Until this year, Cambridge was one of the largest towns in Vermont still operating with a three-person select board.
The select board of the state’s 34th most populous town — and Lamoille County’s third biggest — grew its ranks by two on Town Meeting Day this year.
The newest board members — Courtney Leitz and Cody Marsh — have quite a bit in common: Both grew up in the area and graduated from Lamoille Union High School, had family members who were involved in local government, moved away after high school and came back to re-establish their roots.
With a few select board meetings under their belts, the two shared their thoughts on Cambridge and where it’s headed.
Leitz prioritizes community
Courtney Leitz, 41, graduated from Lamoille Union in 1995 and went off to college, initially studying toward a degree in French, but shifting toward teaching. She took a particular interest in social studies, and spent time in New York before buying the Howard family farm — that’s her birth surname — in Cambridge.
“This is it,” she said. “It was a commitment to buy the family farm and we’re sticking around, so this was the time to get involved locally.”
“I grew up in a civic-minded family, but that really evolved as I was teaching social studies,” she said.
She also grew up in a skiing family — notably, brother Adam, a former state rep, was a star alpine skier in high school, and is now publisher of ski/outdoor magazine company Height of Land Publication.
Leitz grew up skiing at Smugglers’ Notch Resort and now heads up Smugglers’ Notch Academy, the tutorial program arm of the Smugglers’ Notch Ski and Snowboard Club. She’s also assistant director of the club.
The small program combines tutoring services with ski and snowboard lessons three days a week throughout the winter. Leitz teaches humanities, while another teacher handles math and science.
Husband Tom is also involved in municipal government; he’s director of administration for the city of St. Albans.
Leitz may be the first woman on the Cambridge Select Board — she hasn’t done the research but has been told so by Jane Porter, a Cambridge civic fixture who’s on three town commissions.
Leitz was elected at the same time as Lucy Rogers, serving her first term as the state legislator representing Cambridge and Waterville. Rogers is the first woman to hold the seat in decades.
“I heard from a lot of women who said it was exciting to have a female on the board,” Leitz said.
Leitz said there are a lot of people like her, young families with school-age kids – her sons are 6 and 4 years old.
She said she would like to “keep young families in Cambridge and continue to grow. It is an amazing place to have kids.”
As Lamoille County’s westernmost town, and with Route 108 closed off to Stowe for at least half of the year, parts of Cambridge share an affinity with Chittenden County. People in Pleasant Valley or Cambridge village are sometimes more likely to travel to Essex for their grocery shopping than to Morristown.
Leitz said she’s actually been making a point of traveling to Morristown more frequently to shop, and has been struck at how many new businesses and buildings are there, compared to when she was a child.
Smugglers’ Notch Resort is a good place to draw some comparisons, too. It may be only a few hundred meters from Stowe Mountain Resort as the snowflakes fly, but it’s a world away — more emphasis on families and with nary a high-speed chairlift.
Because of the location, Leitz said Cambridge often carves out its own home-grown identity.
“I sometimes feel like our tagline is ‘we’re scrappy,’” Leitz said. “People come to us because it’s a different feel and a different place.”
But, she said, it’s still an open, welcoming town: “I’ve been in communities that are very insular, and I don’t have that sense in Cambridge at all.”
Marsh on the other side of the table
Cody Marsh said his father, Jay, has been on the Waterville Select Board for nearly two decades, and when Jay was first approached to fill a vacancy, “he was hemming and hawing, and now it’s been great, and he’s helped a lot of people.”
Similarly, Cody — returning to Vermont after a stint as a civil engineer based in New York City — wanted to contribute to the Cambridge community. Problem was, he thought the trio already on the board was doing just fine.
“I didn’t really want to run against anybody,” Marsh said. “We’ve got a good board there and I didn’t want to take any of their jobs.”
With the board expanding to five seats, he changed his mind and attended some board meetings. Some seemed surprised that a couple of people in their 30s and early 40s were taking an interest in municipal government — he will turn 31 this summer — and decided to put his name out there.
He said last year, watching the Vermont House race between Lucy Rogers and Zac Mayo, he saw a shift from the old guard to the new.
“The support, and the demand, for our region really wanting to have younger people get involved in town politics was really apparent,” Marsh said. Someone is going to have to carry the institutional memory forward into the future, and “what happens if they were all to retire at the same time? The more people you put on there, the less likely you are to lose a step.”
Past, present, future
Marsh’s grandmother, Roberta Marsh — she died in March — was instrumental in reorganizing the Cambridge Historical Society and publishing three books about the town’s history. Her zeal for local history rubbed off on her grandson.
“I was always intrigued with my grandmother’s stories about what was over here and what was over there,” he said. “She was really passionate about the history of the town, and wanted to give back. And if I can help our town at all, I want to be able to give back.”
As the Lamoille County town closest to Chittenden County, “we sit at an interesting junction,” Marsh said. Many Cambridge residents commute to Essex or the Burlington area for work, and the commute is manageable.
That means Cambridge is attractive for professionals and their families — although both Marsh and Leitz have managed to find good work locally.
“We’ve got several great companies here who are struggling to find people to work,” Marsh said. “We need younger people to come to our town, to our community, and take these jobs.”
Working in the civil engineering field, both in New York and now locally for G.W. Tatro, Marsh has “been on the other side of the table” at plenty of other towns’ select board meetings.
He thinks he can bring that perspective to the select board, anticipating what contractors need, such as permits. He laughs, though, at the suggestion that he can help Cambridge solve the oft-repeated wish from developers for “permit reform.”
“If you said you fully understand the permitting process in Vermont, I’d be suspicious of that,” he said.