Chester Select Board sets 2nd water project vote, Chase seeks purchasing, conflict of interest policy review

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2015 Telegraph Publishing LLC

In an odd bit of legal theater recommended by a bonding attorney who does work for the state, the members of the Chester Select Board met on Wednesday night as the Chester Water Commissioners. The purpose of the meeting was to arrive at the conclusion that the proposed $4 million water system upgrade is a “perceived public good,” then to recommend it to the Select Board, which would take up that recommendation near the end of its meeting that evening.

Select Board chair John DeBenedetti and member Tom Bock. Photos by Shawn Cunningham.

Select Board chair John DeBenedetti and member Tom Bock. Photos by Shawn Cunningham.

The last time water commissioners met, according to board member Tom Bock, was more than 20 years ago. Under Vermont statutes, a select board either appoints a water board or acts as the water board. According to Town Manager David Pisha, attorney Paul Giuliani, who counsels the town on municipal finance and bond issues, said “not to get too hung up on the formalities.” The recommendation was passed 3-0 without discussion.

Later, as the last item on the agenda, the Select Board took up the recommendation of the “water commission” and voted to go ahead with warning the project for a town meeting on Monday, Sept. 28 and an Australian ballot on Tuesday, Sept. 29. The warning will be presented to the board for approval and signing at the Wednesday, Aug. 19 meeting. This will be the second vote on the project.  A “ratification” vote of  June 30 was held because the first vote on the project had been inadequately warned, but the ratification failed.

Bidding policy review, conflict of interest

At the request of board member Heather Chase, the Select Board revisited its purchasing policy, especially as it relates to bidding. Currently, the decision whether or not to bid a contract or a purchase lies entirely at the discretion of the town manager. Chase presented the board with some sample policies and an animated discussion of whether bidding and conflict of interest policies hindered the operation of town government.

“It’s not just price, It’s loyalty of vendors,” said Pisha defending the current policy. “When you need them they won’t be there, but you’re saving a nickel.”

“We go out to bid a lot,” said Julie Hance, assistant to the town manager. “But there are times when bidding isn’t necessary.”

“How do you decide that?” asked Chase.

“Dufresne (Engineering) did a bunch of projects for us,” said Pisha. “They have a lot of knowledge. Do you pay another contractor to recreate that knowledge?”

“There are also a lot of ‘off books,’ ‘off bid sheet’ returns that we are getting,” said Pisha, pointing to assistance Dufresne gave the town in negotiating with the Army Corps of Engineers on wetlands that were holding up the Popple Dungeon project.

Years ago, the Chester Select Board decided not to have a conflict of interest policy for itself, although there is one for town employees.
Chair John DeBenedetti

Board chair DeBenedetti said that years ago, the Select Board decided not to have a conflict of interest policy for itself, although there is one for town employees. “I don’t see department heads buying tires from their cousins, I don’t see conflicts of interest,” said Pisha.

Chase pointed out that a conflict of interest policy doesn’t mean that the town can’t buy from someone, but that any conflict of interest must be disclosed.

“Everyone deals with everyone in a small town,” said DeBenedetti.

“Let’s let David (Pisha) look into it and talk with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns and then we can discuss it,” said DeBenedetti.

Dance, safety on Edson Day

Chester Historical Society President Ronald Patch asked the board for permission to close Common Street by the Green for a dance party on the evening of Saturday, Aug. 15. Patch said he had  contacted all of the businesses along the Green and “everyone was overwhelmingly in favor,” although the Fullerton Inn asked that the street be closed east of their front steps so dinner traffic could park.

“I’ve been around for a while and we used to do this,” said Patch. “It’s a nice thing to do – something for the young people.”

Asked if he and the historical society would be responsible for the event, Patch responded, “There’s going to be a lot to clean up after that day.”

“And you’re going to ride herd?” asked Bock regarding security for the dance. Unlike for other events on the Green, the board did not ask for liability insurance. Noting that the police department is a man down,The Telegraph asked who would be paying for the police overtime involved. “I don’t know. David?” asked DeBenedetti. Pisha did not have an answer.

Ron Farrar was hoping to secure permission for a coin drop for Vietnam Veterans on Main Street.

Ron Farrar was hoping to secure permission for a coin drop for Vietnam Veterans on Main Street.

Vietnam Vets coin dropped OK deferred

Ron Farrar of Chester asked the board to consider allowing the Vietnam Veterans of America to hold a coin drop on Main Street within the “village” since the organization’s application to do it on 103 South on the way out of town may be denied.

Farrar explained that VTrans objected to having the drop since its guidelines state that such activity should take place away from intersections and in areas with speed limits below 35 mph. The area where the organization has held the drop in the past has a 40 mph limit.

The organization, which raises money to help vets with suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, asked to be allowed to have its fundraiser on Main Street around Zachary’s and the Country Girl Diner. Normally the group does one coin drop on Memorial Day, one on Labor Day and one on POW/MIA day in September.

Bock recalled that this question had come before the board when “coin drops were driving everybody crazy.”

Pisha and DeBenedetti noted that in November 2004, the Select Board banned coin drops from the “village” area by a unanimous vote.

“I’m not in favor of voting no on this,” said member Bill Lindsay. “But I don’t want to put this to bed without some homework.” Lindsay said he wants to see the 2004 minutes. DeBenedetti told Farrar that this would be on the Aug. 19 Select Board agenda.

In other action

  • On a 3-0 vote, the board obligated the town to the grant and loan for restoration of the Whiting Library. The USDA grant of $41,900 also comes with a $57,900 loan. Combined with $20,000 from the library and from the Select Board, the $119,800 project will take care of a number of deferred maintenance issues.
  • The board also passed a resolution naming the town treasurer and assistant treasurer as signer on the investment of the Chester Development Fund.
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