Statehouse Sergeant at Arms Janet Miller Is Set to Step Down | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice


Statehouse Sergeant at Arms Janet Miller Is Set to Step Down


Published February 27, 2024 at 10:00 a.m.

Sergeant at Arms Janet Miller - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur ©️ Seven Days
  • Sergeant at Arms Janet Miller

It’s quite a feat keeping the Vermont Statehouse running smoothly.

During the legislative session, lawmakers, lobbyists, activists and the public cram into a warren of meeting rooms to craft public policy. Over the summer and fall, throngs of tourists traipse across the grounds and through its art-lined halls, making the marble edifice one of the state’s top visitor attractions.

Orchestrating all that activity falls largely on the shoulders of the Statehouse’s sergeant at arms, an often-overlooked position that will be in the spotlight this week.

“The sergeant at arms is the air traffic controller for the Statehouse,” Sen. Alison Clarkson (D-Windsor) told Seven Days recently. “It’s an incredibly important and consequential job and one you only notice when it's done poorly.”

Janet Miller, who has held the post for the past decade, is retiring on Thursday. Lawmakers are electing her replacement via secret ballots on Friday. It’s one of the few jobs in state government that is filled by a vote of the full legislature.

The two candidates vying for the post have been discreetly campaigning for weeks, lobbying legislators to support them for the $120,000-per-year position.
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Janet Miller
Mike Ferrant, the current director of legislative operations, and Agatha Kessler, who held a similar post until 2017 and now works in the Secretary of State’s Office, each argue they’re better poised to follow in Miller’s footsteps.

Ferrant, a former U.S. Army officer and a resident of Williamstown, says his leadership and good relationships with lawmakers and other Statehouse officials would allow him to transition into the role seamlessly.

He said he’s proud of the technological changes he and others implemented during the pandemic that made it easier for residents to testify and track legislation. He recalled a farmer testifying remotely to a legislative committee from the seat of his tractor, turning his camera toward a field to make a point about the impact of a proposed bill.

“That’s pretty powerful,” Ferrant said. “You could never have done that before the pandemic.”
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Mike Ferrant
The sergeant at arms also needs to ensure the safety of lawmakers and the public. Ferrant said his Army experience in counterterrorism and construction management would help him work with other agencies to assess threats and to upgrade building security as needed.

“The political climate is bad across the country, and I don’t think this building is immune to violence,” Ferrant said.

Kessler, meanwhile, is looking to return to run a Statehouse she left in 2017 to work for the Green Mountain Care Board. She is now deputy director in the Office of Professional Regulation.

The Barre resident said her time out of the building has broadened her perspective on the General Assembly’s role, and she’s eager to return to a place she loves.
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Agatha Kessler
“I’ve seen it now from all angles, and it’s only deepened my respect for the institution,” she said.

Kessler said she enjoys working with the public and helping solve problems big and small. She worked closely with Miller before she left, understands the role well and is confident she could juggle the responsibilities.

“If I don’t know the answer to something, I will track down the experts or the people who have the answers,” Kessler said.

Kessler also thinks more could be done to secure the Statehouse, citing threats made against lawmakers and incidents such as the January 6 insurrection. Changes could involve tools such as metal detectors or service dogs, but it’s too soon to say, she added.

“My priority is to make sure the people that have to be in the building to do their work feel safe,” she said.

Whoever gets the job is going to preside over a Statehouse that has seen profound changes in recent years and will likely see more, Miller said.

The pandemic underscored the inadequacy of many of the Statehouse’s spaces, including its tiny committee rooms and antiquated heating and cooling systems.

The new sergeant at arms will also have to oversee significant accessibility upgrades. These include a new western entryway that protects visitors from snow sliding off the roof, a new elevator large enough to fit a stretcher and ramps that meet code for wheelchair accessibility, Miller said.
Janet Miller delivering a message to Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin) - KEVIN MCCALLUM
  • Kevin McCallum
  • Janet Miller delivering a message to Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin)
That’s in addition to daily responsibilities of setting up meeting rooms for lawmakers, organizing at-times contentious public hearings, overseeing the Capitol Police, managing the page program and helping lawmakers do everything from getting their mail to finding a lost set of keys.

“I have never been off the clock in the 10 years I’ve been here,” Miller said.

Correction, February 27, 2024: The sergeant at arms position is not the only one filled by vote of the full legislature. An earlier version of this story contained an error.

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