Four citizens seeking to join Middlebury selectboard make their case

MIDDLEBURY — The four candidates for a one-year vacancy on the Middlebury selectboard sat down on March 21 in front of their potential future colleagues for brief interviews, and all four earned positive reviews.
The six members of the Middlebury board will choose the seventh member at their meeting this Tuesday from among a field of candidates: One Dollar Market owner Farhad Khan, former Selectmen Gary Baker and Travis Forbes, and Addison County Economic Development Corporation (ACEDC) finance director Jennifer Molineaux.
The vacancy was created when Selectwoman Donna Donahue resigned earlier this month.
Selectman Victor Nuovo joined other board members thanking the four seeking the seat for running, praising their presentations and qualifications, and urging them to run again or serve the town in some other capacity if they were not appointed this week.
“I’m very impressed with all four of you,” Nuovo said. “It’s nice to know you have to make a choice and can’t go wrong.”
The selectboard at its regular meeting last week asked each candidate to make a brief opening statement and then answer questions.
Molineaux — also the treasurer of the Addison County courts and a producer of the Middlebury Community Television show “Middlebury Five-O,” which stars her husband, Middlebury police Officer Chris Mason — cited her experience as a bookkeeper and as an advisor with the ACEDC.
At the development corporation, Molineaux said she often tells new and prospective business owners they must establish a budget and work within it, asking the question, “What can you do with the resources you have?”
That background would help her do the same in the public sector, she said, where Middlebury, like all towns, must also operate within financial constraints.
“I’d love to do that for the town,” Molineaux said.
Selectwoman Susan Shashok asked all the candidates if they would volunteer to serve the town even if they weren’t the selectboard’s choice to fill the vacancy.
Molineaux said she would like to continue at MCTV, but also look for other opportunities.
“I would apply myself as necessary,” she said.
Molineaux also spoke at length about the long-term benefits of passenger rail service coming to Middlebury, something she foresaw as creating a new tourism market for the town and also opening up possibilities for more telecommuters to work in Middlebury.
Asked about what committee assignments she might prefer if appointed, Molineaux answered, “Send me where you want.”
Baker, a longtime local insurance agent, offers the most related civic experience. He served on the New Haven Planning Commission from 1975 to 2003, much of that time as its chairman, and also served as New Haven’s delegate to the Addison County Regional Planning Commission for three years.
Baker joined the Middlebury Planning Commission in 2003 and served there until 2007, when he joined the Middlebury Development Review Board for a five-year stint. In 2012, Baker ran unopposed for a one-year term on the selectboard before winning a three-year term on the board in 2013. However, he lost his 2016 race for another term in a crowded field.
Baker cited his business background as a plus and emphasized his years of experience and working relationships with selectboard members.
“I’ve served the towns I’ve lived in since 1975,” Baker said, citing an “easy transition” if he were to return to the board.
Baker is already serving on a committee that has nearly completed an update of Middlebury’s policies and procedures, and said he would like to stay on the panel regardless of the board’s decision on his return as a selectman.
“It’s tedious,” he joked, “but we’re getting there.”
Forbes was elected to the selectboard in 2010 as a write-in candidate and was re-elected in 2013; he served on the town’s public works subcommittee. He is currently taking over the family business, Case Street Redi-Mix Inc.
Forbes won re-election in 2013, but resigned from the board in July of 2014, citing personal and professional time commitments and frustration over what he said was his inability to effect operations at the Middlebury Department of Public Works.
In his letter of interest for the open position Forbes cited as reasons for his resignation family problems and the tragic on-the-job death of an employee.
Case Street Redi-Mix in the past has been involved with disputes with the town regarding sidewalk contracts.  
However, Forbes said in his letter those issues are behind him, and selectboard members last week praised his knowledge of the construction business as valuable and said they had a good working relationship with him.  
Forbes last week touched on the past, and said his experience would be put to good use if he returned.
“I’ve got a little history with the town, some good and some not so good,” Forbes said. “But I’m looking forward to getting back to it.”
Forbes said he would again like to work on the Public Works Committee if appointed to the selectboard, and whether he was selected or not he believed his background in the trades could help the town on its rail bridges replacement committee.
“I live in the truck all summer,” Forbes said.
As Khan sat down before the board to speak last week, Selectboard Chairman Brian Carpenter noted the half-dozen letters written to the board on Khan’s behalf.
“I’m impressed with the number of letters of support,” Carpenter said.
Khan and his wife have three children attending Middlebury public schools, and he has lived in Vermont for 26 years and in Middlebury for 21.
He acknowledged he was not the most experienced candidate on municipal issues.
“I am a fast learner, and I am very dedicated,” Kahn said. “I would be honored to serve in anything you offer me.”
Asked about Middlebury’s retail sector, especially given its issues since the loss of Ames Department Store as a magnet for out-of-town shoppers, Khan said the town should try to do its best to find a similar replacement, including possibly offering incentives.
“We have to have something that is an anchor to Middlebury,” he said.
Khan has volunteered his time to two major causes: He is the past two-term president of the Islamic Society of Vermont, and was vice president of Kids 4 Peace Vermont, an interfaith organization that brings Muslim and Israeli children together to a Vermont camp. Khan said he would like to continue serving the community.
“Now that I’m done with those things I have nothing to do,” Kahn said. 

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