For the last eight years, Michael Ashooh has been a member of the Shelburne Ethics Committee. That assignment suited him well since his day job as a philosophy professor at the University of Vermont includes teaching classes in ethics. This year, he ran for an open seat on the selectboard.
“The past few years were really tumultuous,” he said. “I was close to a lot of things that were going on and felt I could contribute in a positive way.”
While serving on the Ethics Committee, Ashooh helped spearhead a report by the Vermont Legislative Research Service to determine what other towns were doing to prevent conflicts of interest and to ensure ethical government. Following the report, the Legislature established a State Ethics Commission with a goal of helping towns develop ethics ordinances. Ashooh is proud that Shelburne is one of only six Vermont towns to have an ethics committee.
“We are one of the more forward-leaning towns in that respect,” he said. “I believe our ordinance is one of the most developed and one that has already had a test drive.”
Ashooh and his wife Sarah Nilsen moved to Vermont in 2003 when she received a tenure-track offer from UVM. Ashooh lectured at St. Michael’s College and coached their rugby team before receiving an offer to teach at UVM in 2007. The couple then moved to Shelburne, attracted by the schools and “small town character.”
The 51-year-old Ashooh has a doctorate from the University of Toronto and thinks his area of expertise can be helpful in his new position.
“Philosophy is essentially critical thinking skills,” he said. “You learn to construct and evaluate arguments and to wade through difficult material and sort it out. The oldest tradition of philosophy is dialogue.”
Ashooh enjoyed the collaborative thinking that was part of his work on the ethics committee and hopes to be able to continue that kind of work on the select board.
“I think of myself as calm and reflective,” he said, “and I think that will serve me well on the board.”
One of Ashooh’s goals for the select board is to implement some of the training suggested by the State Ethics Commission.
“If you educate people about the appearance of a conflict of interest, that solves 90 to 95 percent of any problems,” he said. “Once people understand the parameters, most of the problems should go away.”
Ashooh is also interested in economic revitalization, particularly of the Route 7 corridor, and deeply concerned with how the town will deal with stormwater. He teaches a course in environmental ethics and would like to implement that thinking on a town level.
“I’m concerned about open space, energy and sustainability,” he said. “We need to think 10 or 20 years down the line about what the challenges will be, including issues like climate change and water quality.”
Ashooh and Nilsen have three children. Josh is a senior heading to UVM, Lena is a sophomore at Champlain Valley Union High School and Samara is in seventh grade at Shelburne Community School. In his spare time, Ashooh enjoys home renovation projects and gardening. He gave up playing rugby when he turned 40 but keeps active in the sport by occasionally serving as a referee.
“I’m looking forward to working on the select board,” he said. “They seem friendly with one another and very good at what they do which helped me feel comfortable running. I felt that I could work well with them and also contribute.”