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Editorial: Wanted: A candidate for Midd

Help wanted: Independent-minded resident willing and unafraid to devote hours of community service time to lay the foundation for a stronger Middlebury. Challenges: to imagine new opportunities for the town in changing times, and convince residents and community leaders to see each issue as an opportunity, not an obstacle. When and what: to fill the mid-year vacancy of Middlebury Selectwoman Janelle Ashley, who is relocating to Whiting. Compensation: pats on the back for a job well done, and knowledge that you’ve helped your community.
Interested or, at least, curious?
Let’s add a few more details:
• To serve two terms is more than ample to satisfy any sense of obligation to the town and other selectboard members. It is tempting for many members to serve more, but two terms keeps the commitment manageable and prompts other residents to serve as well.
• Ashley is leaving the board after serving seven-and-a-half years, during which she played an integral part in restructuring the town’s recreation department (see story on Page 1 in the Aug. 25 issue.) She is moving with her family to a more rural setting (in order for her son to raise sheep). She said she was thrilled to be a part of the board and “being such a central part of what’s happening in the Middlebury community.” She did not leave the post disgruntled, but rather proud of her contributions and proud of the work the selectboard has done over the past decade. That’s not insignificant. Applicants should note that the board, while facing significant challenges, has worked well together and made significant progress.
• The most significant accomplishment of the past decade was forging the agreement with Middlebury College to help build the Cross Street Bridge, and then to win town tax support to complete it. The fact that it has been such an unqualified success in every way is also a testament to thorough discussions, excellent planning and competent administration — not exactly how most Americans would define “government” these days, and yet those words do aptly reflect Middlebury’s town government. That is not only encouraging as a prospective candidate for the selectboard, but downright impressive.
But that’s history; what’s next on the agenda? Lots, and it’s exciting stuff:
• For infrastructure, in the next few years, the town must replace the railway underpasses on Main Street and Merchants Row in the downtown. Plans are already being discussed to put a tunnel and cover over the exposed railway on the Green (between the church and fountain), thereby significantly adding to the green space in that area — greatly enhancing that aesthetic. It’s a vision that should be pressed with conviction and tenancity.
• Along with that same project, the town must re-envision the Main Street entrance to the Marble Works Business District — an increasingly vital aspect of the downtown that hosts a vibrant Farmers’ Market, future festivals, an enhanced and potentially beautiful riverbank along the Otter Creek, high-end residential units, and a revitalized commercial area. Making this area a seamless extension of the downtown will help create a much stronger downtown core, which, in turn, attracts more retail and commercial tenants. It’s a win-win for shoppers and residents.
• Re-imaging the municipal building also must be addressed. In the past, residents have rejected plans to pour more money into the existing building; but reconstruction efforts at that same site still dominate the discussion. Are there other options that might not pose such a financial burden on town taxpayers? New thoughts are needed.
• The community also has the unparalleled opportunity to pursue economic development via a closer partnership with the college, and has already taken steps in that direction. Seeing these early initiatives to a successful conclusion and helping Middlebury build its economic base will be one of the more dynamic and creative initiatives any selectboard member could hope to pursue.
In sum, the town has been on a roll for the past decade and its future is strong. A candidate who can image what’s needed a decade or two down the road, who is willing to think out of the box, and who has a desire to see Middlebury maintain its luster well into the 21st century would find a receptive public and plenty of work already teed up for a few homeruns. If you’re up for the task, or know of someone who is, now’s the time to step forward: the selectboard is accepting letters of interest from those very candidates and will review those interested at its Sept. 13 meeting.

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