Money can’t buy Jeffords love in Barre Town
By David Delcore
Staff Writer | October 14,2013
BARRE TOWN — The Select Board in Republican-leaning Barre Town won’t be naming its newest bridge after a retired U.S. senator who left the GOP in 2001 and spent his last five years in office caucusing with Senate Democrats as an independent.
Last week, board members capped what has been a running discussion about how to acknowledge former Sen. Jim Jeffords’ role in securing funding for the new bridge on Bridge Street. It won’t be by naming it after him.
Board members had two weeks to consider Rep. Francis “Topper” McFaun’s suggestion they find some way to honor Jeffords for his contribution to what had been an incredibly elusive local project.
They concluded the senator’s efforts should not be overstated. Jeffords was, they agreed, just doing his job when he included an earmark for the Bridge Street bridge project in the 2006 transportation bill.
That was Selectman Rob LaClair’s initial reaction to the idea of naming the bridge after Jeffords last month, and nothing he’d heard in the interim changed his mind.
“I appreciate what Jim Jeffords did, but Jim Jeffords did the job we elected him there to do,” LaClair said last week.
LaClair’s view got a mega ditto from fellow board member Jeff Blow. After fielding a couple of calls on the subject and having time to reflect, Blow agreed Jeffords didn’t do anything particularly special when he helped secure funding that advanced the project.
Blow said he would expect nothing less from any member of Vermont’s congressional delegation.
“I’m of the mind-set: ‘That’s what we pay them for, that’s what we elected them for, and that’s what they did,’” Blow said. “The fact that they held office and every now and again get some esteem (and) recognition for holding office is adequate.”
That was the general consensus of board members, who said if they were going to name the bridge after someone, it should be someone from Barre Town, and even then the name would be ignored.
“No matter what you call it, it’s always going to be the ‘Bridge Street bridge,’” said Selectman Jeff Newton.
Newton, who didn’t mention Jeffords by name and once referred to him as “the individual,” said he wouldn’t necessarily oppose a more modest acknowledgment of his efforts on Barre Town’s behalf.
“If you want to recognize where the funds came (from) and give the guy an ‘atta-boy’ with a plaque on a bridge abutment I’m OK with that,” he said.
So was LaClair, who said he had no problem including Jeffords’ name on a plaque that could honor others who helped advance plans to replace the 1941 bridge.
Longtime resident Gordon Booth, a former board member and state representative, said the history of the bridge was more plaque-worthy than a salute to Jeffords. He said the bridge once served as the main road from the town into Barre.
“The bridge should be dedicated to the people in the town of Barre,” he said. “We all paid for that bridge.”
Work on the $1.8 million bridge project is scheduled to be completed later this month, prompting questions about its dedication and the naming opportunity. Thanks to federal funding secured by Jeffords in his last year in office, the town paid 5 percent of the total project cost.