Chester Select Board candidates address issues

Editor’s Note: Three people are vying for two one-year seats on the Chester Select Board: incumbent Ben Whalen, who is seeking a second term, and newcomers Lee Gustafson and Kelly Arrison, both local businessowners. Arne Jonynas, who has been serving in a one-year position, was spurred to seek a three-year seat that is being vacated by John DeBenedetti. Jonynas is running unopposed. Voting will be held from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Mar. 7 at Chester Town Hall, 556 Elm St.  We asked the candidates in the contested races what role local government and the Select Board has in various issues. But first, let’s meet the candidates.

The candidates

Kelly Arrison was born and has lived in this area his entire life. He was the middle child of a family with seven children, whose parents owned a mom and pop grocery store, where all the children began working when they turned 12. After college, Arrison taught school until he began making a career driving race cars. While he won many races around the world as a team manager, he always maintained a home here, where he raised two sons. After a 20-year career in international auto racing, he brought his business, Heads Up Motorsports, to Chester, where it thrives. He says it is now time to give back to the community.

Lee Gustafson has been a full-time resident of Chester since 2002, having spent summers growing up on family property on Popple Dungeon Road. He holds a bachelor’s degree in geology and a master’s degree in water resources science. He has worked in the environmental business for 25 years. Gustafson founded a successful renewable energy business in 2009 — NetZero Renewable Resources — and has many clients in Chester and the surrounding areas. He lives in the southern part of town in an off-grid, timber-frame home he built with his family, and enjoys photography as a hobby.

Ben Whalen is a Chester native who attended local schools and owns a home in Chester. He has been a lifelong active member of the community for most of his life. Whalen has been involved with Chester’s emergency services since he was 15, and currently hold the rank of assistant chief of the Chester Fire Department. He enjoys traveling and has visited every state in the nation except Alaska, Hawaii and Florida. Whalen says that, “As much as I love seeing new places, Chester is my home and where my wife and I will continue to raise our two young boys. We want to see it thrive in the future.”

The Chester Telegraph asked the candidates

What do you see as the role of town government and, more specifically, the Select Board in:

Economic Development?

Ben Whalen: We as a town need to look attractive to anyone wanting to bring a new business or trade to our town, as well as remain a place where current businesses want to stay. We can do this through our infrastructure, available resources and looks of our community. These things are what should draw people to our town and retain those residents who already call it home. Tourism is great: People come visit, spend money in our shops and stay in our inns. We also need to consider our current population and do what we can to support all businesses, to not only bring them here, but keep them here.

Lee Gustafson: Our town is best served economically when it provides opportunities for business to thrive and expand. The Select Board can be instrumental in fostering these opportunities through common sense approaches to issues that may require compromise while allowing businesses to make the best use of available resources to succeed.

Kelly Arrison: As the owner of a successful small business that supports four families I strongly support small business and economic growth. There is a misperception  based on my concerns and comments on the proposed zoning regulations that I am somehow anti-business. This could not be further from the truth. A portion of those zoning regulations are deeply flawed and must be changed, and I have a specific proposal to introduce overlay zoning to change them. This overlay method could solve many of the current business start up delays. I’m an active member of the Chester Economic Development Committee. I support growth and development of small and larger business that bring good paying jobs to Chester, businesses that support the local economy, that bring families to town, are mindful of the environment and serve to grow our community. It’s not too much to ask that businesses be good neighbors. It should be much easier for businesses to get their permits and open their doors. At the start there should be a master list of all possible conditions to meet and permits to get so business start ups don’t have the frustration of getting through one permitting phase only to find there are more to deal with.

Historic Preservation?

LG: Chester has a rich and diverse history, one that needs to be preserved for the edification of our children and succeeding generations. This preservation may involve retaining certain historical landmarks or aggregation of artifacts and photographs that tell the story while allowing advancement of town interests. The Select Board can be a part of encouraging preservation of history through thoughtful and deliberate action related to our history and historic places.

KA: Chester is home to an amazing collection of historic architecture. I have the pleasure of serving on the Chester Historic Preservation Committee. Our purpose is to determine the condition of the town owned historic properties and form a plan of action for their repair and maintenance. I feel we owe it to our forebears and to ourselves to maintain these buildings and put them to the best practical use we can find. Historic architecture is only one of our economic generators but it’s important and it’s here. Let’s take care of it and put it to good use.

BW: Our history in Chester is strong and important. We have so many buildings throughout the town that show people who we are, and how we became the community we are today. We need to maintain and improve these beautiful, town-owned landmarks so they last for generations to come. We need to continue to seek grants that can be used for renovations and repairs on these buildings. We should also be seeking local organizations to host fundraisers or brainstorm some creative options to secure the funds needed. I don’t mind investing some town money into these buildings, but we also need to think about other buildings that are necessary and vital to our community such as the (historic) Town Hall, the town garage and an emergency services building. Everyone is concerned about taxes going up, so we need to make sure we are investing our tax dollars in what is essential to the town first.


