Hinesburg clerk retires after long career
This story by Corey McDonald first appeared in The Citizen on March 16.
Melissa Ross – or “Missy” – grew up in Manchester, attending town meeting day elections as a child and watching her father, Ferdinand “Nundy” Bongartz, moderate the whole affair.
Bongartz, a Vermont public service legend, spent 26 years as Manchester moderator and served years on the town’s board of selectmen, planning commission and school board as well as the county planning commission and state environmental commission.
The apple, in this case, doesn’t fall very far from the tree. This month, Ross will end a career spanning nearly a quarter of a century, ending his 22-year tenure as Hinesburg’s secretary and treasurer.
He is Hinesburg’s longest serving official at more than a century, dating back to at least 1900. He has also served on the Hinesburg Kindergarten board, the town planning commission and was part of the Hinesburg Land Trust when it first started.
“It is with sadness and anticipation that I move forward to the next chapter of my life,” he said. “I have had the distinct pleasure of having one of the most rewarding jobs in Vermont, a job steeped in history and tradition.”
Ross has been the “business face” of Hinesburg, President-elect Merrily Lovell said, “a warm and friendly face who treats each person with respect and special interest in a way that empowers us all.”
For 22 years, he has greeted everyone in town looking for dog licenses or marriage licenses, people to pay their taxes or water bills and countless other unsolicited requests.
“I’m definitely going to miss it. I’m going to miss my colleagues, and I’m just going to miss seeing them all regularly,” he said. “It will be an adjustment for sure, but I’m lucky to have a lot of good friends in the community.”
The town clerk is a town official who, in more ways than the town’s state representative or selectman, is “the face of the community,” as former Vermont Rep. Bill Lippert once said, “the person most people hold as the interface to the community.
That’s what he’ll miss the most, Ross said.
“People have been so wonderful to meet and no matter how small their request or problem may have been, it was most gratifying,” she said. “I really, really enjoyed it.”
A native of Vermont, Ross grew up in Manchester and then attended Middlebury College and later the University of Vermont, eventually settling in Hinesburg. After first being the town’s recreation coordinator, in October 2001 he moved to the positions of town hall secretary and town treasurer.
Since then, it has seen many changes, most recently seeing COVID-19 completely disrupt Vermont’s town meeting tradition.
Hinesburg, since the pandemic, has chosen to use the Australian vote instead of the traditional in-person vote at the annual meeting.
Hinesburg’s informational meeting “was pretty well attended this year, considering nothing was voted on,” he said. “But I think it’s partly a matter of equity, giving people a chance to vote on the budget — people who might have a hard time going to a meeting. As our population is aging, I think it’s good to give that person a chance to vote by ballot.”
In the coming years, the town will see even more changes, as the center of the town is expected to grow and transform as hundreds of new homes come under the regulations.
There’s an anxiety there, for sure — the impact of traffic congestion on Route 116, for example — and as a town gets bigger, it’s harder and harder to maintain those local traditions that are unique to Vermont towns, he said.
“On the positive side, it can be a good thing to introduce new people who bring a new enthusiasm to the volunteer committees in the town and are looking for the opportunity to participate.”
“We hope people are out and about and can chat to people. I think it’s a better way to grow … I hope that helps us maintain that sense of community.”
Ross will replace Heather Roberts, assistant village clerk and treasurer, who ran unopposed in this year’s election.
“As I pass the torch to the next city clerk and treasurer, I want to thank you for your years of support, goodwill and good wishes for the future,” Ross said.