Vacancies on Bennington ballot are cause for concern

Bennington Town Hall.

Bennington Town Hall. STAFF PHOTO BY JESSECA TIMMONS

By JESSECA TIMMONS

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 02-27-2024 10:02 AM

As of Friday, Bennington’s town election ballot had an equal number of vacancies and candidates. The deadline for filing for candidacy has passed, but residents may wage write-in campaigns for the March 12 town election.

The Bennington Zoning Board currently has three unfilled vacancies. Other vacancies include a cemetery trustee, a trustee of trust funds and water and sewer commissioner. The races for Select Board, library trustee, Planning Board, moderator and supervisor of the checklist have candidates, although all but Select Board are unopposed.

Town Moderator John Cronin said this was not the first time the town regulatory boards in particular had lacked candidates.

“In this day and age, it is very hard to get people involved. You know what they say – if you want to get something done, ask a busy person,” Cronin said.

Cronin urged residents to come forward as write-in candidates. In the absence of volunteers stepping forward, the town will appoint people to the Zoning Board.

“That would not be the first time that has happened,” Cronin said. 

Lifelong Bennington resident Bethany Manley Craig, who is running for Select Board against incumbent Jim Cleary in Bennington’s only contested race, feels there are communication gaps in the process of running for town office. 

“We simply don't have a culture of civic engagement or volunteerism in town,” Craig said. “As we saw at the the Bennington deliberative session, there were only a handful of residents present beyond those of us required to be there as department heads. We have a big communication problem in town currently. The budget hearing and deliberative session were advertised, but many folks don't actually know what goes on at those meetings and why they should attend. The open period for filing for candidacy is quite short. It was not advertised anywhere on our town website, in the town newsletter or social media page. In years that it has been advertised, people don't know what the various committees actually do. I have been considering a run for Select Board since the fall of 2023, so I researched the filing information on my own.” 

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Walter Turner, supervisor of the checklist, said that finding new volunteers takes “old-fashioned door-to-door effort.” 

“It takes shoe leather,” Turner said. “When I first moved here and ran for supervisor, I went around and  knocked on every door in Bennington. I met a woman whose grandmother had been a suffragette, so she was very excited about being involved in voting. She started volunteering, and she became one of my best volunteers. She volunteered right up until one year before she died. If I hadn’t knocked on her door, she probably never would have gotten involved. You have to ask people personally.”

Like Manley, Turner feels the number of people involved in town is currently limited to a small pool. 

“If you don’t continually make an effort to  expand your circle, it shrinks, and eventually, it’s going to disappear. If you really want to get something done and get people involved, you have to be willing to knock on doors and talk to people who may not agree with you,” Turner said. 

Turner, who has presided over Bennington elections for nearly 30 years, said the town’s voting participation rate is typically about 30%. Turner noted that not all Bennington residents register to vote. 

ConVal School Board still has vacancies 

As of Friday, no one had expressed interest in running as a write-in candidate  for the vacant ConVal School Board  positions in Greenfield or Temple, or for the position of school district moderator, which was previously filled by Bob Edwards of Antrim. Residents of the ConVal district are encouraged to run as write-in candidates.

Other School Board open positions include a one-year position in Antrim currently filled by Erin Pils-Martin, who is running again. Michael Hoyt of Bennington is running for another three-year term, as is Janine Lesser of Peterborough.