September 18, 2014

Lister race gives voters rare choice

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Contest emerges for three-year term

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Though elected, listers quietly provide oversight rather than create policy-making controversy.

Listers oversee property assessments and hear property owners' appeals. Members of Williston's three-person Board of Listers occasionally appraise individual properties but mostly watch over the work done by town staff. At least one lister is up for re-election each year, but contested seats are uncommon.

This year, however, a race has emerged, albeit in part because of an accident in timing. Linda Ladd, an incumbent seeking her third three-year term, is running against Charles Coney, a retired accountant and former real estate broker. Gerald Huetz is running uncontested for a two-year term.

Ladd said she thought she was going to move and told as much to Dick Ransom, the town's assistant assessor. Ransom mentioned the potential open seat when he went to inspect Coney's property. Ransom said he's always on the lookout for lister candidates, and it appeared at the time that Coney would simply fill the vacancy. But then Ladd's plans to move fell through and the contest was on.

Though she'd like to continue to serve, Ladd said she is resigned to the possibility of losing the seat.

"It's been a great ride, and if it comes to an end, it comes to an end," she said.

Coney said he did not set out to unseat the incumbent. He just wanted to become more involved in the community and continue using his accounting and real estate skills.

Coney moved to Williston in 2005. He is a retired certified public accountant with nearly 20 years of experience. He has also worked as a real estate broker and supervised two Coldwell Banker offices. He currently works part-time at the Williams-Sonoma store in Burlington.

Ladd grew up in Williston and has lived here for most of her life. She is employed by the Vermont Center for Geographic Information, a Waterbury-based nonprofit that provides computer mapping tools and services. She has been a lister for the past six years.

Listers have no policy-making duties, making it tough for voters to choose candidates based on issues. This race, therefore, seems to boil down to experience and background.

Ladd points to her six years as lister and intimate knowledge of Williston as a longtime resident.

"My advantage is that I've been there before," she said.

Coney said his experience as a CPA and real estate broker makes him a good candidate.

"I probably don't have the visibility (of Ladd) but I'm qualified," he said.

Listers perform a key oversight role, periodically reviewing property values and hearing grievances from property owners. The job is especially important now with Williston in the middle of a town-wide reappraisal.

This reappraisal is a statistical analysis rather than a door-to-door inspection of each home and business. But regardless of the method, the idea is to make sure all homes and businesses are accurately valued so property taxes are equitable.

That is a big job in Williston, which for a town of roughly 8,200 has an unusually large tax base because of an outsized commercial sector. According to Ransom, the town has nearly 4,000 properties with a collective value of more than $1 billion.

Ransom said the last contest for lister he could remember was in 1995, when he ran for the position.

"We have three very good candidates for two positions," he said. "I'm glad to see people are interested. It's just unfortunate (the contest) turned out to be someone I respect against someone I really like."

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Town teen spends week helping in Honduras

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By Tim Simard
Observer Staff

A week of sun and warm temperatures can do a world of wonders for someone tired of winter in Vermont. Combine it with helping to build a classroom in a poor country, and someone can do a world of wonders for others.

Williston teen Brittany Mount, 13, had the opportunity to do just that in January when the eighth grader accompanied a local aid group, Hands to Honduras, to the Central American country. Mount and a volunteer group of 35 men, women and children – including Mount’s grandparents, Dave and Fran Mount of Burlington – helped build a new classroom in a very poor town.

“It was a lot of work, but it was so much fun,” Mount said.

Mount traveled to Honduras as part of her eighth grade challenge project at Williston Central School. She also collected over 150 pounds of school supplies from both Williston Central and Allen Brook schools, as well as from a local Girl Scout troupe, to donate to the Honduran school.

Hands to Honduras has been in existence since 1998, after Hurricane Mitch destroyed much of the Honduran Coast. The program was created under the umbrella of Rotary International, but the Vermont program, run by the Charlotte-Shelburne Rotary Club, distinguishes itself from others. According to club member Linda Gilbert, the Vermont Hands to Honduras Tela Program, named after the town they visit, has been aiding in construction, medicine and other needs since 2004. This year, over 70 local volunteers traveled to Honduras.

“Our youngest volunteer was 8-and-a-half and our oldest was 78,” Gilbert said. “Everyone is a volunteer and everyone pays their own way.”

Mount’s grandfather, Dave, suggested Brittany take part in Hands to Honduras for her challenge. Dave Mount volunteered in Tela in 2007 and was changed by the experience.

The Mounts were part of the first group traveling to Honduras this year. They arrived in the country on Saturday, Jan. 26, for their weeklong service. They traveled an hour by bus from the airport to get to Tela. Once there, they had a day to relax before work began.

Mount’s group was assigned to build a new classroom in the rural village of Jazmin. To get there, the group had to take a “really, really bumpy road,” she said.

Mount said the classroom they were replacing was tiny, like a hut with no walls, and a grass roof. Past Hands to Honduras groups had visited Jazmin and built other, better-standing structures for the school. The 2008 group continued that effort.

Mount was surprised at the level of poverty in the region.

“They were super poor,” she said. “They lived in small shacks, sometimes with 20 people living in a small room.”

The group’s job in the first days was laying the foundation for the new classroom, as well as moving huge rocks to make way for the building. Mount played a lot with local children early on, until the heavy lifting was done.

“Every day we had over 30 children playing, jumping rope, playing cat’s cradle,” she said. “I tried lifting one of the big rocks one day, but it didn’t work out so well.”

Once the foundation was finished, she collected small rocks to fill in the gaps between mortar and bricks.

Mount said that the classrooms did have blackboards, some paper and school supplies, but her collection of 150 pounds of pens, paper, rulers, and more was a great help. The Mounts traveled with extra suitcases to make sure they could carry all of the supplies.

The supplies were given to the school principal on the last day of work. In an effort to avoid a “small riot” from the locals, Mount kept the goods in the suitcases to avoid attention.

“There were always lots of people around the worksite,” Mount said. “A stuffed animal fell out of my backpack and I was swarmed by close to 50 people all wanting one. I gave away the five I had, but disappointed the other 45.”

Besides building another classroom, the Hands to Honduras group helped repair the home of an elderly woman. Mount said the woman lived in a run-down shack, and couldn’t get around well due to a bad leg. Because of this, she was badly malnourished.

The group was initially told not to rebuild the house, since it would be considered an insult to help. Still, the group felt obliged, Mount said.

“We ended up completely rebuilding her house as a bonus,” she said. “Once the neighbors saw what we were doing, they helped out, too.”

The group also chipped in to buy the woman a new wheelchair to help her get around more easily.

Understanding the locals

Mount said she takes Spanish at school, but only understood a little of what people were saying.

“Sometimes you understood what they said and they were very relieved,” she said.

Despite the language barrier, Mount said she was invited to two local homes for snacks. At one, she ran into a translation issue.

