By Tom Ayres, Senior Staff Writer
POMFRET — Incumbent Benjamin Brickner and former selectperson Frank Perron Jr. are vying for a three-year spot on the town governing board in an election to take place via Australian ballot on Tuesday, March 7.
Brickner was first elected to the Pomfret Selectboard in 2022 when voters tabbed him for a one-year term. Pomfret is doing away with the one-year term beginning with the March 7 vote. In this and future elections, voters will choose between candidates for both two- and three-year terms. Current Selectboard Chair Emily Grube is running uncontested for one two-year selectboard slot on Town Meeting Day, while newcomer Meg Emmons is seeking another two-year spot, also unopposed.
The contest for the three-year term on the Pomfret board between Brickner and Perron is one of the few competitive races for selectboard in the region next month. Brickner, an attorney, is finishing up an elected, one-year stint on the selectboard and has decided to pursue a three-year post. Perron served on the selectboard for a three-year term, followed by a one-year term, from 2016 to 2019 before deciding to take a break. Perron – the Pomfret fire warden, an emergency medical technician (EMT), and founder of the town’s FAST Squad – also served as a fire chief for 15 years and as the town’s road commissioner during his time on the selectboard. He is a retired civil engineer.
Brickner and Perron stepped away from the campaign trail last weekend to speak with the Standard regarding their candidacies.
Q: What motivates you to public service and to seek elective office?
Benjamin Brickner: Well, that’s a big question. I like helping other people and I enjoy getting to know my neighbors. This is a way of doing both — helping people out and getting to interact with people I wouldn’t normally have contact with.
I moved here about four-and-a-half, nearly five years ago. Before that my family was in New York City and I grew up in New Jersey and it has sort of always been an instinct for me to try to get involved in a community, one way or the other. When my wife and I moved here in 2018, we started volunteering early on, helping out with the local elections. And then I served three years on the audit board from 2019 until about a year ago, when I was elected to the selectboard for the first time.
Frank Perron Jr.: I can’t really put my finger on it, I guess. I was in the fire department for 25 years and the chief for 15. I’m currently the head of service for the Pomfret FAST Squad. I guess it’s just about serving other people, my neighbors.
Q: What are some of the key issues that you hope to address as a member of the Pomfret Selectboard? Are there issues of particular concern to you, either looking ahead or back at your previous selectboard service?
Brickner: I’m trying to think what we spend most of our time on. A lot of it is pretty mundane, administrative stuff. I think some of the bigger issues that have come up in the past year have revolved around emergency services, contracting for emergency services, making sure that residents in town are adequately covered, but also that it doesn’t have an undue impact on the tax rate. Pomfret is fortunate. We have a robust, excellent, well-staffed fire department. We’ve got our FAST Squad, with several EMS-trained first responders right here in town. It takes a little of the pressure off having to pay for these services, because we’ve got so many volunteers in town who are willing to provide them on a volunteer basis.
Foliage traffic has also been up on the list of visible issues. We’ve had growing concerns around the amount of traffic during foliage season, particularly on Cloudland Road. So that’s something the board is continuing to focus on. I have a feeling that as travel tourism continues to rebound from the pandemic that we will continue to see quality-of-life, traffic, and safety concerns, particularly during foliage season.
Another theme of the past year is the growing workload of the selectboard. There are a lot of varied issues that the board handles and I think in the next year or two there are going to be discussions around whether it makes sense from an administrative and cost perspective to probably hire a part-time municipal manager. That’s a discussion that’s in its very early stages, but I expect that will continue after the Town Meeting.
Perron: Making sure everybody in town is treated fairly and upfront. There’s been a lot of circumstances where people have been singled out by the board and harassed for dog issues and things like that. I think the board goes down the wrong path of going after residents rather than treating them fairly and openly.
From my experience of being on the board, everybody complains about their taxes. But having been on the board and worked on budgets, at least while I was there, and I think even now, the members of the board are pretty conscientious about fiscal spending.