Politics

Critiques come as five face off for Newport council seats

newport candidates
Clockwise from upper left: Carl King, John Wilson, Chris Vachon, Kevin Charboneau and Amy Gillespie are running for two seats on the Newport City Council. Photos by Caledonian Record, VTDigger and provided.

Five people are running for Newport City Council, and several of them want to disrupt a government they see as out of touch and lacking transparency.

“I’m just ready to shake shit up a little,” said local activist Amy Gillespie, one of the candidates for the two open council seats.

Gillespie, veterans worker Carl King and Derby Elementary School teacher Chris Vachon are all new to city politics, and each wants to claim one of the spots available on Town Meeting Day.

The newcomers are joined in the race by incumbent Kevin Charboneau and former Council President John Wilson. Every candidate spoke to VTDigger except for Charboneau. The two-year incumbent did not return an email and a voicemail seeking comment Monday.

Gillespie, King and Wilson have all been critical of the current council. They want to see greater attention paid to the voices of average community members.

“The last two years, all I see is disdain toward the public,” said Wilson, 74. 

“I believe transparency is all but gone in the last couple years,” he added.

Wilson served on the council for 17 years before he was defeated in a five-way race in 2018. He lost the 2019 mayoral election by two votes to then-incumbent Mayor Paul Monette.

“It’s just like they don’t even want the public to speak,” Wilson said of current officials. 

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He said it seems actions are decided before they go to the council — and the public — echoing comments made last fall by current Council President Julie Raboin.

Raboin, who decided not to seek re-election this year, said in October that councilors are chronically “presented with a done deal, something that’s already been assembled, and there’s really no room for negotiation.”

Raboin’s absence from the race is one reason Gillespie said she wanted to run.

“We’re going to have a huge disconnect from the heart [of the city],” said Gillespie, 33, who helped organize the public vote on Newport’s all-terrain vehicle ordinance in January.

She, King and Vachon are all prioritizing youth services in their platforms.

“There’s nothing here, nothing fun,” said King, who runs a veterans services nonprofit called Camp Care USA.

“Our children are our future — if we don’t help guide them, what does our future look like?” the 46-year-old asked. “The quagmire we’re in right now. We’re trying to break that cycle.”

Vachon, 33, teaches sixth grade science, and he said he wants to make sure his young son has a good place to grow up. He said his focus is primarily on preserving what’s working in the city — such as outdoor recreation offerings.

Gillespie said she’s “seen the effects of mental health and substance abuse issues on our children” and wants to create supportive, safe spaces for them. 

“I know the importance of building a stronger foundation so that we can break the cycle — and if not, maybe slow it down,” she said.

Wilson, the former council member, said he wants to return to city politics because people have been asking him to do so. He said he wants to stop what he called agenda-driven governance.

“I’m not pleased with the council — and when I get on, they can see this and they can ostracize me again,” he said. “Their little bickering doesn’t faze me in the least.”

Charboneau was a Vermont State Police trooper for 22 years, according to his LinkedIn, and currently serves as a truancy officer for the North Country Supervisory Union. In one of the most high-profile council votes of this past year, he supported allowing ATVs on select city roads.

The two candidates with the most votes on March 3 will take office. Ahead of the election, all five contenders plan to attend a forum on Feb. 20 hosted by the Caledonian Record.

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The forum will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at the United Church of Newport. It’s being organized by Record reporter Robin Smith and will feature questions from area journalists and audience members. Bruce James, president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce, is set to moderate the event.

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Justin Trombly

About Justin

Justin Trombly covers the Northeast Kingdom for VTDigger. Before coming to Vermont, he handled breaking news, wrote features and worked on investigations at the Tampa Bay Times, the largest newspaper in Florida. He grew up across Lake Champlain in upstate New York, where he worked for The Buffalo News, the Glens Falls Post-Star and the Plattsburgh Press Republican. He studied English and political science at the University of Rochester.

Email: [email protected]

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Bruce Wilkie

The Newport City Council has a serious ethics problem. I find it interesting that Kevin Charboneau would not talk to Digger about his prospects for re-election. That action mirrors the lack of transparency that the council has shown in the last couple of years. Newport has had a good ol’boy system of governance for many years, and that system has led to a serious decline in the prospects for the future of the city.
While other cities of the same size have drawn downtown development, jobs, and improved their quality of life, Newport continues to fester and rot from within.
The current councils answer to this decline is to open roads to ATV’s. Yeah, that will help with the opioid crisis, the lack of decent employment, and the lack of hope.
Newport needs leadership from people who care, not people who rule the city from backrooms, out of sight of any accountability and public input.
Too bad the Mayor isn’t up for re-election. He is at the core of this rotten apple

Pablo Rodriguez

So some candidates say the council is out of touch with the community and Charboneau doesn’t want to publicize or discuss his candidacy. He just proved that statement.

 

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