Voters to find many new names on March ballot
By Greg Elias
A Hollywood producer. A nationally known children's author. A business executive who is suing the town.
Each is running for a town office in what promises to be the most interesting election in years.
Williston has struggled in the past few years to attract candidates. Last year, there were no contests among those running for 13 positions.
But when this year's filing period expired on Monday, four contests emerged for the local election in March. There are a total of five first-time candidates.
"Previous years' ballots were full of empty spaces," said Town Clerk Deb Beckett, who herself will run unopposed for another three-year term. "This is really exciting. You have someone for every office."
This year's races include a mix of veteran incumbents and first-time candidates with widely divergent backgrounds.
The newcomers include a Williston couple who relocated here from Los Angeles last summer.
Joel Klein is running for a two-year term on the Selectboard. His wife, Abby Klein, is seeking a seat on the Williston School Board. Neither has held elected office before, but both said they are looking to become more involved in their new hometown.
Joel Klein is a reality show producer. His past credits include "Fear Factor," a prime-time hit on NBC that tests contestants' courage and viewers' stomachs for gross-out stunts.
"I made a lot of people eat cockroaches and jump out of airplanes – things like that," Klein said.
Since moving to Williston, Klein said he has taught a filmmaking course at Burlington College and worked with Shelburne-based Population Media Center. He said he continues to pursue writing projects for television.
He will run against Christopher Roy, an attorney with the law firm Downs Rachlin Martin. Roy submitted his petition for office just hours before the Monday deadline.
Roy currently serves on the Williston Recreation Committee and twice ran unsuccessfully for the Selectboard in the 1990s. He is also a former member of the Vermont Environmental Board and writes "Right to the Point," a column with a conservative slant in the Observer.
Roy said he knew little about his opponent. When told of Klein's background in television, he joked that he was OK with the competition "as long as he doesn't make me eat bugs."
The other contested Selectboard race, this one for a three-year seat, pits incumbent Judy Sassorossi against Robert Blankenheim.
Blankenheim is vice president of operations/general manager at IntraPac Inc. in Plattsburgh, N.Y. The company produces packaging for the personal care market. This is his first try for public office.
He is among the 37 Williston residents suing to nullify an agreement between the town and the Chittenden Solid Waste District. The agreement permits operation of the current transfer station off Redmond Road in Williston and a proposed landfill at the site. If the landfill is built, the residents assert, it will pollute the environment and cause home values to plummet in their Ledgewood Drive neighborhood, which is about a half-mile away.
Blankenheim is also unhappy with the proposed municipal budget, which calls for a 5 percent spending increase. He said building the budget around a set spending increase contradicts principles used in the private sector. He said the town should start from scratch each year and justify each expenditure.
"I'm absolutely appalled with the way they do budgets," Blankenheim said.
There will be one contested seat and one incumbent running unopposed for the Williston School Board.
Abby Klein squares off against incumbent Darlene Worth for a three-year term. Holly Rouelle, another incumbent, will run uncontested for a two-year term.
Klein is the author of the children's book series "Ready Freddy," published by Scholastic. The 13-book series, distributed in schools and libraries throughout the U.S., has made Klein a nationally recognized children's author, said Jill Coffrin, youth services librarian at Dorothy Alling Memorial Library in Williston.
Klein said she taught in Los Angeles public schools for nearly two decades. She currently teaches in South Burlington. She said her background will help her contribute to the School Board.
The final contested race also involves another relative newcomer to Williston. Charles Coney is seeking a three-year term as lister. He is running against incumbent Linda Ladd.
Coney moved here from New York City in 2005 after retiring from his job as a certified public accountant. His work experience also includes selling real estate for several years.
He now works part-time at the Williams-Sonoma store in Burlington. He is also a volunteer at the Flynn Center and at St. Michael's College.
But Coney said he still has time to spare, so he wants to contribute to the community. Coney said he is familiar with what listers do –
overseeing property appraisals and hearing grievances – through his accounting and real estate background.
There is one other new candidate on the ballot. David Rath will run for a three-year term on the Champlain Valley Union High School Board. He will occupy the seat being vacated by Sarita Austin.
Rath served for eight years on the governing board for Mt. Abraham Union High School in Bristol before moving to Williston in 1999. He is an attorney who works in Hinesburg.
Rath said he was recruited by Williston's four-member contingent on the CVU board. He said he is ready to serve again years after his stint at Mt. Abraham.
"It's enjoyable work," he said. "I have the experience, and it's something in which community members should be involved."
Here are the candidates running in the March 4 election:
Selectboard, three-year term
Selectboard, two-year term
Williston School Board, three-year term
Williston School Board, two-year term
Champlain Valley Union High School Board, three-year term
Town Clerk, three-year term
Town Treasurer, three-year term
Lister, three-year term
Lister, two-year term
Library Trustee, five-year term
Champlain Water District representative, three-year term
Town Constable, one-year term
Note: * denotes incumbent