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Seeley seeks to bring new blood to Middlebury board

MIDDLEBURY — Heather Seeley admits she doesn’t have past experience leading a town — and she’s pleased to put that on her résumé as one of eight candidates campaigning for three spots up for grabs this March on the Middlebury selectboard.
“I don’t have a lot of executive board experience, and I think that can be an advantage,” she said on Thursday. “I’m eager and willing to look at things from a fresh perspective and with an open mind.”
Seeley, 40, is business manager for Seeley Earth Moving, operated by her husband, John. The couple is also involved in Seeley Sugarworks in Middlebury. Heather Seeley also provides bookkeeping services for some private clients and is a photographer. She and John have two young children.
As busy as she is, Seeley would like to add selectboard duties onto her growing list of responsibilities. She decided to run after hearing of the availability of a one-year term on the March 4 ballot.
“One year presented a perfect opportunity for me to become involved,” she said.
Seeley acknowledged her spirits sank a little when she heard incumbent Selectman Dean George would run for the same spot, but she did not let the prospect of tough competition dissuade her.
“That’s the spot that fits best for me,” she said. “It will be tough, but it’s important that voters have a choice.”
Seeley and George will run for the one-year spot, the other six candidates are competing for a three-year term on the board.
And Seeley believes her race will give voters a clear choice on the hottest issue before Middlebury right now: The plan to build new town offices and a new recreation center. Seeley is opposed to the current, $6.5 million plan to build a new municipal building at 77 Main St. and a new recreation center off Creek Road. The plan calls for Middlebury College to acquire the current municipal building/gym site at 94 Main St. (to be cleared and turned into a park), along with another town-owned parcel at 6 Cross St. In return, the college would assume $4.5 million in construction debt on the two new structures.
Seeley objects to the process through which the plan was developed and believes the town should engage in a less costly effort to renovate or replace its municipal building and gym at 94 Main St.
“I felt the process, from the beginning, was flawed, rushed and didn’t reflect the views put forward in previous (town) votes,” Seeley said, referring to past plans that called for the buildings to stay at their current location.
She has a particular affinity for the municipal gym, a structure she said is well used and centrally located. Seeley would like to see the gym renovated.
“I’d like to see us make it more energy efficient, and not tear it down,” said Seeley, whose son regularly plays basketball in the gym. “It’s a little drafty, but seems to be a good, sound building. It’s a great resource.”
Seeley conceded that building a new town office building and renovating the gym at 94 Main St. would likely cost taxpayers more money than the $2 million they would be asked to assume on the current plan to be decided on Town Meeting Day. But she believes the town should look at every possible means of making a project work on-site.
Town officials and committees looked at alternative financing of onsite renovations for at least a year, and after finding none turned to the college last year for help.
Seeley said town officials can learn some lessons from the fiery debate over the project.
“I wish we had had the foresight to put away money (for town buildings) like we have with the fire equipment fund,” Seeley said, referring to the 2 cents added each year to the municipal tax rate to finance major fire apparatus purchases. “If I’m elected, I would like to change the way we think about projects, to think of them more as a business would. Let’s become a culture of saving for anticipated infrastructure repairs rather than borrowing.”
As a member of the local business community, Seeley said she’s interested in promoting economic development in town. She said she supports Middlebury’s new Office of Business Development and Innovation, and continues to evaluate the natural gas pipeline project that will extend from Colchester to Middlebury. Seeley is not sure at this point whether she’s a fan or an opponent of the project, which has been approved by the Vermont Public Service Board. The project could be delivering natural gas to businesses in Middlebury’s industrial park in less than a year.
Cheaper natural gas would be a cost saver for business and residential users, but would also present some environmental concerns, according to Seeley.
“For me, there is strong evidence on either side of the issue, and I’m having a hard time making a decision,” she said.
Seeley vowed to work hard if elected. And she would like to join incumbent Selectwoman Susan Shashok to give an additional woman’s voice to the board’s work.
“I’m doing this in part to improve the diversity of the selectboard, to bring a new perspective and to become part of the process,” Seeley said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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