“They kept saying ‘cocoa’ and asking if we wanted some,” she said. “We said sure, thinking it was chocolate. It wasn’t chocolate. It was coconut.”

Mount said she tried it, but didn’t like the native Honduran coconuts, preferring the kind you can find in a supermarket.

“I found out it doesn’t look like it does in the movies,” she said.

On the last days of their trip, Mount and her grandparents visited Mayan ruins and a butterfly palace, but she got sick partway through the sightseeing.

“We were supposed to go to Macaw Mountain, but I was too busy throwing up,” she said. “That part wasn’t very fun.

She said the experience was an amazing one and that she can’t wait to travel again in the future. Mount’s grandfather is thinking about next year and the help he can bring. He’s proud of Brittany’s work and knows she learned a lot from the experience.

“She really got an opportunity to see the Third World,” Dave Mount said. “We saw a lot of Third World situations.”

Brittany Mount also sees it as a life-changing experience and, like her grandfather, looks to next year, as well.

“I’d like to go back and see the friends I made and help out people in countries that are less fortunate,” she said.

[Read more...]

Gay marriage debate comes to Williston

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By Tim Simard
Observer staff

Should Vermont change the civil union law and allow gay marriage? Local residents voiced their opinions on the matter when the debate came to Williston on Monday night for a two-hour public forum.

The Vermont Commission of Family Recognition and Protection, a state committee studying Vermonters' reactions to changes in the current civil union law, wrapped up its four-month, eight-stop tour through the state at the Williston Central School auditorium.

About 100 people, many of them gay and lesbian couples from around the Champlain Valley, attended the event, with more than 40 people voicing their opinions. The overwhelming majority spoke in favor of changing Vermont's civil union law to allow gay marriage. Speakers ranged from gay couples to heterosexual couples, from parents of gay individuals to a child from a gay household and from preachers to justices of the peace.

Only three individuals spoke out against changing the law, though commission chairman Tom Little, an attorney and former legislator, admitted some opposition groups have boycotted the proceedings because they feel the commission was unfairly set up.

Supporters spoke about how civil unions fall short when it comes to the financial and legal benefits of marriage, never mind the issue of equality.

"It's time to end the distinction. It's time to end this discrimination," said Maggi Hayes of Williston.

About the commission

The Vermont Commission of Family Recognition and Protection was created in July 2007 by Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, D-Windham County and Speaker of the House Gaye Symington, D-Jericho to gauge the public's reaction to gay marriage and civil unions.

In 2000, Vermont became the first state in the country to allow same-sex couples a civil union. Since then, more than 1,200 Vermont couples have joined in civil union, with more than 8,000 couples from other states and countries coming to Vermont to do the same.

Little, who was chairman of the House Judicial Committee during the civil union debate in 2000, said the commission hoped to study three topics during its statewide tour: First, are civil unions doing what they're supposed to do? Second, why is there a separate legal precedent for same-sex unions? Third, what's the current perspective on marriage?

Little said the hearings, which have been held in Johnson, Bennington, St. Albans and points in between, have seen public sentiment mostly in favor of gay marriage, though that could be a result of the opposition's boycott.

"We only see two, maybe three (opponents of civil unions and equal marriage rights) a meeting," Little said.

On the support side, Robyn Maguire, field director for the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force, said she's been encouraging same-sex couples to attend and give public statements. According to Maguire, the Task Force has been leading the fight for equal marriage. She believes that the current unions fall short of equality.

Civil unions do not provide social security survivor benefits. Also, states that do not recognize civil unions will not recognize a Vermont union. This can pose problems if a medical emergency arises.

"The intangible benefit of marriage is very valuable," Maguire said. "Marriage is universally understood."

The public speaks

After an hour-long informational meeting about the civil union and equal marriage debate, Little opened the proceedings to public comments. Some read statements and others spoke briefly without written aid.

Williston resident Carol Tandy spoke about getting a civil union in 2001 to her partner, Martha, on their 30th anniversary of being a couple. She brought up their concern about the lack of social security survivor benefits and next of kin status in states that don't recognize Vermont civil unions.

Tandy said some days it feels "ridiculous" and "preposterous" that some believe a gay couple wouldn't want the added benefits of marriage.

"Why wouldn't we want our full service rights as well?" she asked the commission. "It's now 2008. How long do we have to wait for our right to marry?"

Rev. Joan O'Gorman, of   Williston Federated Church, spoke about the first time she performed civil unions for gay couples. She said same-sex couples are happy to join in union, but want more.

"Each and every instance, these couples have desired the right to be married," O'Gorman said. "The legislature is in a good position now to allow same gender marriage."

John Grimm of Burlington said he and his wife of 10 years believe the right to marry is an equality issue.

"We can't believe we're still talking about this issue," Grimm said. "Separate is not equal."

Mike Armstrong of Essex Junction compared the freedom of marriage debate to the civil rights issues of the past. He believes that people will look back at this time period 40 years from now and be shocked that we discriminated in such a way.

"(President) Eisenhower had to force (Alabama Gov.) George Wallace to integrate schools," Armstrong said. "I don't think we want to put ourselves in the George Wallace category."

There were a few dissenting opinions as well. Phil Ronco said he believes the country is based on "biblical foundations" and that "homosexuality is immoral" as seen through church teachings.

Ronco added, "Those of us who are against gay marriage are also against the bullying and harassing of the gay community."

Charles Simon of Williston prefaced his statement by saying he was the "bump in the road" at the meeting. He argued for the traditional family structure and said this issue was "really about the children."

Jennifer Bradford of Hinesburg spoke after Simon, countering that her children were "thriving" in her same-sex household.

Looking ahead

With the hearings now complete, Little said the committee must compile the public opinions and submit the findings to the legislature this spring.

"We're going to try to present the facts as we find them and let the legislators decide what to do next," he said.

Since Vermont's law was enacted, several states have also accepted civil unions for same-sex couples. Connecticut, New Jersey and New Hampshire now allow them, with California and Oregon allowing what they call domestic partnerships. Only Massachusetts recognizes gay marriage in the United States.

[Read more...]

Selectboard (2-year-term) Candidate Profiles

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Sassorossi plays up her town governance experience

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

If an election is akin to a job interview, then Judy Sassorossi would be the confident candidate who touts her experience and says she can hit the ground running.
Sassorossi is the incumbent in a two-person contest for a three-year seat on the Williston Selectboard. She is running against Bob Blankenheim, a first-time candidate who asserts the town needs a break from business as usual.

Sassorossi has been a fixture in town governance for the past decade and a half. She is completing her first two-year term on the Selectboard. Before that, she served on the Williston Planning Commission for about 12 years and on a traffic study committee.

Sassorossi, who works as an employee benefits specialist for a South Burlington insurance brokerage, said she is often asked by companies she works with if she knows of someone who can fill an opening. So she easily frames her run for public office in terms of the private job market.

