By MADELINE HUGHES
Over a dozen Shelburne residents asked questions that focused on debt, construction, economic development and the railroad to two selectboard candidates Tuesday night.
Residents wrote questions on cards that incumbent Town Moderator Tom Little asked of the candidates. Incumbent Jaime Heins is running for the two-year seat he currently holds. Mike Ashooh is a newcomer to the board running for a three-year seat.
School board incumbent Russell Caffry could not make it to Tuesday’s forum, as there was a Champlain Valley School District board meeting. He is running for the three-year seat he currently holds. All are running unopposed.
Heins is a lawyer for Keuirg Dr Pepper, previously known as Keurig Green Mountain. He came to the board in late 2017 after a member resigned due to turmoil on the board.
In describing his management style, Heins said, “I’m a lawyer, I’m analytical by nature.”
Just over two months after joining the board, Heins was thrust into making a decision to pursue the town’s lawsuit against Vermont Railway, Inc. He voted “yes” because the town would not be expending more money on the project, only using the $20,000 given to the town by the Vermont Natural Resources Council to bring the lawsuit to the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City.
Ashooh has served on the Ethics Committee since 2007. In 2017 and 2018, there were a number of complaints filed that drew attention from Shelburne residents. It was actually Ashoosh’s involvement with the Ethics Committee that compelled him to run for selectboard, he said.
“I was front and center in the issues in town, which peaked my interest to be more involved in town,” Ashooh said. “To be honest, the board looks very functional and it looks like the members get along.”
As a philosophy lecturer at the University of Vermont, Ashooh said he wants to bring his light-hearted and calm approach to confronting difficult situations to the board. He cracked multiple jokes during the forum, eliciting laughter from the audience.
When asked about what decisions would be made after the court ruled on the Vermont Railway case, both Heins and Ashooh said they were interested in holding some kind of public referendum on how the town should spend money on the issue.
Fiscal responsibility is a priority for both candidates
One of the achievements Heins was happy to report: “Legal expenses are under control.”
Both candidates also expressed an interest in taking a deep look at the capital improvement plan, a budgeting document that plans how the town saves for and buys certain pieces of equipment and maintains buildings.
Ashooh said he was surprised to learn how much thought had gone into the fire and rescue department’s request for a new building. He recalled that idea being brought up during the discussion for a new library.
“If we had built consensus about which was the priority 10 years ago, this could have been a smoother process,” Ashooh said.
When discussing the location of the potential new fire and rescue station Ashooh joked that his biggest concern was, “How are we going to have the pancake dinner, and where will go after parades?”
Heins suggested making a more visual budget to help residents understand priorities in town.
When asked directly if they would vote for the article to pay to enter into the purchase agreement, Ashooh said he is going to vote “yes” for Article VIII. Heins said though he was happy to put it on the ballot, he will be thinking about the issue more before fully committing.
Both Heins and Ashooh said they are excited about the potential Healthy Living Market development on Route 7. Heins, who previously served on the planning commission, reiterated that that area was prime for redevelopment.
“It’s critical to revitalize that corridor,” he said.
Ashooh agreed, also pointing to the newly adopted town plan.
Both candidates acknowledged the heavy workload and breadth of issues facing the town, but said they were both excited to give back to a community that has given them so much.
Heins has lived in Shelburne with his wife and two children, a girl in first grade and a boy in fourth grade, since 2012.
“I tell people (Shelburne) has everything I need. It’s a very accessible community, whether you live here and commute, or live and work here,” Hines said. “The proximity to town allows you to do anything you want to do. And the sense of community is a big draw for us. Shelburne is a place that is very livable.”
Ashooh has lived in Shelburne with his wife and three children since 2007. He has a son and daughter attending Champlain Valley Union High School, and a daughter in seventh grade at Shelburne Community School.
“It is the quintessential small town New England life,” Ashoo said. “It’s easy to get involved, you can run for selectboard without running against anyone. And anyone can have an impact. It’s a small town, you know people.”