KA: Act 46 and declining student enrollment has made school budgets more difficult to balance. In spite of that, the school boards of Chester have kept their budgets level or nearly level for some time. Chester has good schools staffed by good teachers and run by dedicated administrators. They’re always working on ways to create additional educational opportunities for students even when budgets are tight. Good schools are one of the primary factors in a young families’ choice of where to live. When Chester keeps or attracts families who want to raise their kids here, enrollment and the tax base goes up making it a little easier to improve the curriculum. Currently there is discussion of adding more Advanced Placement and Honors classes and adding offerings to those students who are not college bound.

BW: Obviously education has been a hot topic, not only for Chester and the surrounding communities but the entire state. Locally, I am pleased to hear of the Act 46 progress that has been made. The Regional Education District including Andover, Baltimore, Cavendish and Chester will keep all students local while moving us into the future. We have great facilities here in Chester that have been well-maintained, and I look forward to my children going through our education systems. We as a town need to support this new district so we can continue to give our students a safe and positive learning environment that properly prepares them for the rest of their lives, no matter which path they take.

LG: Education is a very important part of our development as a society. The town and Select Board can encourage education of our children by making Chester a great place to live, one that is affordable and provides opportunities for families to live and thrive. Greater educational opportunities would be available as more families join our community.

Transparency and Openness?

LG: Transparency and openness in government is key to building trust in those elected to serve. Through this trust, people will be more willing to make commitments and invest in their businesses and properties, thus encouraging others to do the same. While some issues are sensitive and cannot be discussed openly due to confidentiality, these should be few and far between in town government.

BW: We, as a board, need to stay as transparent as possible. Although being a small community is great — and part of why I love Chester so much — it also opens the door for perceived conflict on almost anything. As a town employee, I will recuse myself from any discussion that would result in personal financial gain, but if I don’t feel there is a conflict of interest, I will maintain the voice for which I have been elected. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone can take things in different ways. As long as we are open, disclose any possible conflicts, remain accountable and professional, the board should be able to act in the manner it is meant to. Certain things are needed to be in executive session as a safeguard for the town, but whenever possible we should be open to the community as their voice.

KA: While the process of soliciting bids on federally funded town projects is clear, the process for bidding town projects is not. That policy is due for review and at that time a dollar certain amount should be adopted at which bids requests are always sent out. It would seem that existing open meeting laws and the new Chester Conflict of Interest policy should handle those matters, and mostly they do. As I’ve recently discovered, the rules are complicated and to some extent subject to individual interpretation. In the end what counts is that our elected and appointed officials operate in good faith and do their best to be open and honest in their deliberations.

Legislation on the State Level?

BW: To me, the most difficult part of state government is waiting for things to happen. We have had in the past, and continue to have strong voices to represent us. However, it is easy for the citizens of Southern Vermont to feel forgotten. The clean water act is a huge undertaking for all communities. We obviously have farms, drains, sewage and runoff that affects this, but it seems that most of the money is being put toward the Lake Champlain area. I hope that our voice can be heard and that the administration will remember the small towns in our state and do what is best for all Vermonters.

KA: Vermont is a Dillon’s Rule state wherein the state holds most of the legal reins. However, the legislature is comprised of all locally elected officials who make those laws. Our local legislators can make a difference if the people and the town government work with them to make our needs known in Montpelier. Sometimes you have to speak up to be heard.

LG: Actions taken on a state level may have a very real impact on the town of Chester and its citizens. On those issues that could have a significant positive or deleterious effect on the town, the Select Board should make its voice heard at the state level to promote the interests of Chester.

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  1. Lew Watters says:

    My wife Bonnie and I are working hard to elect Kelly Arrison to a one-year term for Select Board. Having lived in Chester for over 40 years, successfully raising a family here, and forever thankful to call Chester as our home, we see the need for new leadership.

    We are comforted to know there are good and honest candidates seeking to serve our town. What we see as a priority for Chester is someone who is a good listener, who has leadership skills and is visionary. We need also desperately need a consensus builder.

    Kelly Arrison has demonstrated these qualities in his prefossional life at the highest levels in a successful career in international motor sports car racing. He is presently serving on the Chester Master Plan Steering Committee, the Chester Economic Development Committee and the Historic Preservation Committee in an effort to solve the complex and divisive problems in planning for the future of our beautiful town.

    As a native local Vermonter, Kelly sees the need for balanced growth in local sustainable businesses. He recently brought to our community a presentation called Heart & Soul for ways to preserve our heritage and leverage our strengths.

    Like Bonnie and I, Kelly Arrison clearly sees “a new sense of possibility in Chester.” Please vote for him.

    Lew and Bonnie Watters

  2. Barre Pinske says:

    I want to convey my support for Ben Whalen’s re-election to the Chester Select Board. I attend a lot of Select Board meetings and there is no question Ben listens and does what he feels is best for the town as a whole.

    He has shown concerns for families, police, fire and economic development. I feel he has explained his positions on issues well within the board and when responding to specific questions by members of the public. I feel very strongly we need people on the Select Board who will listen and support good ideas along with being fiscally responsible.

    In my opinion Ben has shown he can do that. I also believe he’s hearing our economic concerns and if good ideas come forward that will pay off he will support them. It can be hard to find good help here in Vermont. I feel we have that in Ben. Please cast your vote for Ben we need him back.