“When employers are looking for people, they are always looking for people with education and experience for the job they are going to fill,” she said. “And I think right now Williston really needs people with education and experience. If I was the employer in this situation, I’d want me for the job.”

Wearing an aqua sweater and sipping a diet soda, Sassorossi spoke about her life and fielded questions about issues facing Williston during an interview last week at Chef’s Corner Café Bakery.

Sassorossi grew up in tiny Madison, N.H., a town near Conway. Her school was so small that there were only five children in her elementary school class.

Her dad was road agent in Madison, a position akin to a public works director. Several of her friends served on municipal boards.

“So I just grew up very aware of municipal government, and that towns don’t run themselves,” she said.  
She and her husband, Kenn, have been married 33 years. They have two grown children and live in the Meadow Brook subdivision off Route 2A.

Sassorossi moved to Williston in 1985, when Taft Corners was still largely undeveloped. That area has since become a commercial hub that includes the town’s much-criticized big-box stores.

Much of that change took place during the dozen years Sassorossi served on the Planning Commission starting in 1993. The experience gave her a front-row view on the development wars that roiled Williston throughout the 1990s and the early part of this decade.

Not surprisingly, her positions are those of a hard-headed realist rather than someone who worries that Williston is viewed by some as the poster child for poorly planned development.  

“People often forget that we are really a nation of individual rights and responsibilities, and individual rights color a lot of what happens,” she said. “The town is not at liberty to pick and choose what business comes or goes. If a person comes to town with a project, and it meets the zoning and planning parameters, we have no choice but to approve it.”

On budget issues, Sassorossi is equally focused on nuts and bolts. She spoke about the need to continue basic services such as snowplowing and to maintain capital investments like fire trucks.

Her opponent has criticized the board for formulating the proposed municipal budget based on a 5 percent spending increase. He said the town should have started from scratch and justified each expenditure, as is done in the business world.

Sassorossi said Blankenheim clearly did not understand the town’s budget process before making the statement.

“I find it better to know about something before I criticize it,” she said. “To pay someone to sit down and rebuild a budget every year would be wasteful.”

The proposed landfill in Williston is another point of contention between Sassorossi and Blankenheim.
She said residents voted to host the facility and noted that the subsequent agreement with the Chittenden Solid Waste District has been worth millions of dollars in revenue and services for the town.

Blankenheim, who lives near the landfill’s proposed site, argues that the facility is not needed. He said it will reduce property values and threaten the environment.

The disagreement is more than an abstract policy difference: Sassorossi was on the Planning Commission in 1996 when it approved the subdivision where Blankenheim lives. The Chittenden Solid Waste District asked the commission to require the developer to notify homebuyers about the proposed landfill, but the commission declined.

Williston had no established process that would permit such a condition of approval, Sassorossi said. The decision to forgo the notification requirement was made based on advice from the town’s attorney.
“When you serve on a board, you have to go by the legal advice the town paid for,” she said.
Though she emphasizes her experience, Sassorossi acknowledged that “it is a little weird” to be considered the establishment candidate. 

“I’m a pretty independent thinker, and I always have been. I’ve never had an agenda on any board I’ve been on. I read the material and I give my dispassionate view. I try to facilitate us getting from where we are to where we want to be.”

CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE
Name: Judy Sassorossi
Address: 89 Hickory Hill Road
Age: 55

Number of years living in Williston: I’ve lived in Williston for 23 years.

Employer name and job description: I work for Fleischer Jacobs Group in South Burlington as an Employee Benefit Specialist. I work with companies throughout Vermont and the Northeast, of all sizes and types, helping them construct benefit packages for their employees.

Previous experience in elected or appointed positions, or community service: In Williston, I have served on the Williston Area Traffic Study Committee, the Planning Commission and the Selectboard. During my tenure on the Planning Commission, about 12 years, I worked with various subcommittees as we revised the Town Plan (as mandated by the state) every five years. In my tenure on the Selectboard I have worked on subcommittees reviewing the host town agreements for the landfill and transfer stations and the discharge ordinance, and have worked with staff on personnel policy.

What is the most important issue facing the town of Williston? How should the town address this issue?
There are several important issues facing the town, as would be expected in a town that is a focal point for growth. A portion of Williston’s land area is located within a triangle with points at the state’s largest private employer, the airport and an interstate exit. In real estate parlance this is location, location, location. Over the last 20 years, much thought and effort has gone into planning development in this area and it continues today. Growing pains are difficult; there is no doubt about that. One needs to keep in mind that we live in a land of private property rights, the town should guide development but it cannot stop it.

The town may face a financial squeeze over the next few years, with falling sales tax revenue and a potential recession reducing available funding for municipal services. If there is a budget crunch, would you cut services, raise property taxes, or do both?
Municipal government is a service entity. Unlike the private sector, which can choose to eliminate a product or division, town government is mandated to provide certain services. When it snows, we expect our roads to be plowed; when we sell property, we expect records to be on file at the Town Clerk’s office; when we call 911, we expect people to respond. Williston is very fortunate to have staff and board members committed to providing excellent service efficiently. We are also fortunate that more than half of our revenue comes from non-property tax sources. By spreading revenue sources, the effect of an adverse impact on any one is diminished. Please remember that the municipal taxes on a $300,000 home are less than the average cable television bill.

Some residents oppose a proposed landfill in Williston. The landfill would produce revenue for the town but those living nearby fear pollution and falling property values. Do you support or oppose constructing a landfill in Williston? Why?
The voters of Williston voted to host a regional landfill. A town meeting vote is binding upon town government. As a result of the vote the Selectboard at the time entered into a host town agreement with the Chittenden Solid Waste District. We have accepted millions of dollars in cash and services from CSWD, including the transfer of management responsibility for the capped landfills at the Redmond Road site to CSWD. Should CSWD come forward with plans to build a landfill at the site, it will be incumbent upon the boards of the town and the state regulatory agencies to ensure that there are no adverse impacts. Meanwhile, the host town agreements continue to be a valuable revenue stream for the town.

Williston has struggled over the past 20 years to balance commercial and residential growth with a desire to maintain the town’s small-town character. Is Williston growing at the right pace? Should the town tighten or loosen existing controls on growth?
Williston is probably the most experienced town in the state at managing growth. The Town Plan has evolved over the years to guide and structure growth in a manner that has allowed us to protect and acquire vital resources such as open space and various types of pedestrian paths. We have focused growth within the sewer district where services can be delivered efficiently, thereby keeping much of the land area of Williston open. The transition from rural community to regional growth center has been and continues to be a challenge. However, the policies we have in place guide development to areas where it can best be supported.

Census figures show most people who work in Williston don’t live here while most Willistonians commute to other towns. The situation is caused largely by a lack of jobs in town that pay people enough to afford Williston’s relatively high cost of housing. How can the town address this disconnect between employment and housing, which leads to traffic congestion and pollution?

