Budgets, contested races to be decided on Mar. 4

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Candidates have voiced their views. Budgets have been finalized. Now it's time for voters to have their say.

Williston residents will cast ballots for a host of candidates and a trio of budgets on Tuesday, March 4. The annual Town Meeting, heavy on tradition but light on substantive business, takes place Monday evening.

The election features four races, a change from recent years when uncontested seats on town and school boards were the norm. Candidates this year have widely varying backgrounds and civic experience.

Town and school budgets reflect belt-tightening efforts, with spending increases lower than in previous years. Officials hope the budgets are thrifty enough to pass muster with voters, who last year rejected the school budget and barely passed the municipal budget.

Here is a review of the candidates and budgets on the ballot:

Williston Selectboard

A race for a two-year seat pits Joel Klein, a television producer whose credits include the reality show "Fear Factor," against Christopher Roy, a lawyer with Downs Rachlin Martin.

Klein moved from Los Angeles to Williston last July. He now teaches a filmmaking course at Burlington College and continues to pursue writing projects for television. His wife, Abby Klein, is running for the Williston School Board.

Klein, who has never held elected office, said he would bring "fresh eyes and open ears" to the position. The self-described liberal thinks managing growth is the most important issue facing Williston. He said Williston should consider small business incentives so the town isn't totally dominated by chain stores.

Roy has a long record of civic service. He is a member of the Williston Recreation Committee and a former member of several other boards and commissions. Until it was discontinued pending the election, Roy wrote a column with a conservative slant for the Observer.

Roy views the sometimes-heated debate over growth as largely settled. He would like to keep the town on its present course.

In a race for a three-year term on the Selectboard, Bob Blankenheim, vice president for a Plattsburgh, N.Y. packaging company, is running against incumbent Judy Sassorossi.

Blankenheim, who is making his first run for public office, is among the 37 residents suing to overturn 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.

Opponents say the landfill would cause pollution and decrease home prices. Blankenheim lives less than a half-mile away from the site.

To deal with the conflict of interest if elected, he promised to recuse himself when the board discusses the landfill. He noted the lawsuit seeks no financial damages from the town and asserted that nullifying the agreement would benefit Williston because it is a bad deal for the town.

Blankenheim wants the town to formulate its budget in a more business-like manner, starting from scratch and justifying each expenditure. He said the town should improve infrastructure to safeguard sales tax revenue generated by retailers.

His opponent is Judy Sassorossi, who has served on the Selectboard for two years and on the Planning Commission for about a dozen years before that. She is an employee benefits specialist with a South Burlington insurance brokerage.

She disagrees with Blankenheim's bottom-up approach to the budget, saying it would waste time because there are many non-discretionary expenditures that pay for essential public services. On the landfill, she noted that voters approved the agreement and said the lawsuit raises questions about her opponent's allegiance.

There is one other contested race for a municipal position, a three-year term as lister. See the story on page 3 for more information.

Williston School Board

The Williston School Board has one contested race, for a three-year seat. Williston newcomer Abby Klein is running against incumbent Darlene Worth.

Klein wants to see changes in the upper house structure as well as a new, less costly and more nutritious school lunch program.

Klein has been a teacher for 19 years and is a children's book author. She currently teaches kindergarten in South Burlington.

Worth has served on the School Board for three years and is currently the board's chairwoman. She is the director of the Champlain Valley Educator Development Center and was a Vermont educator for more than 30 years.

Worth said she has enjoyed her service on the board. She noted that the board held down spending in the proposed budget while extending the school day and adding all-day kindergarten.

Other candidates

A handful of uncontested races will also appear on the ballot.

Town Clerk Deb Beckett is running for re-election to a three-year term as both clerk and treasurer.

On the Williston School Board, Holly Rouelle is running for re-election to her two-year seat. On the Champlain Valley Union High School Board, newcomer David Rath is seeking a three-year term.

Patricia Mardeusz is running for a five-year term as library trustee. Donald Phillips is seeking another three years as Champlain Water District representative. And Kermit Laclair wants to serve another year as town constable.


The Williston School District's proposed budget totals $16.24 million, a 3.7 percent increase over current spending. The budget adds an all-day kindergarten program and a longer school day. Separate articles ask voters to approve bonds for $480,000 for roof repairs at Williston Central School and $187,000 for two school buses.

The $7.6 million municipal budget increases spending by 5 percent. The budget includes one new administrative position and includes funding to increase hours for two other administrative employees working in the police and fire departments.

A separate ballot item asks voters to approve a bond for $489,500 to pay for a new fire engine.

The proposed $20.7 million budget for Champlain Valley Union High School represents a 4.7 percent increase. The budget includes $175,000 for new staffing.

Staff writer Tim Simard contributed to this story.


Voting information

Town Meeting will be held Monday at Williston Central School's auditorium. The meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. The school's Jazz Band will perform beforehand at 7 p.m.

Voting for candidates and budgets takes place between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Tuesday. The venue has changed this year to the Williston Armory next to Town Hall. Parking is available at the Armory and Town Hall.

Annual town reports are available at Town Hall, the library and some Williston grocery and convenience stores. A summary of the report has been mailed to residents.

Absentee ballots can be cast at Town Hall until Monday at 5 p.m. Voters can also pick up ballots, but only for themselves. Ballots will be mailed upon request through Friday. Call 878-5121 to request one.

More information about the candidates and budgets on the ballot is available at the Observer's Web site, www.willistonobserver.com. Check next week's edition for voting results