Veteran member stepping down from Selectboard

Mikell logs decade of service to schools, town

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

It was a typical Andy Mikell opinion, echoing what others were probably thinking but too diplomatic to say.

In 2001, the Williston School Board was debating limits on field trips to distant places such as Washington, D.C. and New York City. Some parents had complained, but teachers thought the trips were educational.

Mikell, a veteran School Board member, got right to the heart of the matter.

"There's lots of stuff to do in our own backyard," he said. "Do we really need to spend two days on the bus?"

Mikell would later move on to the Selectboard, where his statements were often equally unvarn-
ished. But now, after nearly a decade of public service, he will step down when his term ends in March.

"It was a good run," he said. "I thought it was time to give someone else a shot at it."

Mikell, 50, began serving on the School Board in 1997. He decided in 2003 not to seek what would have been his fourth term.

But it wasn't long before he resumed public service, this time on the Selectboard. In 2004, Mike Kanfer resigned before the end of his term. Mikell was appointed by the board to replace Kanfer. He was elected to a three-year term the following year.

Throughout his years on the two boards, Mikell was rarely shy about taking positions that he considered to be in the public's best interest – even if it meant bucking vocal opposition.

For example, when hunters proposed permitting firearm use on some town-owned lands last year, Mikell instead called for rules that tightened restrictions to protect public safety.

In 2002 Mikell spearheaded a petition drive to put a local sales tax on the ballot, despite the fact that an identical measure had been overwhelmingly rejected two years earlier. Businesses objected, but on second try voters resoundingly approved the tax, which allowed the town to sharply reduce property taxes.

Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs said Mikell's decisive manner helped advance debates even when the rest of the board wasn't quite ready to make a decision.

"I think Andy is very clear on things in his own mind," he said. "At times, he was ready to move quicker than the overall board."

But Fehrs said he never took Mikell's no-nonsense manner and blunt opinions personally, even when they were on opposite sides of an issue. Fehrs said he always understood that Mikell's views were heartfelt and not intended to manipulate or offend.

"There was never a time when he angered or frustrated me," Fehrs said.

Mikell said public service came with some frustrations. At times he said work commitments limited the time he could spend studying the voluminous material that board members must absorb before meetings.

He also complained that some people the Selectboard hears from consider only their own interests and don't recognize the greater good.

"People sometimes don't understand that though we do listen to their perspective, as the Selectboard we have to represent all citizens in town," he said.

Mikell has been married to his wife, Ashley, for 26 years. The couple has two sons – Whitney, a senior at Champlain Valley Union High School, and Taylor, a student at Williams College in Massachusetts.

Mikell has been a real estate lawyer with Vermont Attorneys Title Corp. since 1994. Before that, he was in private practice for 11 years.

He followed in his late father's footsteps, both in terms of profession and public service. William Mikell served in the Vermont House and on the Williston Planning Commission. He was a longtime lawyer who for a time worked with his son in private practice.

Mikell's seat is one of two openings on the Selectboard this year. Judy Sassorossi has indicated she plans to seek re-election to a three-year term, said Town Clerk Deb Beckett. No candidate has emerged to take Mikell's place.

The town has struggled to attract residents willing to run for elected and appointed positions in recent years. Mikell said serving on the Selectboard is a great way to learn more about Williston and help determine the town's direction.

"There's no better way to know what's going on with your town government," he said. "Don't complain unless you are willing to roll up your sleeves and do the work."

The town will host a job fair that will provide information on current openings on boards and committees on Thursday, Jan. 17 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. The deadline to file for elected positions in Williston is Jan. 28.