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Rutland Mayor-elect Mike Doenges discusses his win and plans for the city

Mike Doenges
Doenges for Rutland
Mike Doenges

The city of Rutland, Vermont will have a new mayor Wednesday. Board of Alderman President Mike Doenges won the Town Meeting Day election against three-term incumbent David Allaire with 1,710 votes to 1,317. Doenges grew up in Rutland and tells WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley he believes the voters were looking for a change.

Being part of a community that has been, you know, maybe a little adverse to change over the years, a mayor who kept the status quo for a period of time like the previous mayor, that's kind of what our city's looked for for a while. And I think they were looking for a mayor that was going to bring some change and that was going to move Rutland in a forward direction instead of just keep that status quo. And I honestly, I can try to boil it down to that for the most part. It's people here are willing to change. They want change to happen in the way that they desire instead of the way there's it's happening to them and they were ready for that this time around.

On your campaign website, you had laid out a series of goals and a comprehensive plan. And you actually had some of those ideas and goals spelled out. How much of a help do you think that was in moving forward what you just said that people wanted to move forward.

Yeah. I drove a lot, we tried to drive as much traffic to the website as possible, just because it’s the best way for people to like kind of consume it in the way that they want. And I think it was a big, I think it made a big difference, right. At the very beginning I talked about the big picture things about the vision and about coming up with some really good plans to target some goals for our city. And then as we got closer to the election, we really refined that down so that people weren't overwhelmed, but also, so that I could spend the last six months listening to what residents wanted. I don't want this to just be my ideas. I've got some ideas and I've got some I think pretty decent ones. But what you'll find on the website that's a lot of me listening to Rutland citizens, a lot of me trying to understand what our community needs beyond just my purview. And putting that together in a way that says, okay, this is part of the plan that we're putting together as a team as, you know, the voices of the citizens in Rutland. And I think that really boded well because people started to see the things that they want in the design for our future city.

Mayor-elect, the issues that seem to be highlighted in Rutland were crime, housing, population decline. That's not unique to many of the other communities in Vermont. So how do you plan to address those issues and how much did the public input affect how you plan to address them?

So that's a great question. The common problems that we all struggle with throughout the state of Vermont, actually it's throughout the country right, the crime, the housing, like you were just saying, if you look at the cities that are successful in addressing those issues they focus. So they focus energy, time and resources. And they're looking at doing it in a way that's very tactical for the things that need to be addressed immediately and very visionary for the things that need to be addressed down the line. That's kind of my background anyway. I've worked in technology for the past 20 years. So I have to do that every day. But when we tie in some great ideas from citizens about how we can actually start to work with community partners, how we can bring in additional outside resources, talking about leveraging federal grant money, you have to have a plan and a target and go after those things in order to bring them to your community. I think if Rutland takes that focus that I was talking about and puts it into building those proposals, building those plans and going after those asks, what we start to do is bring those resources into town in a very prescriptive way and that allows us to attack each one of those issues individually.

Well, Mike Doenges, you were on the Board of Aldermen prior to being mayor-elect. Was Rutland advancing towards those proposals, those goals, at all?

That's a great question and you're really good at this! So yes, I think we were. But here's the difference between the way it was being done and the way I would like to see it done over the next few months, right? Over the next few years. You know when the Board of Aldermen, which is a volunteer board, right, these are all people that have full time jobs, we were as a group constantly bringing new ideas and new initiatives to the table. Which means that we're using you know what little time we have from our families and what little time we have from our jobs to put these things together to try to piece together these different puzzle pieces to find a solution to a symptom, or maybe address the root cause of a problem through an initiative. So we have a rental rehab and revitalization program that we're working on right now that's almost done or we're working on solving some of the parking issues in the city so that we can generate a little bit more revenue to take the burden off the taxpayer. All the things from the Board of Aldermen are great. But it limits the amount you can do when you have a volunteer board like that. Bringing new ideas from the mayor's office, we can use City Hall resources to put together a package that says this is what we want to do for housing. Here are the resources we're going to need dollar wise. Here the resources we’re going to need partner wise. We get to do all that before the board ever sees it. Maybe the board is part of the collaboration. But really before it goes for approval or review, the city puts together a potential option that's being led by my office and then we go to the board and say, hey, we want you to take a look at this, give us your feedback and then once you've given us your feedback, we'll refine it and we'll have a package that's done. And what that does is that allows us to get so much more done. And there's so much better an efficient process, that we'll be able to change the pace of what we're doing. Rutland needs us to pick up the pace. And we'll be able to pick up that pace if a lot of these initiatives start in my office where I can allocate resources to work on those things.

You're going to have some incumbents that are remaining on the Board of Aldermen. How well do you think that dynamic is going to work out?

You know, honestly, I think it's going to go really well. Some of the incumbents, I've actually spoken to most of them, and I think we're all on the same page, right, for the most part. We all want to see Rutland move in that forward direction. It looks like from what we're seeing right now that Michael Talbott is going to be nominated and hopefully elected as board president. He and I have a very good working relationship. Although we don't agree on everything, we do share a common vision of that same better Rutland for everyone. So I think, if the board is electing Michael to this leadership position, and he and I are working together, I think that's a strong, you know, a strong thumbs up or a strong, you know, voice towards the fact that we're going to be able to make this progress without much resistance.

Mike Doenges, you've talked about a lot of the goals, a lot of the issues. What will be your first priority after you take the mayoral oath?

Oh, that's a tough one. So I'll explain it in two ways. Right. The first thing I have to do is kind of a gap analysis. Right. I want to understand where we're at both from a budget finances, you know, we have a few months left in this year's fiscal. The voters just voted on next year's fiscal budget. So I need to understand, you know, I've seen those budgets. I've been working within them, but I need to understand what I can draw out of them to build the staff resources that I want. I want to add additional grants staffing. I want to add additional planning staffing. That costs money and I need to find a way to do that without, you know, because we have a set budget and we have to work within it. So that tactical operation of that evaluation and doing gap analysis that is probably one of the first things. But the top priority I think, you know, honestly, there's no one. We have so much to do. There's so much to do. So safety and security. Absolutely. I've already met with Commander (Matthew) Prouty of Project Vision, have already met with the chief of police to talk about how we're going to put resources in place to really start addressing things at that faster pace that we talked about. And then probably one of the other things is really, and I focused on it during the campaign, is a welcoming city hall. I've already talked about moving my office downstairs. I know that's very symbolic in nature, and maybe not, maybe not as much of an action plan as anything else. But it really is to say, hey, I'm going to be downstairs. When you walk in I'm the first office, you know, I'm available, let's have a conversation, or my staff will be available. Let's have that conversation. So okay those are all relatively tactical, but those are things we need to do now. And then maybe in a couple of weeks, probably two or three weeks, we're going to be looking at starting down that path of that updated master plan that will really give us the vision document that we need for our city that's going to help us market and drive that change that we want to see. So it's all encompassing. It's not one thing, sadly. I wish it was, that would make it much easier. But we do have a lot to work on. So it's really just attacking what we need to attack now and then starting on that vision as soon as possible.

Mike Doenges will be sworn in on Wednesday morning for a two-year term. Rutland elections are non-partisan.