As Ameden prepares to leave office, his contributions are appreciated

By Christopher Biddle
©2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Each Town Hall Meeting Day, 8th graders take over several rows in the balcony at Londonderry Town Hall to watch direct democracy in action. It was this annual ritual, this history class requirement, that ignited a political spark in 8th-grader Jim Ameden that he carries with him today.

Jim Ameden and fellow Londonderry Select Board member Steve Prouty. Telegraph file photo.

Jim Ameden and fellow Londonderry Select Board member Steve Prouty. Telegraph file photo.

“I was just really intrigued by everything, the town politics and how things were decided at Town Meeting. There are a lot of important decisions made at a meeting like that,” Ameden said recently, as he reflected on his 22 years as a public servant.

While he plans to attend all Town Meetings that follow, the 2016 Town Meeting may have been his last as an elected official. On April 18, Ameden announced that — because of a family emergency — he’ll be stepping down from the board on which he’s served since 2003 and of which he’s been chair since 2005.

Ameden, who works for a local construction company, said that it was important to him that the working class of people of Londonderry had one of their own represented on the board, and that the board closely examine costs before raising taxes. That sentiment was echoed by Vice Chair Steve Prouty, who said that he is concerned with the direction the town will be heading, especially now that Ameden will be stepping down.

“He always looked at the side of  ‘can we afford this, can everyone here pay their taxes?’ ” said Prouty. “Without him on the board, I’m worried that we’re just going to start spending money without looking at the other side of it.” Prouty added that he and Ameden are two of three “fairly local and conservative” members of the board, and characterized the other two as “newcomers that want to change everything.”

Ameden presents former Fire Chief Jesse Pomeroy with a plaque. Photo provided.

As Phoenix fire chief, Ameden presents former Fire Chief Jesse Pomeroy with a plaque. Photo provided.

In recent years, Ameden opposed the purchase of a new fire truck for the South Londonderry-based Champion Fire Company, which may have been made more controversial because he is fire chief of the Phoenix Fire Company. Both serve Londonderry. And Ameden also questioned the recent contract for added policing by the Vermont State Police. Both the new truck and the VSP contract were passed by the Londonderry Town Meeting.

Dick Dale, a member of the Planning Commission who moved permanently to Londonderry two and a half years ago, told The Telegraph that Ameden has “regularly questioned the need to change things in town,” and that he has long wanted taxpayers to play a larger role in the town’s financial decisions.

“He always wanted the voters to decide the outcome of any issue without needing to take a personal or board position,” Dale said in a recent interview.

Ameden mans a Phoenix fire truck. Photo provided.

Ameden mans a Phoenix fire truck. Photo provided.

Board member Paul Gordon said, “I disagree at times with his position, which does not decrease my opinion or value of him as a resource and a contributing member. I know he stands very staunchly for keeping taxes in line, which I appreciate, but also believe that there are certain issues that the town needs to move forward with.”

Despite political disagreements, all those interviewed spoke to Ameden’s commitment as an asset to the board. Gordon even said that last year, when Ameden was deciding whether or not to run, he encouraged him to do so. “That leadership and experience portion is extremely, extremely valuable,” said Gordon.

Kevin Beattie, a former Select Board member as well as Londonderry’s first Town Administrator, said, “He was very dedicated to what he was doing, and I appreciated his insight on things, and I’m sorry to see him go.”

“As chair, he listened carefully and weighed comments against his great store of knowledge about the town,” said Dale, adding, “Because he has served the town for years and is widely respected, his voice will be missed.”

Ameden’s public service career began in 1994 when he became a town constable. He was 21. Now at 43, he says he hasn’t missed a Town Meeting since that 8th grade history class, and likely never will.

Once Ameden leaves office following the Town Meeting and vote on the gravel pit land purchase, the Select Board will elect a new chair as well as appoint someone to fill Ameden’s Select Board seat until the March 2017 Town Meeting. At the April 18 select board meeting Prouty expressed the hope that Ameden would be able to run for the board again at that time.

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About the Author: Christopher Biddle is a journalist, radio DJ and lifelong Vermonter. He hosts the 9 to 11 a.m. Sunday Rewind show on 102.7 WEQX. In addition to The Chester Telegraph and The Mountain Times he has written for other local publications. His audio work includes stories for VPR and Slate Magazine's podcast network. He collects VHS tapes and knows how to use a chainsaw.

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