Shashok to take a pass on re-election to Middlebury selectboard

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury selectboard Vice Chairwoman Susan Shashok confirmed on Tuesday she won’t seek another three-year term this March, while the panel’s newest member, Farhad Kahn, said he would run for the post to which he was appointed last March.
The two incumbents’ plans lend some clarity to a Middlebury election picture that will come into full focus on Monday, Jan. 29, the date by which candidates for various municipal and school offices must hand in their petition papers to the town clerk’s office.
Shashok, an East Middlebury resident and owner/operator of the Caroline’s Dream skin care products company, was appointed to the Middlebury selectboard in 2011, succeeding Janelle Ashley. Shashok had been a longtime civic leader and a water system operator in East Middlebury prior to joining the board. She has established herself as a key player on the selectboard, first as leader of the town’s Recreation Committee and then as chairwoman of the Infrastructure Committee.
Last year, her colleagues elected her vice chairwoman of the selectboard.
“I’ve learned a lot,” Shashok said of her tenure on the panel, which has given her a lesson in local government.
It’s been a largely gratifying experience for Shashok, with a little frustration mixed in here and there.
“I started (on the board) one month after (Tropical Storm) Irene, and I have been working on the Middlebury River project the entire time, and it’s still not done yet,” she said of the natural disaster that ravaged portions of her community.
Shashok and others have been working on an East Middlebury Flood Resiliency Plan to keep the Middlebury River within its banks and hopefully prevent future flooding during major storms. Middlebury has been working in concert with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the state of Vermont, affected residents and the fishing community to design a multi-million-dollar project for the river, and local residents will likely be asked to shoulder some of the cost.
As chair of the Infrastructure Committee, Shashok has been given a first-hand look at what it takes to finance and complete a major construction project, whether it be major repairs to Creek Road or paving miles of municipal roads. She knows what goes into setting local water and sewer rates.
All of this knowledge has helped her better understand the logistics of the biggest task now before the selectboard: Replacement of the Merchants Row and Main Street rail bridges in downtown Middlebury. The previous, 1920s-era bridges at those locations were supplanted last summer by temporary spans. Workers are scheduled this spring to begin preliminary work on a $52 million plan to permanently replace the bridges with a concrete tunnel.
“We’ve come to a pretty good place on (the bridges project),” Shashok said, though she acknowledged ongoing concerns from some downtown merchants and property owners about the scope of the planned project and its potential impacts on downtown commerce and circulation during the next two or three years.
Shashok has played a role in many other weighty town issues during her time on the board, including the often-divisive debate over construction of the new municipal building at 77 Main St. and a new recreation center on Creek Road. Ultimately, a majority of townspeople in 2014 endorsed the $6.5 million plan, which included a Middlebury College offer to underwrite $4.5 million of the construction costs in return for the former municipal building/gym site at 94 Main St. and another town-owned parcel at 6 Cross St.
“Community-wise, that was the most polarizing,” she recalled of the municipal building debate.
Shashok hasn’t been afraid to part ways from majority opinion on some issues. For example, she wasn’t a fan of the Addison Natural Gas Project pipeline, which is currently being installed in parts of Middlebury.
But she stressed the selectboard has recorded unanimous votes on the vast majority of issues to come before it during her tenure. And in cases where consensus couldn’t be reached, members have been respectful of one another, according to Shashok.
“I worked very hard … to show people we can disagree without arguing,” Shashok said. “I think we’ve gotten really good on the board at sharing each others’ ideas and differences without going to that place that’s really uncomfortable for us and everyone else in the community.”
While Shashok said the past year has been one of the most enjoyable she’s experienced on the board, she’s decided not to seek another term. She wants to spend more time with her family. She also wants to focus more attention on her business.
“I need to put more time into it in order to keep it growing,” Shashok said. “Hopefully, it will pay off.”
She explained her current selectboard duties take a lot of her time. The job requires a lot more commitment than the two board meetings each month. There are regular subcommittee gatherings, occasional retreats, constituent calls and special meetings.
Shashok was recently diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and she’s been advised to reduce stress in her life.  Unburdening her schedule is part of her health strategy.
“I wouldn’t mind being able to read a couple of books,” she said with a chuckle, noting her current lack of spare time. “And I could use a little down time to take care of myself.”
And Shashok believes it’s beneficial for a town board to experience regular turnover. She wants to give someone else a chance to inject new energy an ideas into town affairs.
Candidates for elected local offices in Middlebury must gather at least 30 signatures on their petition papers and file them at the Middlebury town clerk’s office at 77 Main St. by the end of the business day on Monday, Jan. 29.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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