Grafton voters ask the questions in a lively candidate forum

From left, candidates Al Sands and Cynthia Gibbs, Moderator Don Ross, and candidates Noralee Hall and Matt Siano.

From left, candidates Al Sands and Cynthia Gibbs, Moderator Don Ross, and candidates Noralee Hall and Matt Siano. All photos by Cynthia Prairie.

By Cynthia Prairie
©2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

About 40 members of the Grafton public got a chance Monday night to ask questions of the four people seeking two seats on the Grafton Select Board. The candidates forum, overseen by town Moderator David Ross at the Grafton Elementary School, was a lively and at times pointed event that was dominated by talk of business attraction and retention.

Moderator David Ross explains the format of the candidates forum Monday night in Grafton. Photo by Cynthia Prairie

Moderator David Ross explains the format of the candidates forum Monday night in Grafton.

The four candidates — three of whom petitioned to be on the ballot — are incumbent Noralee Hall and challenger Cynthia Gibbs, both seeking one three-year position — and Al Sands and write-in candidate Matt Siano, both seeking to fill the two-year post being vacated by board chair Sam Battaglino.

After drawing sticks, Hall went first, introducing herself and saying that “the town is in a position to make bold and positive steps to bring small businesses into town.” While she said she has enjoyed learning the ins and outs of the town, and “I like the way the town works through differences,” she added, “I will continue working and  continue listening and hearing about what the community needs.”

Gibbs outlined her long service to the town: auditor, lister, clerk, treasurer. “This is one I haven’t done and I was interested in doing more work with the budget. There is a lot to understanding the financials of the town and I feel I could help other board members understand.” She added that the current Select Board lacks an understanding of the budget.

Al Sands.

Al Sands.

Sands, who served on the board for two years before being ousted by Battaglino, expressed concern over the tone of the current Select Board and its treatment of residents. Grafton “is ready for a change,”said Sands, adding that serving on the School Board and working in Grafton following Tropical Storm Irene gave him the chance to hear various viewpoints and get a new appreciation for the work of the town.

Siano, who as a first-time candidate, is seeking a write-in victory, said that he is “proud of the people who have served before me. We wouldn’t have the successes we have had if it wasn’t for them.”

Siano said he brings his business experience to the table and would like to “bring Grafton back to a stronger working community … We need a better business plan to move forward and need to be open to new people coming into town.” When asked why he chose to be a write-in instead of formally filing, Siano said he thought that more than one person had filed.

Anti-wind, pro-wind, pro-process

Noralee Hall

Noralee Hall

Any attention paid to the proposed wind project tended to focus on personal action or inaction. Sands reiterated that while he has  been labeled pro wind, he hasn’t made up his mind. “I’m in favor of letting the process go through,” he said.

And one questioner asked Hall if she had changed her mind on the wind project to which she said that she did not want the project at first but has been opened to various points of view. “I am pro-process,” Hall stated. The questioner then asked, “Then why do you have a (an anti-wind) sign on your lawn?” Hall attempted to defend her position by saying “I’m happy to listen to everyone’s opinion.” But the questioner again shot back, “But if you are pro-process, why do you have the sign?” She finally said, “I don’t like wind, but I’m listening to others.”

Gibbs said she was “not really for it or against it.”

Attracting businesses, keeping jobs in town

Don Dougall asked Siano to offer a “quick 1-2-3” business plan for the town of Grafton. Siano said, “We need companies like the Windham Foundation with employees to help support the town.”

Cynthia Gibbs

Cynthia Gibbs

Dougall pressed: “Anything you would personally do to attract business?” to which Siano responded, “Promote the town, get the word out. We need to promote tourism and the shops.” When Dougall pressed for a one-word answer, Siano loudly exclaimed, “PROMOTION.”

Gibbs recalled that Grafton used to impose an inventory tax against businesses. “It was huge” she said, “but we voted out the inventory tax and that is a big plus for business.”

One audience member said that he agreed with Siano “that the town absolutely has to bring in smaller commercial type businesses.” But, he said that because the town does not have a water and sewer system, “There’s not a single building that could meet standards of separation of well and septic. These are huge issues. … It is making a big impact on one business trying to expand in town.”

Siano agreed and said, “We need to take that up with the state.”

Sam Battaglino asked Hall,  “Where would you envision Grafton in five years?” Hall responded, “I would look for small businesses that are ag-based, light industry. We are tourism based.”

Matt Siano

Matt Siano

The move of Blake Hill Preserves from Grafton to Windham Windsor came up when an audience member asked what the candidates would have done to keep them in town.

“I’m not sure I could have changed their opinion,” said Al Sands. “Trucking, getting product in and out … the business was growing. A business is a free enterprise and makes their decision on their own.”

One audience member asked, “Was the Select Board approached by the preserve company for help?” Hall, who works at Blake Hill, said, “As a whole no. Individually, I don’t know.”

Kent Armstrong asked, “Most of the businesses here are service. How could you want manufacturing?”

Siano said that manufacturing doesn’t have to be large. “It could be small business like yours. It’s antique shops, craft shops, businesses that will draw people here to shop. Would we want to be a Woodstock? No, but would we want the amenities? Maybe on a smaller scale.” Siano added that he would consider creating a small enterprise business area in Grafton. “There is limited space in town but certainly  … to find a space for it with proper water and sewage. We have to keep growing.”

When one audience member said, “But Matt, you moved your business out of town,” Siano replied, “But our corporate offices are still in town.”

The group was divided on whether Grafton needed to institute zoning regulations, Hall called it a “hot button issue” and said she would have to “look at it.” Gibbs recalled that in 1976 a zoning board was formed, but “people got really excited about it and voted it down. We were sort of zoned anyway with the Windham Foundation owning so much. And we don’t really attract trailer parks.” Sands said, “I go with history. Grafton is what it is without zoning. A lot of the land that is here is ag land and we have done fine.” But Siano caused titters when he said, “It’s a tough town to put zoning in. But we certainly have to have vision. I would be for zoning.”

During closing remarks after 9 p.m., Gibbs ushered in the end of the meeting by rising and stating, “It’s past my dinner time and past my bedtime,” as she left the table to pick up her coat.

Voting will be held from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 1 at Grafton Elementary School, 58 School St. in Grafton. Town Meeting will begin at 10 a.m.

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor for 30 years, having worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Malcolm Hamblett says:

    Blake Hill Preserves will be moving to Windsor, not Windham.