Two candidates vie for open Mt. Abe school board seat
By CYRUS LEVESQUE
BRISTOL — Voters in Bristol will have to choose between two candidates for an open seat on the Mount Abraham Union High School board on March 4. Bristol residents Gary Farnsworth and R.E. “Dick” Merrill are both running for the three-year seat now held by Wendy Puls, who has said she will not be running again.
Dick Merrill is a familiar face to the current school board; he said he has attended meetings regularly for three years. “I think if I do get elected, I can hit the ground running,” Merrill said.
Merrill, 69, has lived in Bristol for the past 11 years, after more than three decades in Connecticut, where he worked for Pratt & Whitney Aircraft, manufacturing jet engines. He had a management position for several years there, so he has supervisory experience, he pointed out.
He has never held elected office before, but Merrill has run for a seat on the Mount Abe school board three times, and a seat on the Bristol selectboard once as well. He said he has also been active in a number of community groups in recent years, including the Shriners and the Masonic lodge in Bristol, and has served as a coordinator of Meals on Wheels in Bristol and Middlebury.
Merrill said that one important thing he would bring to the school board is a familiarity with Robert’s Rules of Order and with state laws about running public meetings.
“They need somebody who knows how to manage,” he said. “I’m used to holding a gavel.”
He also said that he would be open to more public comment than the current board; he thinks it should be easier for the public to give the board feedback on issues.
“That’s probably my major reason for running,” Merrill said.
Farnsworth said he would be “the new kid on the block” at school board meetings.
He is running for the board out of a parent’s interest. His youngest daughter, Taylor, started seventh grade last fall.
Farnsworth said he was active in the Bristol Elementary School community while she was a student there, and hopes to continue being involved.
“I see it as a next step,” he said. “I enjoy being involved in the community and I want to stay involved.”
Farnsworth, 45, is a field engineer for IBM, and he said he has held management positions in the past. He has never held elected office, but he said he has helped with fund-raisers for school projects at BES, and coached elementary school teams.
Farnsworth has also volunteered with the Three Day Stampede toward the Cure for Cystic Fibrosis, a Bristol-based annual event to raise money for research into the disease.
“That fund-raiser really brings out the sense of community in everybody,” he said of the Stampede.
The Mount Abe budget is one concern of Farnsworth’s. He thinks he can bring a little experience to the table, but said no one could be completely prepared for service on the school board.
“I know it’s tough. I’ve been involved in budgets in my own line of work, but this is obviously a lot more people,” Farnsworth said.
He has little direct experience with the work of the school board, but if elected, he hopes to be a valuable contribution to the board. “I see it as a challenge,” Farnsworth said. “It’s something that piques my interest.”
The Mount Abe school board seat is the only contested election Bristol voters will decide on Town Meeting Day, but a few other offices also will be on the ballot.
A two-year seat and a three-year seat on the selectboard are open, as are a one-year and a three-year term on the Bristol Elementary School board.
Alan Huizenga is running for the three-year seat on the selectboard that is now held by Warren Baker, who decided not to run again. Huizenga has never held elected office, he said, but he has long been involved in the community. Huizenga said he is running for selectboard because he hopes to help with nuts-and-bolts issues the town will probably have to deal with in the future.
“I see the town facing some growth issues in terms of its infrastructure,” Huizenga said.
Huizenga was involved in planning issues in the area in the 1990s. He was on the Addison County Regional Planning Commission for about five years, he said, and was on the planning commission of the village of Bristol until it was dissolved in 1994.
Huizenga, 45, grew up in Monkton and attended Mount Abe. Except for a few years in New Jersey after college, he has lived in the Bristol area all his life. Huizenga said that his wife, Melodie, has served on the Bristol Elementary School board in the past and has been supportive of his decision to run for selectboard.
The end of the village of Bristol as a separate entity came only a few years after his children were born, so he had less time to pursue other kinds of volunteer work at that time.
“I took that opportunity to back off on some of my community service,” he said. Now that his son, Alex, is 18 and his daughter, Jill, is 16, he hopes to become involved in town business once again.
Huizenga has personal experience with at least one recent issue. He is the president of Green Mountain Engineering, a Williston-based engineering consultancy. In October 2006, the selectboard hired him to develop plans to expand the town’s wastewater treatment capacity. Plans were put on hold when the board found that any system would cost significantly more than they had expected, so his work on the project never got as far as designing a system.
In addition to plans for a waste treatment system, Huizenga is also interested in several other issues the selectboard may have to address in the coming years, including the renovation of Holley Hall and ongoing problems with storm water in the downtown area.
Incumbent Sharon Compagna is the only candidate running for the two-year seat on the selectboard. Compagna was appointed to serve at a few meetings in the seat of her late husband, Armand Compagna, who died in January 2007 after a brief illness, and Sharon Compagna was elected to the year remaining of the term at the following town meeting. She has lived in Bristol for more than four decades and seen a lot of day-to-day issues of municipal government firsthand.
On the Bristol Elementary School board, two board members will likely switch seats.
Susan Stewart now holds a one-year seat, and Elin Melchior now holds a three-year seat. Stewart was elected to her current term last year, but she is running for a longer, three-year term, according to Karen Wheeler at the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union. While Melchior, appointed in the spring of 2007 to fill out the remainder of a three-year term, is running for a vacant one-year seat.
In addition, there is another vacant one-year seat on the Bristol Elementary School board, since incumbent Meg Wendel has said that she is not running again. There is no candidate now running for the seat, so a board member will probably have to be appointed.