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Skills, experience, and ‘a little bit of ESP’

Long-time public servant Doris Knechtel announces retirement

NEWFANE—On March 7, the Town Offices will lose a major source of institutional knowledge. A new lister will replace long-time public servant Doris Knechtel, who ends her last term as lister the day after Town Meeting.

Before joining the municipal staff, Knechtel, a native of Orange, Mass., taught high school home economics in East Longmeadow, Mass. When she moved to Vermont, she worked at Mount Snow.

“Then I decided I had to get a serious job!” she said.

Knechtel has served Newfane for 27 years, starting as a Selectboard member, then as administrative assistant and lister. When the Selectboard hired Shannon Meckle as administrative assistant in August 2007, Knechtel remained in the lister’s office.

Newfane has three elected listers who serve three-year terms. They assess property values for taxation purposes.

“We have all kinds of charts and tables” Knechtel said, which help the listers when they go on site visits to assess new buildings, additions, or demolished or damaged homes. Listers go through a state training course right after they are elected.

Taking another look

Listers also hear grievances from property owners who dispute the assessment of their parcel’s value.

“We listen to them. Sometimes we have to go to the property again and have another look,” Knechtel said.

After the listers submit their decision, if the owner still disagrees with the assessment, they can first go to the town’s Board of Civil Authority, then to the state or the court system.

During the 2017 town-wide reappraisal, Knechtel noted that, of 1,600 parcels, about 43 owners disputed the results.

Knechtel said one of the most important skills a lister should have is the ability to listen.

“I like helping people,” she said. When residents come to her office, upset, “I let them vent. By the time they leave, they’ll be laughing. That’s the goal!”

“When I was in fourth or fifth grade, I came home one day and told my mother what I would do for the rest of my life: ‘I’m going to laugh a lot! Because it makes me feel better and it makes other people feel better.’ And it works,” Knechtel said.

“When they come in with questions, it’s a challenge. Like a puzzle. Then I solve the problem,” she said.

“Everything I know about doing this job came from Doris,” Meckle told The Commons.

‘A little bit of ESP’

To illustrate an example, Meckle held up a copy of the 2017 Town Report, which she recently completed. “She’s the only other person who really understands how to do this,” Meckle added, and pointed out the numerous pages of budgets and data inside the 150-page document.

“I was really fortunate that when I got here, Doris was across the hall in the Listers Office,” Meckle said. “Not everybody has their predecessor still available.”

“As far as day-to-day staff in the Town Offices, everybody else is new,” Meckle said.

When asked for the most important thing Knechtel taught her, Meckle said it is “the knack of guessing at what the Selectboard is going to ask of you, and having it all ready for them ahead of time. It’s a combination of procedure, interpersonal knowledge, and a little bit of ESP.”

“I’ll miss her,” Meckle said, and admitted she may call Knechtel when she has questions, even after she retires.

Will Meckle find Knechtel home after March 7? Possibly.

“I have a quilt in pieces. I’ve been working on it for about eight years,” Knechtel said. “I took some oil and watercolor classes. I’d like to be a creative person again. I’m going to unwind.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #444 (Wednesday, January 31, 2018). This story appeared on page A5.

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