Protecting Transparency

If you live in Westford or Essex, you have already Won with Wrenner!

Directly below is an example of a brief advocacy campaign with lasting benefits.

This is one of nine issue campaigns led and won by Wrenner on behalf of residents.

We wrote about a much longer, drawn-out campaign in the second box.

Voters' Rejection of "Commingling"  Assures that School Votes are Counted & Reported from 3 Polls

Watchdog, Advocate, Convener

Irene Wrenner has worked for 17 years to foster fairness and transparency in Essex. Westford voters have also benefited.

The Essex Westford School District (EWSD) published an unusually lengthy agenda for its Annual Meeting, April 10, 2017.

Wrenner noticed a buried article (8th of 10) that proposed “commingling” future ballots, rather than counting them at each polling place.

That proposal, if approved by voters, would have produced a single district-wide vote total, rather than a total for each town on each article.

It would have masked the outcomes of the individual populations – in Westford, Essex Junction, and Essex Town – that had recently agreed to merge their finances but agreed not to give up their identities.

Wrenner rallied voters to attend that meeting in person and speak against the proposed change, citing the benefits of maintaining separate reporting, by polls, of voting results.

Two poll captains spoke against the proposal to transport uncounted ballots to a single location for tallying.

School board members, on the other hand, said that combining the ballots before counting them would simplify reporting and show unity.

The board’s proposal was voted down (31-25), thus preserving the more-detailed format of election results reporting.

EWSD annual meetings typically attract a handful of attendees. Wrenner’s effort to get out the vote for transparency in 2017 was evident in the turnout as well as the outcome.

Reflecting on that push for transparency, Wrenner notes: “Westford only has one vote out of nine at the school board table.

“It would have been a profound injustice if Westford’s annual ballot results were obscured by that proposed change.”

 

Ultimately, the majority of voters followed Wrenner’s lead and insisted on clarity in reporting of voting results.

Below is a portion of the latest report. Essex and Essex Junction vote tallies plus candidate totals were cropped out below for readability.

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Working for Fair  Representation

Voters' Approval of Fair Representation Calls the Village Trustees' Bluff

Creative Thinker, Petition Carrier, Video Reporter

As a new appointee to the Merger Task Force in 2005, Irene Wrenner soon realized every seat on the Selectboard was filled by someone from the Town.

 

She set out to even things up because such lopsided Town representation wasn't fair to friends in the Village, who had no one representing their interests on the at-large board.

Wrenner partnered with Fairvote in Washington DC to examine the issue closely and come up with solutions. They did a deep dive and published a report about it.

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She then advocated for Proportional Representation as a remedy, but her idea wasn’t included in the 2006 merger plan. Eventually, that plan failed at the polls.

Fast forward to 2019, when Wrenner realized that equalizing representation might be done through a charter change.

Around that time period, former Essex Junction Village Trustee Lori Houghton suggested that a fair outcome to the latest merger conversation would be if Village residents got fair taxation while Town residents got fair representation.

Wrenner and a friend canvassed the town and collected enough signatures to put a "3+3" plan – for district representation: 3 Village and 3 Town – on the March 2020 ballot.

Their proposal was modeled on the merged school district's successful "4+4" district representation (4 Town and 4 Village) model.

It was a familiar solution to a decades-long problem of lopsided representation on the Town Selectboard.

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Nonetheless, it received pushback from an aspiring politician named Brian Shelden, who berated "3+3" as "gerrymandering". He spent $705 in an unsuccessful campaign to convince voters it was "wrong for Essex." Instead, he urged them to "keep Essex odd."

The voters passed the "3+3" plan at the polls. However, Houghton and other Town and Village House Representatives worked behind the scenes to ensure it never passed the House Government Operations Committee.

More details about the "3+3" campaign and how it was undermined by elected officials may be found here.

Meanwhile, Wrenner and Ken Signorello created an award-winning video series to answer the HCGO members' questions.

Those videos contain snippets which are the only remaining public record of the May 7th HCGO meeting; the meeting video was deleted from YouTube in July 2022.

Although voters had passed the "3+3" plan townwide in March 2020, Village Trustees declined to include that representation model in the Merger Charter, which was approved in the Village in November 2020. 

Contrary to Houghton's offer of fair representation for fair taxation, the Village Trustees included a "4+3" model. That action sent a strong signal to Town voters that the Trustees weren’t willing to share power equally (among two similarly-populated areas) in order to make a Merger happen. Town residents would get nothing in return for a huge tax increase, if the Merger Plan were to pass in 2021. Town voters proceeded to vote down Merger twice that year.

 

The Village Trustees then warned a vote to Separate from the Town and become a City, which passed in November of 2021 and took effect on July 1, 2022. At last, both halves of Essex, Town and City, get appropriate taxation AND representation.