Dover resident Laura Sibilia announced her candidacy this week, but says it’s something she’s been considering for several years. “What was holding me back was the ages of my kids. Now that two are in college and one is in middle school, I have the time.”
Windham-Bennington is a dogleg-shaped district that includes towns in both counties, running from as far north as Wardsboro to as far south as Stamford. The towns in between include Dover, Somerset, Searsburg, a portion of Whitingham, and Readsboro. Although the towns may seem to have disparate concerns, Sibilia says she knows the issues facing constituents of the district well. “I grew up in Whitingham and graduated from Whitingham High School,” she says. “I lived in Readsboro for years. And I’ve lived in Dover for the past 14 years.”
Sibilia says her top issues are economic development and education funding, and both are areas in which she has extensive experience. She has previously served as Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, where she helped spearhead the chamber’s regional economic development efforts that began in 2007, following two snowless winters. Currently she serves as the director of economic development at Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, a regional economic development organization. Her job at BDCC includes working with Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies (SeVEDS,) a group that is planning strategies to address barriers to economic growth in the region.
Sibilia says recent and current legislative initiatives, although aimed at social responsibility, threaten small businesses in Vermont. Although she favors an increase in the minimum wage, she warns that Vermont’s minimum wage shouldn’t be seen as an antidote to the nation’s income disparity issues. “There’s some confusion about the businesses we’re regulating here,” she says. “This is not Wall Street. We’re not looking at fat cats lining Route 100. We’re not going to fix a national problem in Vermont. Vermont is a very socially responsible state, and people are drawn to Vermont because of that. Vermont business owners are, by and large, good, ethical business people who are working hard to pay more taxes. I’m concerned about the viewpoint that they’re not doing enough, that they’re greedy, and we need to mandate their behavior.”
Sibilia says she would prefer a statewide strategy to grow businesses so they can afford to raise wages and provide more benefits. “I think we’ve seen a lot of really good things happening with small businesses in the Deerfield Valley,” Sibilia says. “Now we need to send someone to Montpelier who is interested in supporting the needs of small business.”
In many respects, the Deerfield Valley has been ahead of the rest of the state in forging communities together for regional economic development, and Sibilia says it’s time for the state to build an economic development system that supports regional efforts like those in southern Vermont. “One of the big challenges in the Legislature is getting more oars pulling in the same direction,” she says.
Sibilia has tackled education and education financing issues both in her professional capacity and as a member of the Dover School Board for the last 11 years. This year, she says, education and education funding reform have “reached a fever pitch” in Montpelier. She says all of the small schools in the district are threatened by proposals that would eliminate the state’s small schools grant or mandate consolidation. “All of the small schools in the district could be negatively impacted by some of the things that are being proposed,” she says. “But most legislators don’t want to hurt schools, so we need to have people go to the Legislature and talk about the good things that are going on in their schools, and tell legislators to protect things that are worth protecting.”
Sibilia says Vermonters are fortunate to have so much more access to their government than people in many states. “One of the great things about Vermont is that our Legislature and administration are so accessible – it’s one of the selling points for Vermont, particularly for businesses,” she says.
Through her work with local businesses, in economic development, and as a school board member, Sibilia has gained experience working with legislators and state officials. She has experienced how Vermont government works, something she says will allow her to hit the ground running as a freshman legislator.
And, Sibilia jokes, she has no shortage of opinions on a variety of other issues. “I have a lot of opinions. I think if you believe in something, you have to be willing to step forward and work at it, and you have to keep working for a long time. I’d like to build consensus and get some more things done.”
Sibilia’s election team includes campaign manager Lisa Sullivan, of Wilmington, and treasurer Jolene Mahon, of Dover. She has promised to run a civil campaign. “In the past I’ve only campaigned for issues,” she says. “I guess I’ll be learning how to campaign for myself.”
Sibilia covered school sports and Dover boards for The Deerfield Valley News prior to her election to the Dover School Board in 2003.