Chester limits service of Select Board members, others

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

There was more than a little interest in the conflict over wording of an ethics policy for town officials and employees at Wednesday’s Chester Select Board meeting.


Select Board member Heather Chase explains her position against a prohibition on serving on more than one board.<small> All photos by Shawn Cunningham

The idea of a conflict of interest policy has been kicking around since mid-2015, when board member Heather Chase asked for consideration of a conflict of interest and purchasing/bid policy for the town. Currently, the town has a conflict of interest policy only for the Development Review Board but not for the Select Board, other boards and commissions or employees. Purchasing and whether town projects are publicly bid are at the discretion of the town manager.

While the idea of a policy was discussed on and off for several months, the topic really got rolling in this past May when attorney Garrett Baxter of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns came to Chester to hold a conflict of interest seminar for the board.

Baxter presented the board with VLCT’s model policy and answered board questions.  At a subsequent meeting the policy appeared with the addition of a section on “bias” and a prohibition on Chester residents serving on more than one town board, commission or committee. Apparently this was done at the suggestion of board chair John DeBenedetti who felt that such service would be a conflict of interest  since it could involve advocating the decision of one board before another board.

In the past, Tom Bock has served simultaneously on the Planning Commission and the Select Board, while Harry Goodell served simultaneously on planning and the DRB. Whenever proposals for zoning changes went before the Select Board, Bock would leave the board table and participate in the meeting from the audience, waiting until voting was done to return to the board.

“I’m for adopting it now,” said Board member Arne Jonynas.

“I am too,”  said DeBenedetti.

Chase noted that the VLCT comments on the prohibition said that it might prove impractical especially when there are vacancies but few volunteers.


Marilyn Mahusky explains the position of the legislature on serving on multiple boards.

Marilyn Mahusky pointed out that Vermont statutes say that serving on the Planning Commission as well as the DRB is considered acceptable.

“Where do you find a legislature sitting as an appellate court  judging the quality of its laws?”  asked Pisha.

There is currently one person, Phil Perlah, who serves on the DRB and has asked to serve on the Planning Commission as well.

In the end, it was decided that someone serving on the Select Board could not serve on other boards but that due to a lack of volunteers, the board would consider language with a little wiggle room, but that such language should be crafted by an attorney.

Budgeting begins

Pisha handed out draft 2017 general fund and capital budgets. This is the first cut at income and spending levels for next year and the budget will be a large part of board meetings between now and mid-January. A few highlights include:

  • A $32,000 increase for new position under administration
  • A new line called ‘Revitalization’ that includes website, historic building and miscellaneous maintenance totaling $13,500
  • Several changes in Planning & Zoning include a 58.5 percent increase in salaries, elimination of the enforcement line and rise in legal fees
  • A $47,000 decrease in medical insurance with a $73,000 increase in co-insurance
  • $4,500 purchase of a used fingerprint machine for processing arrests since the Vermont State Police barracks has moved to Westminster
  • A 26.3 percent increase in the amount charged to Andover for fire protection.

As the budget process goes forward, The Telegraph will post copies of each iteration with the Select Board stories.

Which history?


Ron Patch recounts the history of the Chester Academy while Pisha holds a visual aid.

Historical Society President Ron Patch and Peter Farrar appeared before the board to ask that the text for a state historical marker to be placed in front of the Academy Building be revised to focus less on architecture and more on famous people – especially generals and politicians – who attended the private school in the 19th century.

Patch noted that dates were incorrect or didn’t add up and requested that more research be done. He said that it would be a great project for someone who can use a computer to research the names of students in the Academy’s annual reports. Patch suggested a student who’s interested in history, but resident Frank Bidwell said he likes history and computers and would volunteer to help.

“It’s a fascinating history,” said Farrar. “I’d hate to see it rushed through.”

The board agreed that more research should be done and that those working on the project should coordinate through Julie Hance.

Bidwell also spoke up during public comment, asking the board what is the policy for informing people who volunteer to serve on town boards about their requests.

“There is none,” said Pisha.

Bidwell said that he had volunteered for the Budget Committee and the DRB but never heard back and only found out that there was a hold on appointments by reading The Chester Telegraph.

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  1. This is simple. The paragraph should read:

    1. No one serving as a Selectman shall serve on any other Town Boards or Commissions.

    2. It is not the policy of the Town to allow anyone to serve on more than one Board or Commission at any given time.

    3. The Board of Selectmen may make an exception to this policy as it sees fit.

    That, I believe, will be enough to resolve the problem.