Middlebury Selectman Keeler to step down

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury Selectman Don Keeler will not run for re-election this March, citing a desire to at least temporarily take a break from town government activities and give someone else a chance to serve the community.
“I thought long and hard about it,” Keeler said during an interview last week. “I just think that with the six years I’ve served, along with the six years I served during the late 1970s and early 1980s, I’ve done my part. It’s time for some new blood.”
Keeler’s will be one of three posts on the seven-member Middlebury selectboard that will be up for grabs during the municipal elections on Town Meeting Day. Incumbent Selectwoman Janelle Ashley’s latest three-year term also expires, as well as a term vacated last fall by former Selectman Bill Perkins. The balance of Perkins’ term is being filled by appointed Selectman Nick Artim, who has said he will run for the spot next March.
Ashley said last week she was “leaning toward running one more time.” She and others will need to make a decision by Monday, Jan. 25, when nomination petitions are due at the Middlebury town clerk’s office. Candidates must gather at least 30 signatures on their petitions, according to Middlebury Town Clerk Ann Webster.
Whoever is elected will join a board that has made some tough decisions in recent years and has more challenges ahead of it. The selectboard last week approved, for public hearing, a town budget that calls for a level municipal tax rate for the second year in a row. The board also this year saw a level grand list and the departure of some major local employers, including Monahan Filaments, which only a few years ago employed more than 100 people. The selectboard will recommend to voters this March that the town eliminate the machinery and equipment tax as a means of stimulating more business growth.
Keeler cited the recent business sector setbacks as one of his major disappointments of his past term.
“We need to start providing places for people to work,” Keeler said. “We can’t just rely on a few of the larger employers … to keep paying the way. I hope the economy improves in the next year or two.”
Keeler believes the town has a lot to offer entrepreneurs.
“We have great water and sewer (services),” Keeler said. “I don’t understand why we’re not attracting more businesses.”
While Keeler leaves without seeing as much economic development success as he would’ve liked, he exits pleased with how he and his colleagues met its other challenges, He noted, for example, that the long-discussed Cross Street Bridge is scheduled to become a reality late this year.
“I was on the board when we appropriated the first $25,000 to study an in-town bridge at the current location,” Keeler said. “I saw the early progression (of the bridge project) and will hopefully see it to completion.”
He said he exits with no gripes or regrets.
“I always left the meetings feeling positive,” Keeler said. “I think the board did an exceptionally good job.”
Keeler said he plans to take a breather from public service after quite an extensive run. Along with having served on the selectboard in two different eras, he is also a veteran of the ID-4 school board, the UD-3 school board and the Addison Central Supervisory Union school board.
“Hopefully, we will get some younger people involved,” Keeler said.
Will he return to local elective office? Don’t bet against it.
“I’m leaving my options open right now,” said Keeler, an avid local sports fan and a deputy with the Addison County Sheriff’s Department.

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