Affordable housing is a county and statewide issue. The fastest growing areas in Vermont are the counties surrounding Chittenden County. The dense development at Taft Corners is a start at concentrating housing and commercial activity. We are just seeing the start of a new housing development in this area. The recent designation as a growth center will help give us the tools we need to complete the infrastructure and continue to develop in a smart growth manner.
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March 4 Town Election – Selectboard 2-year seat: Joel Klein

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Selectboard offers new opportunity for TV producer

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Joel Klein chose Williston when he decided to move away from Los Angeles. Now he hopes Williston chooses him.

Klein, a television producer by trade, is vying for a two-year term on the Selectboard. His opponent is Christopher Roy, a lawyer and native Vermonter with a lengthy record of public service.

Though he has never before held elected office and only moved here about six months ago, Klein said his experience – most notably as executive producer of the hit television show "Fear Factor" – will serve him well on the Selectboard. And because he is a newcomer, Klein said voters need not worry he has an agenda beyond seeking a stronger connection to his new hometown.

"I look at it as a positive because I'm coming in with fresh eyes and open ears," he said. "I'm not bringing any baggage into the situation. I don't have a gripe. I'm not here because there's this one issue and I want to fix it."

Klein talked about his background and views during an interview Monday morning at Bagels Plus. He wore a dark sweater and a perpetually bemused expression, fitting for someone who has spent most of his adult life in the entertainment industry.

As a boy growing up in Jamestown, N.Y., Klein knew before he hit his teens that he wanted to work in television.

He attended community and state college in New York before earning a master's degree in television, radio and film from Syracuse University.

Klein moved to Los Angeles in 1986 and landed a job as a production assistant on "Hollywood Squares." The show had name recognition but the job was less than glamorous: tasks included fixing a toilet and fetching a dog's lunch.

He steadily moved up the ranks, working as a writer, segment producer and finally executive producer. Klein said he has worked on about 85 shows during more than two decades in television, including pilots that never aired.

His recent credits include "Fear Factor," which tested contestants' ability to complete seemingly dangerous or stomach-turning tasks; "Scream Play," where teams reenacted stunts based on scenes from famous movies; and "E! Hollywood Hold'em," which combined poker-playing celebrities with a talk show.

Klein said he recently concluded that he had accomplished his goals in television. And he said he and his wife, Abby, were tired of Los Angeles and wanted a better place to raise their 10-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter.

During their research, Vermont kept appearing on best-places-to-live lists. The couple settled on Williston after looking at other towns in Chittenden County. They bought a home on Turtle Pond Road, in a small subdivision near the village's historic district.

Klein said he and his wife decided they would only move to a blue state. He is a self-described liberal who admires Vermont's civil union law and tradition of independence.

Klein said growth is the most important issue facing the town. He spoke of managing new development to maintain Williston's quality of life and said growth should remain concentrated around Taft Corners.

Those principles are already spelled out in the town's Comprehensive Plan and zoning ordinance. But he does propose one change: offer incentives that will draw small businesses to Williston so the town does not become populated solely by big-box stores.

Asked if he would raise taxes or cut services should the board face a budget shortfall, he said the decision would depend on the circumstances. When pressed, he said the town should raise taxes if the alternative is cutting an essential or popular service.

"This is where we live," he said. "I don't think we want to sit there and start lowering our quality of life to save $50. I think ultimately you pay for what you get."

Klein is now teaching a film production class at Burlington College and continues to pitch ideas for television and film. But he pledged to pick only projects that will allow him to work from home and don't require long stays in Los Angeles.

He thinks his television experience, where he had to oversee wildly varying budgets and listen to widely divergent opinions, will help him sort out residents' needs and wants and make sound decisions.

"My job as executive producer was to steer the ship, run the ship, get us to our end goal," Klein said. "It's the same thing I'll bring to the Selectboard. There's a lot of different opinions, but we all want what is best for Williston."

CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRe

Name: Joel Klein

Address: 194 Turtle Pond Road

Age: 44

Number of years living in Williston: Six months

Employer name and job description: Self-employed. I have worked in television for over 20 years, the last five or six years as an executive producer. I currently am consulting and writing for television and film. I am also teaching Film Production at Burlington College.

Previous experience in elected or appointed positions, or community service: In Los Angeles it was much more difficult to get involved in local politics. I was, however, actively involved with youth sports and was appointed to the boards of various sports organizations.

What is the most important issue facing the town of Williston?   How should the town address this issue?

The single most important issue facing the town of Williston is future growth. We need to encourage growth but also manage that growth so we can keep our small town charm while continuing to grow commercially and residentially. Every issue that arises ultimately relates to the big picture of managing our growth.

The town may face a financial squeeze over the next few years, with falling sales tax revenue and a potential recession reducing available funding for municipal services. If there is a budget crunch, would you cut services, raise property taxes, or do both?

Before I could make the decision to either cut services or raise property taxes I would have to look at the bigger picture of life in Williston. The citizens of Williston expect certain services: police protection, fire protection, road maintenance, parks, hiking trails etc. We rely on these services. We expect a certain quality of life. Raising property taxes would discourage new residents from moving into our town while a cut in services would have a similar effect. So as revenue decreases, we would look at each individual service and weigh the pros and cons of maintaining it. If it's something the citizens feel we can do without, we'll cut it. If it's something we want as residents then we might have to raise taxes to pay for it.

Some residents oppose a proposed landfill in Williston. The landfill would produce revenue for the town but those living nearby fear pollution and falling property values. Do you support or oppose constructing a landfill in Williston? Why?

The proposed landfill on Redmond Road is a very tricky situation. I wasn't a resident of Williston when the initial votes took place to make the agreement with the Solid Waste District, but if I had been, I would have voted against the landfill. The transfer station and proposed landfill would generate a substantial amount of revenue for the town, but at what cost?

I would like to think there are better ways for Williston to generate revenue. With that being said, we have an agreement in place with the Solid Waste District that was voted on by the residents of Williston. Therefore, we need to move forward with that agreement and at same time, work towards a solution that takes into consideration the concerns that have been expressed.

Williston has struggled over the past 20 years to balance commercial and residential growth with a desire to maintain the town's small-town character. Is Williston growing at the right pace? Should the town tighten or loosen existing controls on growth?

Managing Williston's growth is the number one issue we face as a community. The best way to do this is to focus our efforts on the existing growth center at Taft Corners. Traffic is becoming a mess and we have been inundated with big box stores. As a community, we need to start managing the growth and steering it in the direction we want. For example, we need the developers to start paving the grid streets to help reduce traffic congestion. With proper guidelines, we can set building standards that keep the architecture and the development in line with the history and charm of our town. We should also create some incentives to attract local, independent businesses to set up shop, so we're not just known as the "box store community."

