Residents’ concern over transitional housing continues; Select Board knew about proposal earlier than indicated

By Shawn Cunningham

Nearly 40 residents packed into the benches at Chester Town Hall for the Wednesday, June 4 Chester Select Board meeting. Most were there to express their views on the transitional housing proposal put forward by the Springfield Justice Center. And most were from the Gassetts area, where they believed the center intended to buy or rent a home to house three inmates from the prison in Springfield as they made the transition to life after release.

Roy Spaulding Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Roy Spaulding: Even a rural area has children.
Photos by Shawn Cunningham

Residents including Roy Spaulding expressed concern that while the house they believed would be purchased or rented by the program was rural, the area is home to children and visiting grandchildren.

Aleks Hunter noted the irony of this discussion following a report from the Chester Beautification Committee. “Springfield,” Hunter said,  “looks like Brooklyn – the bad part of Brooklyn.” Hunter was concerned that housing inmates in Chester would degrade housing values and hurt the town’s tax base.

“Look at it from the criminal’s point of view,” said Mike LeClair. “If you send me to Gassetts on a dead end road how does that enhance my rehabilitation?”

Patty Goodrich noted that the house in question was in an area with no cell service. “It’s the perfect place for something to happen,” said Goodrich. “Sometimes in the winter we have to park at the bottom of the hill and walk past this house, it’s 50 feet from to this house from the car.”

Wendi Germain, executive director of the Springfield Justice Center, responded repeatedly that the house referred to by Goodrich and others was looked at by the Justice Center, but is not on the list of properties to buy.

Residents also asked questions about how the released inmates would get jobs, how they would get around and who would monitor and supervise them. Henry Benware asked Germain about the recidivism rate. Germain said the rate that prisoners released into society who re-offend is about 54 percent. But of the 10 inmates who have gone through the Justice Center program in the two years of this program, two have “relapsed,” making that recidivism rate 20 percent.

Using the analogy of college kids living together in a house, Kelly Spaulding questioned whether it is a good idea to put criminals together in numbers.

Chester Police Sgt. Mark Phelps told the crowd that there are already offenders among them that they don’t know about. “They are already near you,” said Phelps, “other agencies have people here.” Phelps observed that the Corrections Department’s requirement that Germain get a letter from the Select Board is the reason that this even came up.

Board member Derek Suursoo said that Germain could get a clear idea of what Chester residents think of the proposal from their comments and that his phone has been ringing off the hook with similar comments. Board member Arne Jonynas responded that he had also received a lot of public comment, but that it was favorable noting that it’s “better to have supervision and extra help to transition back into society.”

In the end, the board learned that its meetings to get public comment were enough to satisfy the Department of Corrections requirement that the town have the chance to review the proposal and ask questions before the Justice Center could go ahead.  Germain confirmed at the meeting that the agendas and minutes of the meetings were sufficient and that no letter from the board is necessary.

Board feels rushed to a decision 11 weeks after town received proposal

While residents expressed concern that criminals, especially sex offenders, might be living near them, Select Board members including chairman John DeBenedetti, Bill Lindsay and Derek Suursoo expressed concern that they had not been given enough time or information to give a response. Using terms like “under the gun” and “bullied.”

But the record says otherwise.

While Lindsay maintained that he had never seen the proposal saying, “This board did not get a fully furnished copy of a grant” and DeBenedetti said, “This came late,” the record shows that the grant was awarded in February and Wendi Germain says that she emailed a  copy to town manager David Pisha on March 19.

While Select Board member Lindsay maintained that he had never seen the proposal saying, “This board did not get a fully furnished copy of a grant” and member DeBenedetti said, “This came late,” the record shows that the grant was awarded in February and Wendi Germain says that she emailed a  copy to town manager David Pisha on March 19.

Last week, Germain said she was taken by surprise at the Select Board’s contention that members had not seen the proposal until May 7. She checked her datebook and emails and said she met with Pisha and Police Chief Rick Cloud on Thursday, April 3. Then a week later, on April 10, she supplied Pisha with information that she understood was requested from a discussion that the board had at its executive session on Wednesday, April 2.

On Tuesday, June 10, Pisha confirmed that the proposal had been received on March 19 and discussed it in executive session on April 2, but could not remember whether the proposal was given out at that meeting. “It would have been available if the board had asked to see it, Pisha said.

On Tuesday, June 10, town manager David Pisha confirmed that the proposal had been received on March 19 and discussed in executive session on April 2, but could not remember whether the proposal was given out at that meeting. “It would have been available if the board had asked to see it,” Pisha said.

The executive session was called to confer with town attorney Jim Carroll “on legal matters.” Germain attended the April 16 Select Board meeting to answer any questions that the board might have, but they had none. The first meeting in which transitional housing was on the agenda was held on May 7, at which some Chester Select Board members said they had never seen the proposal.  “This is the first time we’ve seen this in the flesh,” said Suursoo at that meeting, “treat us like we know nothing.” Germain said last week that in addition to sending Pisha the document by email on March 19, she emailed the proposal again on April 10 with answers to the Select Board questions. She expected that Pisha would distribute them to the board members. But in a Telegraph story last month, it was reported that the proposal never made it to the packets.

