Chester board cancels planning, zoning interviews; appeals Act 250 decision

By Shawn Cunningham and Cynthia Prairie
© 2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Chester Select Board last Wednesday, Jan. 18, decided to cancel scheduled interviews with four candidates for the Chester Development Review Board and the Planning Commission until its members can agree on a process for interviewing them and all future candidates for such positions.

The Chester Telegraph has pointed out the inconsistent manner with which the Select Board has handled filling these positions, dating back to 2012, when DRB member Scott Wunderle, who had come out against the Dollar General proposal, was not reappointed to the position.  At that time, the board attempted to formalize a process. It interviewed all candidates behind closed doors. And at least two of the four were give a non-disclosure form to prevent them from talking about the interviews, which the Secretary of State said was not enforceable.

After that, the procedures were not enforced. In 2015, the board re-appointed  members of the Development Review Board without advertising, posting the positions or interviewing candidates as part of a process that it established in 2013.

Select Board Chair John DeBenedetti considers an executive session for interviewing appointment candidates. Photos courtesy SAPA-TV.

While it seemed that the main question to resolve was whether or not to conduct the interviews in executive session, it soon became clear that it revolved around whether candidates interviewed later in the process would have the advantage by hearing the questions asked of others if the sessions were public.

“I would do it either way,” said board chair John DeBenedetti, “My concern is that telegraphing info gives other people time to prepare and that’s unfair.”

It was suggested that candidates could be asked to wait downstairs while an interview is conducted in an open session upstairs.

“You can’t ask someone to leave an open meeting,” said DeBenedetti.

However, the Secretary of State’s office disagrees.  In emails on Monday, Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters told The Telegraph that the problem could be resolved.

“The board’s reasoning here could easily be achieved by requesting the other candidates wait outside.” said Winters. “They are asking the candidates to consent to a reasonable procedure so that the public can better view the selection process. Going into executive session based on a hypothetical refusal to leave seems presumptuous and perhaps completely unnecessary. We urge boards to err on the side of transparent, open government whenever possible ”

Winters pointed to a recent example of this when the Stowe Board of Education decided to publicly interview the four candidates to replace a board member who had resigned.

Planning Commission member Claudio Veliz asked what was the criteria for selecting a planning commission member since that would determine the type of questions to be asked.

“I think anyone is going to ask the question they have in their mind, whatever they feel planning would affect,” said DeBenedetti. Veliz wondered what qualifications the board was looking for in a candidate.

“Are you looking for a philosophy?” asked DeBenedetti. “I have in my mind certain things, but I am not going to telegraph my questions. I don’t think that’s fair.”

Veliz questioned whether the board had identified any criteria for the job.

Planning Commission candidate Amy Mosher tells the board the process should not be that complicated.

“I’m not in favor of interviewing any candidates tomorrow night or until we have a written procedure,” said DeBenedetti. The board had warned an executive session for the following night to interview Kelly Arrison for the DRB and Amy Mosher, Greg Bobar and Bill Lindsay for the Planning Commission.

Mosher told the board that she had been called by the town to schedule the interview and had put time aside for it. “I don’t see why this is so complicated. It doesn’t have to be.”

DeBenedetti suggested working on the procedure at the next meeting and scheduling an interview session for the following evening.

Board member Arne Jonynas apologizes to Amy Mosher and town Executive Assistant Julie Hance for the inconvenience.

Executive assistant Julie Hance told the board that setting up the appointments had taken half a day and with this cancellation, that time was wasted. She suggested making sure the interview procedure was finished before taking the next step.

“Just adopt the damn thing and then do your interviews,” said Hance.

Board member Arne Jonynas apologized to Mosher and Hance for the inconvenience.

Town to appeal Act 250 decision

The town has hired Rutland attorney Jim Goss to draft and submit a motion to alter the decision of the District 2 Environmental Commission in granting an Act 250 permit to place a water tank, transmission line and access road on land on Route 103 South.

The permit was more restrictive regarding deer wintering areas than Town Manager David Pisha had expected and would hold gravel extraction to a much smaller portion of the land than envisioned.  The motion to alter is one of two avenues available to change the permit conditions. The second is an appeal to the Environmental Court. That appeal must be filed within 30 days of the decision, which came down on Dec. 30, 2016.

Since the deadlines for both the motion and the appeal are so close together, the town could do one or the other or both. In a phone call on Monday, Jan. 23, Pisha said that the town would also appeal.

“We want to proceed and use all of the avenues available to us,” Pisha said, noting that the approval for the tank was not part of the appeal and construction could go forward. Pisha said he had not received a bill for the motion to alter and did not know how much the appeal would cost.

In other action

  • Pisha told the board that town attorney Jim Carroll had drafted a quit claim deed for the Chester Historical Society to approve and sign as part of the “quiet title” action that he is preparing to file in court. The action asks a judge to resolve the question of who owns the historic Yosemite Fire House and the land it sits on.
  • Acting as Water and Sewer Commissioners, the Select Board approved a $2 hike in the quarterly equivalent unit water rate, from $46 to $48. Raising the rate $2 each quarter through the middle of 2018 will get the cost of water to the target 1 percent of median household income that is a condition for the $4 million loan for the water system upgrade. The equivalent unit rate is expected to top out at $60 per quarter.
  • Barre Pinske, a local sculptor and member of the Chester Village Center Master Planning Steering Committee, came before the board to suggest that it turn his committee  — when its work is done — into a group that would be “a central clearinghouse for ideas” to promote the town, businesses and economic development. He suggested that it would be a group interested in progress and able to reach out to the state of Vermont agencies for help. The committee, said Pisha, would be an official committee of the town. Pinske added,“This town won’t be cooler if it is left up to the Select Board to make it cool. Sorry to tell you guys, but you just aren’t cool.” No action was taken on the suggestion.
  • Pisha also said that the town has saved almost $6,000 from January to December of 2016 from the solar farm.
  • Pisha told the board that he had met with the new superintendent of schools and discussed bonding for capital expenses and the town’s master planning process. Asked if they had talked about Act 46 and its possible property tax implications, Pisha said they touched on it briefly but did not get into detail
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  1. Larry Semones says:

    I am at a complete loss trying to keep up with the discussions for appointing planning committee members and other discussions about how decisions are made or “not” made. We elect selectmen to represent us. Why are all the demands for open interviews etc. necessary. Let the elected reps do their job. You can always fire them at the next election. Oh wait, that means we actually have a contested election. My memory, which isn’t always correct, remembers a lot of uncontested elections. Maybe we are all so intent on having it our way and make life so difficult for those elected many will not even consider running. I applaud and thank those who that do. I’ve lived in Chester only 3 years and am married to someone who grew up here, can’t tell you how long ago. My impression is there are lots of folks who want to do things as long as it’s what they want.

  2. Marilyn Mahusky says:

    I was unaware the Town decided to challenge the decision of the Environmental Commission. When did this occur, and what was the process for deciding to appeal? In other words, did the Selectboard vote in favor of hiring an attorney to initiate an appeal? As a taxpayer, I’m not in favor of our pursuing an appeal, and certainly not in favor of expending further funds on litigation expenses. What will this cost the town in attorney fees?


  3. MJ Miles says:

    You mean someone might have read what I wrote and listened? Calling Jim Goss is about the smartest thing you could do. Unfortunately you are already in a bad position by not having done it first. You should have pre-empted the process before the purchase to be in the best position.

    Sorry Amy Mosher everything is difficult with the Chester Select board. They can’t make a simple decision about much and some have no concept of how things really work in government.