Census figures show most people who work in Williston don't live here while most Willistonians commute to other towns. The situation is caused largely by a lack of jobs in town that pay people enough to afford Williston's relatively high cost of housing. How can the town address this disconnect between employment and housing, which leads to traffic congestion and pollution?

I don't see this as an issue we need to focus on if we develop Taft Corners properly. With the right plan and management, we can develop that area so it is inviting to local businesses. This, in turn, would create more jobs and employment opportunities for the residents of Williston.

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March 4 Town Election – School Board

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Williston School Board: Two-year seat – Holly Rouelle

CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE

Name : Holly Rouelle

Address : 211 Shirley Circle

Age : 40

Number of years living in Williston : 11

Family situation : Single parent, 2 sons: Mathieu, 16 and Hannan 12.

Employer name and job description : Essex Town School District. Teacher at Essex Elementary School.

Previous experience in elected or appointed positions, or community service : Two years as Williston School Board director (one year as vice chairwoman), two years as a Chittenden South Supervisory Union School Board director, seven years with Williston Cub Scouts (den leader, fundraiser chair, cub master), five years with Williston Soccer Club (board member, manager, fundraising and events).

Why are you running?

I have enjoyed the past two years serving on the School Board and hope to continue effecting positive change on our school system. We have an excellent school system with committed educators, administrators, families and students. Williston is a wonderful community and as someone committed to education, serving on the School Board is my way to give back to a community that has supported the growth of my family.

What is the most important issue facing Williston schools? How can the issue be addressed?

Balancing a quality education with rising costs and declining enrollments. Accommodating unfunded federal (No Child Left Behind) and state (Act 82) mandates that impose "one size fits all" education spending and programs at the local level. Getting involved is the only way to have an impact. For me, that's serving on the School Board and trying to address the issues as a board member.

With the economy struggling and voters seemingly wary of significant school budget increases, as demonstrated by the failure of last year's Williston School District budget, how would you put together a budget that would be palatable for voters?

Hopefully, we have succeeded this year. The proposed 3.72 percent increase maintains the current quality programs and includes all-day kindergarten and an extended school day. The process included community members as budget buddies as well as input from school staff, administration and the School Board. At weekly budget meetings, presentations were made in a variety of areas (special education, technology, building and maintenance, programming, etc.). Per pupil spending will again be the lowest in our district. It is a fiscally responsible budget and I hope it is supported by the community.

Based on a recent survey of the town, the community is divided over the structure of the upper houses (57 percent of respondents supported the current structure). Do you feel the structure is in need of change? Why? If so, what change would you suggest?

Based on my own experiences as a parent, I do feel that there needs to be a change in the upper house structure. However, I recognize that my needs are not necessarily the needs of every upper house family. The Williston school administration and program council are analyzing a variety of models that take into consideration the community input and current climate (declining students, resources and cost of education). I have faith that our current quality of education will be maintained in any of these models and that school personnel will make informed decisions about future changes.
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March 4 Town Election – School Board

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Champlain Valley Union High School Board: David Rath

CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE

Name : David Rath (no photo provided)

Address : 734 Metcalf Drive

Age : 57

Number of years living in Williston : nine

Family situation : Married with a daughter in fifth grade at Williston Central School

Employer name and job description : Lawyer with Kohn Rath & Meyer LLP

Previous experience in elected or appointed positions, or community service: Eight years on Mount Abraham Union High School Board, including two years as chairman. Service on various community, professional and not for profit boards and committees.

Why are you running?

I enjoyed working on the Mount Abraham Board in the 1990s and I want to serve on the CVU Board.

What is the most important issue facing Champlain Valley Union High School? How can the issue be addressed?

CVU is likely to face declining enrollments in the coming years. See below for how to address the issue.

With the economy struggling and voters seemingly wary of significant school budget increases, as demonstrated by the failure of last year's Williston School District budget, how would you put together a budget that would be palatable for voters?

The last three questions are inextricably intertwined. CVU's student population will plateau and decrease in the coming years. It will be critical to maintain the quality and breadth of the resources at CVU available for students and community members while keeping the costs appropriate to the size of the student body. Although the CVU budget did not fail last year, the CVU Board faces the same challenge as the Williston Board – presenting a budget that is reasonable.

The CVU Board needs to help the CVU administrative team examine and, where and when appropriate, adjust the size, staffing and structure of school programs to keep future budgets reasonable in relationship to enrollments.

There will be additional challenges as the composition of our communities change and educational needs evolve. It is likely that programs for English language learners will need to evolve and grow as that demographic cohort moves into southern Chittenden County.

A facility with technology is critical to post-school success. CVU has recognized the importance of technology and has capital replacement programs in place to keep its resources current. But change may become more rapid and costs of keeping our students current may increase. The CVU Board has already recognized this issue and the proposed budget includes a technology integrationist position – a critical addition to make CVU more efficient in utilizing new technologies and in training faculty and students in new technologies.
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March 4 Town Election – Selectboard 2-year seat: Christopher Roy

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Roy sees Selectboard in caretaker role

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

When Christopher Roy first ran for Selectboard in 1998, the town was embroiled in a divisive debate over growth.

The rapid rise of retail stores and large-scale subdivisions had inflamed residents and prompted legal battles between the town and developers. Roy was one of two candidates who advocated cooperation over confrontation with developers in the four-person scramble for two open seats on the Selectboard.

The candidates with growth-control platforms won. Roy finished last in an election billed as a referendum on growth.

Now, a decade later, Roy is trying again, this time for a two-year term on the Selectboard. Roy will run against Joel Klein, a television producer who moved here from Los Angeles last summer.

If elected, he looks forward to serving a town that seems to have settled into its identity as a bedroom community with a bustling retail sector. He sees the Selectboard these days as a caretaker rather than a groundbreaker.

"Right now, fortunately, there are no issues that are as important to the entire town as we saw 10 years ago, when there was a real debate about Taft Corners," he said. "I think now the die is cast" on rules governing growth, "so the board's job is continuing to keep a tab on things as opposed to there being one overarching issue."

Roy talked about his life and outlined his positions on issues facing Williston during a lengthy interview last week. Dressed in a red checkered shirt and blue jeans, Roy smoothly fielded questions in a manner befitting someone who has argued cases in court for nearly two decades.

Roy was born and raised in Barre. His parents worked in the granite industry.

After graduating from Spaulding High School, Roy attended Harvard College, where he graduated with a degree in government. He later received his law degree from Cornell University.

He now lives in the Brennan Woods subdivision with his wife, Lisa, and three sons, ages 1, 9 and 11.

Roy is an attorney who works in Burlington with the state's biggest law firm, Downs Rachlin Martin. He specializes in commercial litigation, often representing landowners and corporations in land-use disputes.

Roy has written a regular opinion column, "Right to the Point," for the Williston Observer (the newspaper has discontinued Roy's column pending the election) and chairs the Vermont Republican Party's local committee in Williston.