“The board does like to take its time,” said Pisha when asked about the delay in considering the proposal, “It was 18 months for the solar farm. They like to turn things around and look at them several ways.”  During the meeting this past Wednesday, DeBenedetti said, “I wish this board could have a magic dose of something to make this all go away.”

SRDC gets $1.5M grant; grant for Whiting repairs

In other action, the board heard from Bob Flint of the Springfield Regional Development Corp. In past meetings, the board has questioned the value of SRDC’s work and requested that Flint come to a meeting to address their concerns.

Bob Flynt of SDRC explains what his organization does.

Bob Flynt of SDRC explains what his organization does.

Flint explained that his organization is a conduit for state and federal funds and that in addition to helping the town and the Chester Economic Development Corp., SRDC has 19 clients in Chester and that last year it assisted in getting $350,000 in bank financing for Chester businesses. Flint is also active in trying to get some movement on the Armory, but because it is an Army owned building, the EPA won’t allow its funds to go toward the Phase One environmental study that any buyer would need to protect from the liability of clean ups in the future. If a buyer can be found, SRDC is considering funding the Phase One study on its own.

Flint also announced that $1.5 million in grants would be available in the fall for businesses with unmet needs resulting from Irene damage. In this partnership between the Springfield and Brattleboro development organizations, grants can range from $10,000 to $100,000.

  • The select board voted to authorize DeBenedetti to sign several documents in the grant application process for a USDA grant to carry out repairs and restoration to the Whiting Library building.
  • Tory Spater, chair of the Chester Beautification Committee, said that 44 large pots filled with flowering plants had been placed around town – paid for by community sponsorship. Spater said that the committee – which is an offshoot of the Chester Economic Development Corp. – took on the project because it would “enhance economic vitality.” Spater noted that the committee has more projects in the works and that she had received a call and a donation from a Chester Telegraph reader in Florida who had read about the effort online.
  • Surveyor Deb Daniels outlined the options for surveying ancient roads to clarify the situation for a landowner. The board discussed ways of managing the expense, and landowner Peter Hudkins who asked for a survey of a road that runs across his property, said that a recently found “center line” survey would be sufficient for his needs.
  • During the public comment portion of the meeting, Rosann Sexton suggested that the town request contact information from second homeowners to be used in case of problems with their property. She reported that during the fire at the house on Route 11 and Blue Hill Road, the town was unable to contact the owners because the only address it had for them was a local P.O. Box. Sexton said that asking for the information with the tax bill would be the most cost effective way.
  • Jeff Holden was re-appointed to the post of Forest Fire Warden for a term of five years. Landowners who are planning on doing a burn should contact him for a burn permit at 802- 875-2173
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Filed Under: FeaturedLatest News

About the Author:

RSSComments (4)

Leave a Reply | Trackback URL

  1. Diana Ashworth says:

    You might want to read how Springfield residents reacted to a half-way house coming to their town. Some of the posts are a bit off-the-wall, but others do pose some interesting questions. I am really concerned about the negative changes which have happened in Springfield since the prison came to town, including a drop in house values and living conditions. Also, I am concerned that we are not talking about dealing with Vermont prisoners, but prisoners from other states. I understand that they would not be in the Vermont residence up for discussion, but I think this whole situation has become a slippery slope. Between this and the Dollar Store, I am beginning to believe that our town leaders are not interested in maintaining the integrity of Chester. Do we want to become another Springfield or Bellows Falls? Do we want to destroy the income we receive from tourists looking for a Vermont experience? They come from places that are already crime-ridden and unattractive. Why would they want to come to spend time in a town that is fast becoming a smaller replica of what they are trying to escape?

  2. James Donlan says:

    Look at the affects of similar programs have had on towns such as Brattleboro and Bennington. The crime rate is off the charts and they are really not desirable communities to live in. The DOC will also slowly expand this program within your town limits.

  3. Kathy says:

    Springfield accepted a prison and should be prepared to accept newly released criminals. Chester did not benefit from the prison, did it? If not, former inmates should not be situated here to live in a group home. There are enough low-priced homes in Springfield, which are closer to transportation, shopping, medical centers and potential employment.

    Chester has enough on its proverbial plate: empty storefronts and the Dollar General issue. Do we need transient criminals, whose recidivism rate is as high as over 50% added to this?

    Add the heroin trafficking scourge affecting the state, and remember that it was not too long ago that a few locals and a bunch of bottom feeders from N.J. were busted in town. Do our town police need to be exposed to this added danger?

    Whose rights should be protected: those of us who have a vested interest in Chester, who have families, homes and businesses; or the criminal element whom have shown contempt for society with each crime against person or property they’ve already committed?

  4. James Donlan says:

    As a former resident of Chester take this opinion for what it is worth. This decision on the transitional housing is up the current residents of the town I love so much. As a former employee of the VT Department of Corrections, I need to warn the residents of Chester that this is a bad thing for Chester. Inmates are manipulative and would have a very ill effect on your wonderful town. There will be incidents that will be titled by DOC as “ISOLATED” incidents. My opinion is that if Springfield wanted the DOC in their town, then let them accept the whole package. Chester beware! Love Chester and its residents far too much not to at least write this opinion.