Deadline nears for local candidates

MIDDLEBURY — Incumbent Middlebury selectboard members Dean George, Susan Shashok and Donna Donahue all confirmed last week that they will run re-election on Town Meeting Day, when they could be challenged by candidates who have until 5 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 26, to file the necessary petition papers with 30 signatures at the town clerk’s office.
Meanwhile, the field is looking more open for those wanting to serve on the UD-3 school board, which oversees Middlebury Union middle and high schools. Incumbent board members Lucy Schumer of Middlebury, Chris Eaton of Weybridge and Erik Remsen of Shoreham recently announced they will not be seeking additional three-year terms this March.
As of late last week, only George, Shashok and Donahue had taken out nomination papers to run for the Middlebury selectboard, according to Town Clerk Ann Webster. So it remains to be seen whether there will be interest approaching the level that existed for last year’s selectboard races. Fanned by what turned out to be a very polarizing proposal to build new town offices and a recreation facility, eight candidates emerged for three positions on the board. Brian Carpenter and Laura Asermily each won three-year terms, while George won a one-year spot.
This year, George is seeking another one-year term created by the resignation last summer of incumbent Selectman Travis Forbes. Donahue — appointed to the board when Forbes stepped down — and Shashok are seeking three-year terms.
George had been prepared to step down this March after 19 years of service.
“I hadn’t given it a lot of thought,” George said of the possibility of re-upping. “But a good number of friends encouraged me to think about it. This one-year opportunity opened itself up and it made good sense for me at this time.”
The more he thought about it, the more he believed another year would allow him to help bring to fruition a couple of big items on the board’s agenda. Among them are the aforementioned new town offices and recreation facility, both slated to be built starting this spring. There’s also the scheduled replacement of Middlebury’s two downtown rail overpasses, a project that was also to start this spring. But that work has been delayed until next year in light of a recent review of the plans that suggests the job might cost as much as triple the $18 million originally forecast. George would like to help the town get a handle on that project.
Shashok, an East Middlebury business owner and longtime civic volunteer, is concluding her fourth year on the selectboard.
“I find the work interesting, challenging and customer service-oriented, which are all on my list of favorite things,” she said. “Talking about budgets is not really fun, but discovering ways to make a budget work more efficiently with less money sure can make me smile.
“Assisting residents or businesses to navigate our governmental process, regardless of whether we agree on issues, is something I find very rewarding,” she added.
Shashok is proud of the committee work she has done during her tenure, helping to improve the town’s parks and recreation offerings, and Middlebury Community Television. She is also a member of a group that is working on ways to reduce the potential for flooding along the Middlebury River in East Middlebury. She is also closely following the Vermont Gas pipeline proposal, as well as a nascent effort to build some sort of economic development project behind the Ilsley Library.
While the board saw its share of heated exchanges last year regarding the town offices/recreation center projects, Shashok noted the panel ultimately got its work done.
“So many times it is easy to focus on when selectboard members may disagree,” she said. “The revealing truth is that we vote unanimously 95 percent of the time. This reflects a conscious effort to listen, interact and progress together as a unit. How lucky Middlebury is to have people willing to do that for its benefit and I hope voters allow me the opportunity to return for another three years.”
Meanwhile, Donahue is hoping for success in her first run for the selectboard. The board back on Sept. 9 picked her from among four residents seeking to fill Forbes’ vacancy until Town Meeting Day 2015, at which point the remaining year on the term will be up for grabs. Donahue is instead targeting a three-year spot, while George is eyeing the one-year term.
Donahue is a marketing official with the National Bank of Middlebury and former president of the Better Middlebury Partnership. She ran unsuccessfully in 2014 for a seat representing Middlebury in the Vermont House, but hopes voters will allow her to continue to serve them locally on the selectboard.
“Since my appointment to the board in September, I have had the opportunity to work on many projects and issues important to the town of Middlebury,” she said. “It has felt really good to be part of a body that works together toward sustaining and building a strong community. It has also been a revelation.”
She noted the board does a lot more work than just the big ticket items — like building projects — that make the headlines. There’s work on the budget, issuing a variety of licenses and advocating for the town at the state level, to mention a few other things on the board’s plate.
“I think the public sees the high-profile things going on in town … but on a daily basis there is so much more going on that is less visible and vital to the town’s well-being, and the selectboard works on these things as a group and in various committees in conjunction with the town manager and own officials,” she said, giving kudos to municipal staff.
Donahue wants to continue to pursue her priority of making Middlebury “a better place to live, work, play and do business.”
“My goal and vision for the town is that, but behind those words are many layers of challenges,” she said. “How do we balance so many diverse needs like education, health and human services, transportation and infrastructure support and keep tax rates down? How do we develop and attract jobs to our area? How do we respond to an aging population and lower paying jobs? My answer is work hard and see challenge as an opportunity to effect positive change that addresses these issues. The great thing about local government, unlike state government, is you can be responsive more quickly.”
Looking a few years into the future, Donahue is excited at the prospect of seeing new town offices and recreation facilities, the potential of new business opportunities taking root behind the Ilsley Library, and a commitment — through Middlebury’s new Office of Business Development & Innovation — to boost economic development in town.
“It is a great time to serve on the selectboard and to have the opportunity to contribute to Middlebury’s well-being,” she said. “I hope voters will put me in the position to do that for the next three years.”
In addition to the three selectboard seats, here is the list of other elected positions in the Middlebury area that will be in play on Town Meeting Day:
•  UD-3 board: Schumer, Eaton and Remsen will be stepping down from three-year terms. Mark Perrin and Robert Ritter, both of Middlebury, have indicated they will run for re-election to three-year terms. Rick Scott of Bridport has confirmed he will run for re-election to a one-year term on the board representing his town.
• ID-4 school board. Incumbent Matthew Landis’ three-year term on the Mary Hogan Elementary School board expires this March.
• Ilsley Library board member Chris Waters is concluding a five-year term. That seat — and all subsequent terms on the board — will be offered in three-year increments.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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