Roy also has considerable experience on non-partisan groups. He currently serves on the Williston Recreation Committee and is a former member of the Burlington Planning Commission.

He has in the past served on the Vermont Environmental Board and the governing board for Whitney Hill Homestead, a senior housing development in Williston.

His column was a conservative take on state and national issues. In an interview and in written responses to questions, his views on municipal issues remained conservative, albeit without the partisan edge.

On fiscal matters, Roy said raising property taxes should be a "last resort" should Williston continue to face falling revenue from the local sales tax. He said the town should first look for savings in existing programs and services.

He said the real money is in school spending, which accounts for the large majority of property taxes paid by residents. He said high property taxes are rooted in the rules governing how the state pays for education.

"You can nibble around the margins with municipal taxes, the municipal budget," Roy said. "But real change is going to have to come from the way they do educational financing."

As for growth, Roy feels that Williston's direction has been settled. The battles over development in the 1990s and early part of this decade ended with all the new retail and residential development happening anyway, he said. The legal skirmishes just changed the pace.

"Instead of having gradual development, we had it in fits and starts," he said, pointing to Taft Corners Park and Brennan Woods as two examples.

Roy said after his bruising candidacy of 1998, he decided he would never again run for an elected office. But he feels Williston is different now.

"I had vowed not to get involved again," he said. "But it was an open seat, so I'm like OK I'm not going around punching incumbents in the nose any more. I've had my fill of that.

"There aren't any passionate fights where it's going to become personal. I've had a breather for 10 years. I'm in a different place, the town's in a different place and I think I can help out here."

CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE

Name: Christopher D. Roy

Address: 726 Hanon Drive

Age: 43

Number of years living in Williston: 15

Employer name and job description: Attorney, Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC (www.drm.com). Commercial litigation partner in Vermont's largest law firm, including municipal, tax, zoning and land use matters.

Previous experience in elected or appointed positions, or community service: Currently finance chairman of the Vermont Lake Champlain Quadricentennial Commission (www.celebratechamplain.com), member of the Williston Recreation Committee, coach for Williston Little League Baseball, coach for Chittenden South Buccaneers Youth Football and member of the Vermont Advisory Committee, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Formerly a member of the Vermont Environmental Board (State Act 250 Board), a board member of Williston Elder Housing Inc. (Whitney Hill Homestead), board member of Family Connection Center of Vermont Inc. and a member of the Burlington Planning Commission.

What is the most important issue facing the town of Williston? How should the town address this issue?

The need to balance growth with tax burdens. Williston is a vibrant community. We should welcome growth if it is well-planned and consistent with our town's vision. We must ensure that growth and the increased demand for services do not outpace taxpayers' ability to pay.

The Selectboard must be vigilant in developing frugal budgets. The town must always look for ways to operate more efficiently. The Selectboard should work with the School Board and be taxpayer advocates in Montpelier. The municipal tax rate is about one-seventh of the educational tax rate, so real relief is more likely to be found in the area of educational financing, which results in a great deal of the property tax revenues generated in Williston going elsewhere.

The town may face a financial squeeze over the next few years, with falling sales tax revenue and a potential recession reducing available funding for municipal services. If there is a budget crunch, would you cut services, raise property taxes, or do both?

Budget growth must be consistent with population growth and inflation. If the resulting tax increase would outpace inflation, the Selectboard should look for ways to reduce the budget through greater efficiencies, bargaining hard on contracts and prioritizing between the town's needs and wants.

The local option tax is a partial fix for the massive transfer of education tax revenues out of Williston. A fairer way to fund our government requires a reduction in the tax revenues expropriated from Williston. We bear the burden of the development creating these revenues – we should retain a greater percentage of the resulting funds. The Selectboard and School Board should work together as taxpayer advocates in Montpelier to reform our dysfunctional and unsustainable method for financing education.

Some residents oppose a proposed landfill in Williston. The landfill would produce revenue for the town but those living nearby fear pollution and falling property values. Do you support or oppose constructing a landfill in Williston? Why?

The proposed landfill off Redmond Road is premised upon analysis that is 15 to 20 years old. Much has changed during that time. It is imperative that the Chittenden Solid Waste District – a public entity, not a for-profit corporation – do the right thing and reevaluate whether this is the best location in the county, and whether and to what extent we even need a regional landfill.

Due to legal agreements and payments received over the years, we are not able to unilaterally reject a landfill in the proposed location. Regrettably, the town's agreement with CSWD did not include any outside termination date. The lesson learned is for the Selectboard not to commit the town to open-ended commitments which have the potential to affect human health.

Williston has struggled over the past 20 years to balance commercial and residential growth with a desire to maintain the town's small-town character. Is Williston growing at the right pace? Should the town tighten or loosen existing controls on growth?

There is no perfect pace for growth. A vibrant community should grow if growth is well-planned and responsible. Growth should be concentrated to utilize existing infrastructure and minimize sprawl into less developed areas.

The town has usually planned its growth well. Taft Corners has been the focus of development, while preserving the historic nature of the village center and the rural residential nature of other areas. The town must reevaluate its comprehensive plan periodically, and should be forward-looking in its update of zoning bylaws. Pursuit of a downtown district designation for Taft Corners is one such a responsible effort.

Responsible controls on growth must result from a transparent, public process. The town should avoid concealed methods of restraining growth. I strongly support the Circ.

Census figures show most people who work in Williston don't live here while most Willistonians commute to other towns. The situation is caused largely by a lack of jobs in town that pay people enough to afford Williston's relatively high cost of housing. How can the town address this disconnect between employment and housing, which leads to traffic congestion and pollution?

Given the small size of Vermont's communities, there is little that the Selectboard can do on its own on this issue. Nonetheless, Williston should always look for opportunities to attract employers that pay good wages, and to create incentives for good companies to remain and expand in Williston.

The recent loss of Williston-based jobs at Qimonda was, to some extent, a function of a lengthy and convoluted zoning process necessary to allow expansion of a good employer in Williston. After much effort, the company opted to relocate to South Burlington before consolidating its operations in another state altogether.

There are many impediments to good employers locating in Vermont. The town should do everything reasonable and in its power not to be one of those impediments.

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Blankenheim: Challenger brings business background

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By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Bob Blankenheim believes his experience as a corporate executive will help him effectively serve on the Williston Selectboard.

Voters sometimes like candidates with a business background. But Blankenheim may also have to convince voters that a lawsuit he and others have filed against the town is beneficial.

He is running for a three-year seat on the board against incumbent Judy Sassorossi. It is his first try for elected office.

Blankenheim is among the 37 Williston residents suing to nullify an agreement between the town and the Chittenden Solid Waste District. The agreement, approved by voters in 1992, permits operation of the current transfer station off Redmond Road and a future landfill. Blankenheim lives less than a half-mile from the site.

