POWNAL, Vt. -- A fixture of the Select Board is taking a break.
Nelson Brownell, of North Pownal Road, will not seek re-election to the three-year seat he currently holds. For many years, Brownell had been the board’s chairman, but this year, the board opted to elect board member Stephen Kauppi to the position.
Brownell indicated some months ago he would not seek re-election to the board and would instead put his efforts into a position he now holds on the Mount Anthony Union School District board of directors.
Brownell’s time in town government and as board chairman have caused some to criticize him for his sway over town actions.
"Anybody that’s in a position of leadership is going to get some of that," Brownell said, noting he’s heard himself accused of running a dictatorship. "I’ve heard everything from Brownellville to God knows what the people say down there."
Brownell laughed during a recent interview when told some of the nicknames that have been attached to him, "Godfather" being one of them. He said his wife’s role as chairwoman of the Pownal Elementary School Board has contributed to his image as having a monopoly on political influence in the town.
Brownell said while he and his wife, Cynthia Brownell, share advice on dealing with leadership, they disagree on many things, too.
"The only thing I would hope that I’ve done is that people have looked at it and see that I listened, I had respect for the individual," he said. "It doesn’t mean I’m always going to agree with them or they’re always going to agree with me, but at least I let them have their say and I will listen to what they’re saying, and I’ll argue the issue from my point of view."
Brownell said he is leaving the board because he feels the current dynamics is too contentious. He cited the current feud between Kauppi and Auditor Ray Shields as an example, and said people are no longer listening to each other and important things are not being addressed.
"I think it’s become too confrontational and because of that, not enough focus is being done on issues and things that need to be done and taken care of. My departure for a while, I hope, should help that," he said. "This doesn’t mean I won’t be back again someday."
He said whether he comes back or not, the board faces some challenges down the road. He said the town is going to need more low- to moderate-income housing and will have decide on whether it wants to be more of a "bedroom community" than it already is, or diversify its tax base with industry of some sort.
Brownell, 66, began his career in town government in the 1970s by serving on the Planning Commission, and after that, the Zoning Board of Appeals, which became the Development Review Board after the town adopted zoning bylaws. He has also served as the zoning administrator for long stints and holds the position currently.
After a few prior unsuccessful attempts to gain a seat on the Select Board, Brownell was elected in the early 1990s and has held a position on the board ever since.