Chester board reappoints DRB members without advertising openings

By Shawn Cunningham
©2015-Telegraph Publishing LLC

Several pending issues including action on the disposition of the Yosemite Fire House and a board member’s  request to discuss the formation of a fire district were missing from the agenda for the  Wednesday, June 17 meeting of the Chester Select  Board. But the board re-appoinnted  members of the Development Review Board without advertising, posting the positions or interviewing candidates as part of a process that it established in 2013.

Harold Johnson, chair of the Andover Select Board, discusses the emergency services MOU with the Chester Select Board. Photos by Shawn Cunningham.

Harold Johnson, chair of the Andover Select Board, discusses the emergency services MOU with the Chester Select Board. Photos by Shawn Cunningham.

With the terms of five positions on the Development Review Board ending this month, the board moved to re-nominate the three sitting members and two alternates. Select Board member Heather Chase questioned the process, asking if the town ever advertises so people interested in serving could apply.

“Did we do that?” asked board chair John DeBenedetti.

Town Manager David Pisha said that all of the sitting members and alternates wanted to continue on the board so the positions were not advertised. “I thought the general feeling was the people there were doing a fine job,” said Pisha. The reappointed members are Carla Westine and Don Robinson both of Chester and Amy O’Neil of Ludlow. The alternates are Ken Barrett and Mark Curran of Chester.

Three years ago, when the town inadvertently let two positions lapse, one of the incumbents – landscape architect Scott Wunderle – applied for reappointment. At that time, the Select Board instituted a  procedure for filling positions that included taking applications for the board, interviewing the applicants in closed door sessions, then voting on the positions in public session. At least two of the candidates in that session reported being shown non-disclosure statements.  Asked about this afterward, Pisha said the statement had been inadvertently deleted from a town office computer.

Westine and O’Neil were appointed as a result of that process. The new process was followed when Chester resident Phil Perlah was appointed to fill the term of Heidi Ladd after her death in 2014, but not in any other DRB appointments or re-appointments.

Under state statute, the DRB is a “quasi-judicial” organization that acts as the court of first resort in deciding how property owners can use their property.

Yosemite Fire House still a question

The Select Board continued to drag its feet on the question of who owns the historic Yosemite Fire House. A resident had asked the board at its June 3 meeting what progress had been made in untangling the historic record, which dates to a deed from 1880 and hinges on questions of whether a “reversion” clause in the deed refers to the land under the firehouse or the entire property.

At that meeting, DeBenedetti had said that:

  1. he thought the Chester Historical Society had given the building back to the owner of the red brick house at 1st Avenue and Route 103 and
  2. the board was hoping for an attorney to step forward and volunteer to do the title search that would clarify the issue.

Board member Bill Lindsay had also said that he thought that the historical society had given back the building while board member Tom Bock asked Pisha to “check it out.” The subject was not on the agenda nor brought up in old business and it was not until the end of the meeting when Chase asked what was happening with the question that the fire house was discussed.

Pisha said that he had received a bid from Chester attorney John Holme of between $260 and $390 for researching the title and telling the town whether or not it owns the historic structure. Pisha further noted that he was waiting for a bid from town attorney Jim Carroll of Middlebury, but said that Carroll’s bid would include travel time. At the board’s April 15 meeting, historical society President Ronald Patch told the board that his organization can no longer afford the $1,200 per year to insure it and needed to get rid of it.

Andover, Chester hammer out differences over MOU

The ongoing ping pong match that is the Memorandum of Understanding between the towns of Chester and Andover concerning the provision of fire, ambulance and emergency communications looks like it’s coming to a close.

The differences have come down to the format for reporting numbers of incidents (including those that are not responded to by Chester) and an explanation of how Chester arrives at the amount of each charge.

Andover Select Board chair Harold Johnson attended the meeting to say that the figures and explanations were needed for Andover’s annual report. Pisha will revise the MOU and someone from the Andover board will appear at the July 1 meeting to finalize the agreement.

Jennie Auster, at the podium, addresses wastewater regulations.

Jennie Auster, at the podium, addresses wastewater regulations.

In other business

  • The board voted to authorize Pisha to sign a $7,300 contract with Aldrich and Elliot, an engineering firm that surrounding towns are using for wastewater projects and to manage the compliance with new EPA requirements for “optimizing” the discharge of nitrogen and phosphorus from the town’s wastewater treatment plant. Describing the firm as the “Vermont resource for wastewater,” Pisha recommended that the board sign the $7,300 contract for handling the renewal of the town’s wastewater permit and the new EPA rules. Jennie Auster of Aldrich and Elliot said that the contract would be $2,100 less if they could convince the state of Vermont that the phosphorus discharge plan was not necessary for Chester. Wastewater plant operator Barry Goodrich said that skipping flushing lines this year would offset the cost of the contract.
  • Pisha noted that the realignment and repaving of Popple Dungeon Road should be getting its final permit in a few days. The project, which was held up last year due to Army Corps of Engineers concerns about a small area of wetlands, must be completed this year as grant funding for it expires in November.
  • Chase asked that the board look into a bidding policy for the town to use in purchasing goods and services. Pisha asked Chase if she had a copy of the town’s financial policies.  The Telegraph’s copy of  the financial policies dated 2012 mandate that any purchase over $500 be approved by the town manager and that bidding for town goods and services is at the discretion of the town manager.
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