He at first flatly denied that unhappiness about the landfill prompted him to run. But then he softened that statement, while emphasizing his candidacy was more about changing the way Williston does business.
“I guess what I would tell you is that it wasn’t the only thing, it was one of the things,” he said. “But more important than the landfill was the honesty that didn’t happen, the informing of the people that didn’t happen.”

He views the landfill agreement as just one indication that the town could be better managed. He also wants to improve the budget process and change how the town handles development.

Blankenheim talked at length about his life and views during a wide-ranging interview at the Observer’s offices. He spoke confidently, like someone used to taking charge.

Blankenheim was born in Milwaukee, the son of a business executive. His family later moved to suburban Chicago.

He attended the University of Denver, where he received a degree in business administration. He followed in his father’s footsteps, working as a manager for large firms.

Blankenheim is currently vice president of operations/general manager for a company now known as IntraPac Inc. in Plattsburgh, N.Y. The firm produces packaging for personal care products.

He moved to Williston in August 2004 with his wife of 35 years, Gwen. They live on Ledgewood Drive, a subdivision off Mountain View Road. Given Blankenheim’s background and personal stake in the matter, it is unsurprising that he talks about the landfill agreement in terms of a bad business deal.

“If I would have negotiated a contract like that, as poorly written and as one-sided, I probably would have gotten fired,” he said, noting the agreement includes no expiration date or any provision to increase fees the waste district pays to the town.

Williston’s conflict of interest ordinance would forbid Blankenheim from discussing or voting on any matter involving the landfill. He pledged to recuse himself whenever the landfill comes up.

The landfill proposal, which is still being formulated by the waste district’s board and must receive state approval before anything is built, is a friction point between the two candidates.

Sassorossi questioned how Blankenheim could effectively serve on Williston’s governing board when he is suing the town. Beyond the basic conflict of interest, she said the lawsuit raises the question of whose team he is on.

Blankenhiem asserted that the lawsuit actually aligns him with the town’s interests because it would overturn an agreement that shortchanges Williston in terms of revenue and threatens all residents’ quality of life.
Sassorossi was on the Planning Commission in 1996 when it approved the subdivision where Blankenheim lives. Before the approval, the Chittenden Solid Waste District requested the board require the developer to tell prospective homeowners about the landfill. The board declined based on legal advice.

Blankenheim and others now say they would never have bought homes there if they had known about the landfill.

Blankenheim acknowledged that it was no accident he sought Sassorossi’s seat instead of the other Selectboard opening on the March ballot. But he said he holds no personal animosity toward her.

“I’m not looking for retribution,” Blankenheim said. “I think I’m better qualified to do what has to be done for Williston.”

Blankenheim feels Williston should take a more businesslike approach to the municipal budget. He criticized the board for formulating the current spending proposal based on a 5 percent increase.

“The budget should be a ground-up budget,” he said. “It should be starting at a point where you justify every position, and you justify any increases based on what the needs are. In some cases those needs are going to exceed that magical number, whatever that number is, and in some cases you are going to be able to cut it back.”

He’s also worries that the town takes a “ready, fire, aim” approach to growth. He thinks the town failed to provide adequate infrastructure to support its many businesses, which could eventually hurt revenue from the local sales tax that funds more than a third of the municipal budget.

“We run the risk of damaging the economic engine that generates a substantial amount of revenue for the town,” he said, noting that shoppers who face too much traffic congestion might decide to go elsewhere.
Though his government experience is limited, Blankenheim said the town may be better served by someone new.

“Is (Sassorossi) better qualified to understand what’s going on right now? Yea, probably,” he said. “How long will it take me to get up to speed? Probably about a month and a half. I’m a pretty bright guy.”

CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE
Name: Robert E. Blankenheim
Address: 893 Ledgewood Drive
Age: 60
Number of years living in Williston: 3 1/2 years, moved into our house in August of 2004

Employer name and job description: IntraPac (Plattsburgh) Inc. I am Vice President of Operations/General Manager of the operation of the IntraPac Group with responsibility for the management of the company including P&L and the development of both operating and capital budgets. The Plattsburgh Operation employs 150 full time employees with sales in excess of $16 million dollars.

Previous experience in elected or appointed positions, or community service: I served on a subcommittee for the Vermont Solid Waste Reduction bill dealing with recyclables; was President of a home owners association that had over 350 homes, ran its two water plants, had a complete recreation center including a pool and tennis courts; Served on Church boards and was President of the church council.

What is the most important issue facing the town of Williston? How should the town address this issue?
I believe the largest challenge facing the town is the lack of infrastructure. One element of that infrastructure is the roads within the town. The plans for handling the additional traffic on currently overcrowded roadways needs to be addressed before any additonal expansion in the town. The traffic patterns within Tafts Corners are currently not workable and just adding a number of access roads is not an answer to the problem.  The expansion of both 2 and 2A should be undertaken before any new developments such as the Growth Center are permitted. The businesses within that area are an economic engine to the Town and need to have the necessary accessibility to remain competitive. The CIRC with its current location and questionable start date will not provide the necessary relief from the traffic issues within Taft Corners. 

The town may face a financial squeeze over the next few years, with falling sales tax revenue and a potential recession, reducing available funding for municipal services. If there is a budget crunch, would you cut services, raise property taxes, or do both?
What is required is out of the box thinking to solve these key financial& service issues. Essex and Essex Junction are also facing significant budget issues and it may be time to partner with the surrounding towns to look for synergies and the ability to share services at a reduced cost. If there is a choice between increases in taxes versus service cuts we need to be sure those service cuts do not affect the health or protection of the residents. Any increases in taxes that may be required should be minimal and as a last resort to balance the budget.  I would support a tax increase if satisfied that all unnecessary costs have been removed from the budget. Tax increases should only be taken as a last action, as once on the books those taxes are never repealed.  

Some residents oppose a proposed landfill in Williston. The landfill would produce revenue for the town but those living nearby fear pollution and falling property values. Do you support or oppose constructing a landfill in Williston? Why?
I don’t support the landfill.  There is a true misconception the regional landfill will have a positive affect on the tax base for residents within Williston.  The HTA holds no great hope for a financial windfall for the town.  This landfill will reduce property values and real estate taxes for residents closer to the site, not to mention the quality of life to all residents. Those lost taxes will be offset by an increase in the tax multiplier, which will increase real estate taxes for those residents not living near the site. In addition, the residents will be paying for the building of the landfill in a number of ways. It could come as a tax increase on your house or in the cost of waste removal. Waste reduction and technology in the management of solid waste is changing and the need for this or any landfill in the near future is not justifiable.  The rationale for this landfill may have made sense 15 years ago, but times and technology have changed and we need to embrace those changes.

