Jacob Spell: Getting to know the different philosophies and values of a small town

Courtesy photo of Jacob Spell
Courtesy photo of Jacob Spell

Two years ago Jacob Spell moved his family from the Virgin Islands to Charlotte. Spell had lived in Vermont in the 1990s when his brother was a resident. “Vermont was always our hurricane contingency plan,” he joked, adding that the real reason for the move was so his kids would have the benefit of a New England school system. Spell had worked as a government staffer in the Islands, and continues to have his own political consulting company, so it was only natural that he began to have an interest in town government. Although he considered doing so in 2013, it wasn’t until 2014 that he decided to run for office, defeating Frank Tenney for a two-year seat on the Select Board.

In his six months on the board, Spell said he has enjoyed the level of discourse and the opportunity to get to know the different philosophies and values in town. He is proud of the work he has done to make town government more transparent, citing the new purchasing policy as an example of that transparency.

Spell had praise for Vermont’s Open Meeting Law. “It’s the most inefficient way to run a government, but it’s the best way to bring everyone to the table,” he said. “It’s a great thing. In other places I’ve seen small mom and pop shops get completely railroaded because of lack of public input. Vermont does everything to ensure that those little stores have their say.”

One thing that has surprised Spell is what he describes as “little fiefdoms” in town. “Everyone holds on to their own piece of the pie which is fine because everything in town runs very well,” he said. “However, there are some areas where constituents have raised concerns that I’d like to look into. The public needs to feel confident that their money is being spent appropriately. When you hold things too close to your chest there can be the appearance of impropriety. I’d like to see some belt-tightening in town and a little more transparency from our bigger funded agencies.”

Spell’s government work has run the gamut from Senate campaigns to drafting policy. “I think I have an edge because I know how government works and I know how long things take,” he said. “I’m aware that you can kick the can down the road for a while, but I’m also aware that that has to stop and we need open and honest dialogue and can’t continue to sweep things under the rug. We need to do the right thing and make sure money is accounted for and if there are questions, ask them and demand answers.”

Spell praised the level of volunteerism in Charlotte. “We have so many standing committees with a wealth of knowledge,” he said.

Spell tries to spend his spare time with his kids, helping to get them acclimated to cold water and winter sports. The first year of skiing was very exciting, but by the second year they were beginning to complain about the cold. Spell is curious what the third winter will bring.

So far, the move and his introduction to town politics has been positive. “The town has been beyond welcoming,” Spell said. “They’ve given me their vote of confidence to serve them. Hopefully I’ll do a good job and meet their expectations.”

 

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