek city office. McCullough announced his candidacy in The Bridge last December. Since then, Sheir has come forward as his opponent.
Sheir is a 22-year District 2 resident as well as a graduate of the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, with a focus on labor economics. He designs online tools for those assisting disabled veterans and others with barriers to employment for jobs offering internal career tracks and sustainable wages. He served on the now disbanded city parking committee, which modified the winter parking ban and replaced the city’s aging parking meters with “next generation” Park Mobile–optimized meters. Sheir’s family, along with his wife, Cindra Conison, who owns the Quirky Pet on State Street, includes Montpelier’s legendary Bergamasco sheepdogs.
His priorities as a mayoral candidate focus on remediating Montpelier’s “under the street infrastructure” and streamlining the city budget to focus on the basics. He also advocates for asserting the city parks commission’s control over the park (including a “dusk-to-dawn” ban on sleeping or living in the park) and for dismissing the civilian police review board report as “a solution in search of a problem.”
“I believe that Montpelier would greatly benefit from having a mayor offering an outside perspective,” Sheir wrote in an email to The Bridge.
“There has never been a proposed city budget so dramatically above the norm,” he wrote of the council’s FY24 budget, which features a 7.5% increase in the property tax rate. “I agree that the budget … should be pegged near the rate of inflation,” he wrote, adding that the inflation rate for 2022 ranged from 2.5% to 7.1% depending on the month. “Council’s budget request is simply not responsible. It likely contains hundreds of thousands of dollars of ‘slush’ for unspecified future spending. If rejected, I would push for a prudent 3.5% increase, which still allows for inflation wiggle room.”
Local Options Tax
“A local options tax should also be rejected. In Chittenden County, the box stores are also subject to the same tax. Going alone without Berlin rewards nearby Walmart with a sales tax advantage, disadvantaging Montpelier’s small commercial downtown.”
“No one should be sleeping in Hubbard Park from dusk to dawn,” Sheir wrote, emphasizing that “ … city council needs to respect our charter’s separation of powers by actively supporting the commission’s dusk-to-dawn ban in a unique nature preserve largely beyond the reach of fire equipment with minimal rough sanitation and no garbage disposal. Hubbard Park is not designed for people to live in.”
Police Review Board
“There is a task force recommendation awaiting council attention establishing a civilian police review board to oversee complaints regarding police even though the task force’s own report indicated an absence of bias in Montpelier policing. Upon receipt of the report, council should have summarily dismissed this solution in search of a problem. Predictably, this unresolved recommendation has caused morale issues in our understaffed police department. Uncertainty over police review makes a difficult job even more difficult. Public safety merits full council support. Council’s vacillation defies common sense.”
Antiquated Water and Sewer Lines
In “the recent era of recurrent water main breaks,” Sheir wrote, “… surprises routinely occur when a city has never seriously assessed its aging water/sewer infrastructure condition. Years ago our public works was tasked to conduct a cursory internal water/sewer study. It’s clearly insufficient. Lax council oversight of water/sewer mains makes seemingly random whack-a-mole water main breaks, water pressure issues, and construction delays inevitable. For four years, council has chosen to not pursue the required specialized sewer/water main assessment consultation needed. Continued avoidance is unacceptable. Sophisticated outside technical assistance will be required to shape a much needed intelligent path forward based on more than speculation.”
Under the Street Infrastructure
“Because Montpelier might be facing a prolonged period of retrenchment to adequately address our core infrastructure,” Sheir wrote, “the Elks Club/Recreation Center/Confluence Park projects should be placed on hold until we figure out if the collective capital investment might better be redirected under the existing streets. The same with the local options tax. Someday we might actually need that regional revenue source to offset ongoing staggering residential sewer/water bills.”