Williston has struggled over the past 20 years to balance commercial and residential growth with a desire to maintain the town’s small-town character. Is Williston growing at the right pace? Should the town tighten or loosen existing controls on growth?
Williston needs to control its growth. There is a need for significant improvement in the Town’s roads and infrastructure before Williston permits additional growth.  The Growth Center is a good example of a development that should be built, but not without addressing the issues of the current Williston residents and the businesses within Taft Corners.  I believe people in Williston do not want added congestion on the town’s roads for the sake of growth.  If the State is in favor of building this Growth Center, then it should step up and make the necessary improvements to the state roads in Williston to manage the additional traffic that the Center will generate. The added burden that future development will have on the sanitary sewers should also be a concern as we now approach capacity at the plant shared with Essex and Essex Junction.

 Census figures show most people who work in Williston don’t live here, while most Willistonians commute to other towns. The situation is caused largely by a lack of jobs in town that pay people enough to afford Williston’s relatively high cost of housing. How can the town address this disconnect between employment and housing, which leads to traffic congestion and pollution?

There are many towns in this country that are bedroom communities where people live but don’t work.  The previous Boards have encouraged business growth in retail and light industry but neither of these can support the income levels required to live within the Town. With the expense of developing land in Williston, which in turn drives up the cost of the lots, it is difficult for builders to offer homes with lower selling prices. If this is a concern, then we have two options. First, we need to encourage the building of business campuses that will attract companies looking to relocate either regional or head offices to Vermont, which will bring in the families that can afford Williston.   The other option is to require developers to build a percentage of the homes within a development to be more affordable housing.  Improvements in the roads in the Town will help resolve the traffic and pollution issues.
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March 4 Town Election – School Board

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March 4 Town Election – School Board
Williston School Board: Three-year seat – Abby Klein

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

It might seem strange that someone would want to move from sunny and warm California to cold and snowy Vermont, but that's just what newcomer Abby Klein and her family did six months ago. Looking for a quality of life change to a place that was healthier and safer than their longtime residence of Los Angeles, the Kleins decided to make Williston their new home.

"We wanted a small community and good schools," said the married mother of a 10-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter. "We knew we wanted to be around Burlington and we really liked the community of Williston."

According to Klein, the change has been great for her family, which now wants to become more involved in its new community. Klein is running for a three-year term on the Williston School Board against incumbent chairwoman Darlene Worth. Her husband, Joel, is running for the Selectboard.

Klein has been an early learning teacher for 19 years, as well as a popular children's book author. Her "Ready Freddy!" series, published by Scholastic Inc., has 13 titles in print. Currently she works at South Burlington's Rick Marcotte Central School as a kindergarten teacher.

Klein believes her experience as a teacher would only benefit the board.

"A lot of people who sit on school boards don't have teaching experience," she said. "I'm probably more qualified than some other people who have served."

Currently, Williston has one teacher and two former educators on the School Board.

Klein said she would have liked to have been involved with the Los Angeles School Board, but the enormity of the board and time commitment required made it impossible. She would have preferred serving on her school's board in Santa Monica, but she did not live in the town. Instead, Klein opted to work on the school's governance board, among other leadership roles.

Klein has decided to run for the three-year position because it would allow her to become more acquainted with the job and permit more time to make an impact.

"I feel like you're just getting into something with a two-year position, and then you have to run again," she said.

If elected, Klein would like to see the school district change the current upper house structure of fifth through eighth graders learning in the same classrooms. While she likes the idea of a diverse learning environment, she said in her candidate response it would be better if "fifth and sixth graders would be together and seventh and eighth graders would be together."

"I think it should be a two-year cycle," Klein said. "It's not such an overwhelming problem for me, but for some parents it is a problem. But being with the same four teachers for four years seems like a lot to me."

Klein would also like to see an addition of accelerated learning classes for appropriate students and a change to the lunch program if elected.

"I find it almost criminal with what's going on there," she said. "That money could go elsewhere."

As with any change, she believes that ideas should be taken to the teachers first.

"They know if something will work or not because they teach in the school every day," she said.

Klein looks forward to voting on Town Meeting Day and hopes she'll be given a chance to serve.

"I think I bring a unique and fresh perspective to the Board," she said in her candidate response. "I would welcome the chance to use my expertise to serve my community."

CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE

Name: Abby Klein

Address: 194 Turtle Pond Road

Age: 41

Number of years living in Williston: Six months (moved from California in July)

Family situation: I am married to Joel Klein (who is running for Selectboard). We have two children who attend Williston Central School: a son who is 10 years old and a daughter who is 12 years old.

Employer name and job description: I am employed by South Burlington School District. I am a kindergarten teacher at Rick Marcotte Central School. I have taught for 19 years. I am also employed by Scholastic Inc. I am the author of the "Ready Freddy!" early chapter book series. There are currently 13 titles in print.

Previous experience in elected or appointed positions, or community service: In California I was co-chairwoman of my school's governance board for seven years. This board was responsible for the entire school budget. I was also the co-chairwoman of the fundraising arm of my school's FAP for eight years. At the district level, I was chosen as a teacher leader to serve on the superintendent's council, which was a forum for discussion on district program and policy change.

 

Why are you running?

Having just moved here, I wanted to become more involved in the community and given my background in education, the School Board seemed like the right fit. As a teacher, author and a parent, I feel that I have a lot I can bring to the board in terms of insight and experience.

 

What is the most important issue facing Williston schools? How can the issue be addressed?

The most important issue facing the schools is our ability to continue to provide our students with the best possible education in an era of economic instability and budget cuts. This issue can be addressed by creating an efficient, thoughtful budget that maintains the focus on our children.

 

With the economy struggling and voters seemingly wary of significant school budget increases, as demonstrated by the failure of last year's Williston School District budget, how would you put together a budget that would be palatable for voters?

The board has to put together a budget that represents a less than 4 percent increase over the previous year's budget. The board was able to that this year with only a 3.72 percent increase. This practice would have to be continued in the future.

 

Based on a recent survey of the town, the community is divided over the structure of the upper houses (57 percent of respondents supported the current structure). Do you feel the structure is in need of change? Why? If so, what change would you suggest?

Yes, I do believe that the structure is in need of change. I would propose that the upper houses be broken up into two-year cycles. Fifth and sixth graders would be together and seventh and eighth graders would be together. This would address the concern of some parents that fifth graders and eighth graders do not have the same social/emotional needs and that the younger students are being exposed to things they are not yet emotionally ready for. Changing the current structure might also allow for more flexibility in the scheduling so that the class offerings can better meet the needs of all students, including offering accelerated classes in some subjects which is common practice in other districts.

 

Why should voters choose you over your opponent?

Although I am new to Williston, I am not new to education. I have spent the last 19 years working in the public school system. My work on the board would be based on firsthand experience. I feel as both a teacher and a parent of two children currently in the system I have intimate knowledge of the needs of both teachers and students. I also have a thorough understanding of curriculum which many school board members often do not. I think I bring a unique and fresh perspective to the board. I would welcome the chance to use my expertise to serve my community.
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