Gary Baker seeks return to Middlebury selectboard

MIDDLEBURY — Former Middlebury Selectman Gary Baker hopes to return to the board this March by winning one of two spots up for grabs on Town Meeting Day, March 6.
As the Addison Independent went to press on Friday, Baker and incumbent Selectman Farhad Khan were the only residents to have confirmed their plans to run for the board. Incumbent Selectwoman Susan Shashok has decided not to run for re-election.
Candidates for local offices have until next Monday, Jan. 29, to file their petition papers at the Middlebury town clerk’s office at 77 Main St.
Baker, an independent insurance representative, has a long history of public service to Middlebury, New Haven (where he has owned property) and Addison County as a whole.
Locally, his civic resume includes stints on the Middlebury Planning Commission (2003-2007), chairman of the Middlebury Development Review Board (2007-2012), the Middlebury Board of Listers (2008-2011), and the Middlebury selectboard (2012-2016).
He’s learned a lot during those years.
“I’d like to use my knowledge for the benefit of the town,” Baker said.
Baker ran for re-election in 2016, but finished 61 votes shy of winning one of the three available seats in what was a five-person race that year.
He sought to join the board again last year when incumbent Selectwoman Donna Donahue resigned from her post. The selectboard appointed Khan to take her place.
Asked what is prompting him to run again, Baker cited a desire to serve the community and to help local government work smoothly. He explained he originally ran for the selectboard in 2012for a one-year term that he hoped would give him a sense of whether he would seek a longer tenure.
“I figured if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have to run again,” Baker recalled. “But I enjoyed it, and ran for another three-year term.”
While he has been off the selectboard for a couple of years, Baker has stayed current with town affairs through his service on the town’s Infrastructure Committee and its Health & Public Safety panel. He’s also serving on a group that’s revamping Middlebury’s municipal policies and procedures manual.
When he’s not attending board meetings as an audience member, he’s watching them on MCTV.
It had been his intent to serve at least two, three-year terms on the board, and he hopes to fulfill that goal with a successful candidacy this March.
Baker enjoyed dealing with many weighty issues the selectboard confronted during his tenure. There was the effort to recruit a developer of the so-called “Economic Development Initiative” property behind the Ilsley Library. There were consistent efforts to keep the annual municipal budget increases as low as possible. And there was the polarizing debate over how the community should replace its aging municipal building at 94 Main St.
The community in 2014 ultimately OK’d a $6.5 million plan to build a new municipal building at 77 Main St. and a new recreation center off Creek Road. Middlebury College agreed to underwrite $4.5 million of the construction costs in exchange for the former municipal building/gym property at 94 Main St. and another town-owned parcel at 6 Cross St.
Some residents urged the selectboard to reject the college offer and instead rebuild the town offices at 94 Main St. Others rallied behind the plan and the resulting financial assistance from the college.
Baker was a fan of the plan to build at 77 Main, and he believes it has worked out well for both the community and the college.
“Everyone on the committee wanted (the municipal building) to stay where it was, but it just wasn’t possible, financially,” Baker said.
He agreed the looming, multi-year effort to replace Middlebury’s two downtown rail bridges with a tunnel (see related story on Page 3) is the biggest issue currently before the town. He believes the work is overdue and supports getting the current plan under way as soon as possible.
“I wish we’d get on with it,” Baker said, noting several delays in the history of planning a project now expected to begin this spring and last into 2021, with the most severe traffic impacts slated for a 10-week period during the summer of 2020.
“If we had started the work when we were supposed to, it would have been done by now.”
Completing the project will not only be good for Middlebury, but also for rail traffic along the western corridor. He said the tunnel, with its more generous vertical clearance, will allow better access for larger freight train cars.
“If we don’t do it, we could become a backwater some day,” he said.
As a member of the town’s Infrastructure Committee, Baker has been monitoring the deterioration of a major water main serving large businesses in the industrial park off Exchange Street. The 8-inch ductile iron water main, installed during the 1970s, has been failing and thus interrupting service for industries — like Vermont Hard Cider — that are very dependent on water.
Town officials are considering a $1 million water main replacement bond that citizens could field as soon as this fall.
“We need to do something about it,” Baker said.
He’s looking forward to March 6 and hopes he earns enough votes to re-join the board. Baker wishes more people’s names would appear on local election ballots.
“I think it’s a duty for people to do this, and I wish more people thought that way,” Baker said. “Our system, at all levels, depends on it.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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