Chester board continues discussion of policing policies with chief

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Three members of the Chester Select Board gathered at Town Hall last Wednesday for the first in-person meeting it has held since early April. The meeting was also held via Zoom for those who did not wisht0 or were unable to attend.

Meeting in person for the first time in months, the Chester Select Board discusses policing policy with Chief Rick Cloud. Photos courtesy of SAPA-TV

The board continued its discussion with Police Chief Rick Cloud over town policies, especially those regarding citizens complaints against police. Cloud said that the Vermont League of Cities and Towns has a draft policy  geared toward larger departments and would need to be revised to fit the size of a department like Chester’s. Cloud said that revisions have been difficult to make because incidents interrupt the work. He also noted that the state of Vermont is coming out with new policies in this legislative session, including the possibility that police in Vermont will be mandated to wear body cameras. Cloud said that while the cameras are expensive, the storage of data from the cameras is a huge expense.

Currently, Chester Police have dash cameras and body microphones, which Cloud called “beneficial.”

Given that there may be changes in the laws underlying policing, Cloud recommended waiting until after August to make revisions to the policies.

The policy discussions arose out of a concern by Arne Jonynas following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis

Both Cloud and board member Jeff Holden, who is a part-time Chester Police officer, objected to policies that people are able to make complaints without having to make a sworn statement. “If they just want to stir up a stink and have no responsibility, they’re able to do it, ” said Holden.

Board members asked about involvement of civilians in approaches like restorative justice. Holden said that such organizations often don’t have any law enforcement perspective. “They need to see both sides,” said Holden.

The discussion of policies was prompted by board chair Arne Jonynas,  out of concern in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. At the time Jonynas expressed support for a Black Lives Matter protest that would take place three days later.

Town pool raises attendance; Brookside bridge delayed

Town Manager Julie Hance told the board that the limit of 25 people at the town pool had been lifted, but while other towns have allowed more in their pools, Chester has imposed a limit of 40, which she said was where they felt comfortable.

Town Manager Julie Hance updates the select board on Covid-19 issues affecting the town

The town office is now open and visitors are asked to observe the CDC’s coronavirus guidelines including  wearing of face coverings and social distancing. Hance said the vault is still available for research by appointment so the staff has the time to disinfect between visitors.

Jonynas asked what effect the state’s regulations are having on town projects this summer. Hance said that the town has permission from grantmakers to delay construction of the planned Brookside bridge behind the cemetery on Main Street. All other projects, she said, are going ahead.

And while a number of town businesses are struggling with the fallout of the pandemic, Hance said that she is talking about marketing strategies with Bob Flint of the Springfield Regional Development Corp. and the Okemo Chamber of Commerce. The hope is to boost marketing during this period, noting that this would only involve small amounts of money.

Community greenhouse proposed

The four-member board of a group proposing to erect a community greenhouse on town property presented their idea to the Select Board. Cheryl Joy Lipton, a member of the town’s Planning Commission, spoke about the concept and a recent opportunity to secure a greenhouse  being disassembled in Walpole, N.H.

Lipton, who made the bulk of the presentation, said the project would promote local food production, reduce the carbon footprint of food production, give the elderly and those without the land or resources a chance to garden. She said it would be a community building effort after Covid-19 that would be integrated into local education through connection with the schools. Lipton also noted that it could reduce the isolation of living in rural Vermont.

Aside from the actual gardening, Lipton also said it would have an effect on improving downtown, quality of life and economic development, but did not provide details on how this would happen.

Lipton said the group was looking for town land on which to site the greenhouse, but that the property would have to be large enough to accommodate community gardens outside the greenhouse structure. The hope, according to Lipton, is that this will lead to a farmers market – including one in the winter that would be held inside the greenhouse and that surplus food would go to the Chester-Andover Family Center.

When Lipton asked if board members were in favor of the idea, member Lee Gustafson said he didn’t have enough information and asked for something in writing. Others were enthusiastic.

Sound upgrades for Town Hall

The board approved Hance’s proposal for a Cultural Facilities Grant to add acoustic panels that will reduce the noise and echo in the second floor of Town Hall as well as add an appropriate sound system and video projector. The grant total of $60,000 would require a $30,000 match from the town, which Hance said she has in the town’s grant fund. She also noted that if the grant was only partially funded, priority would go toward the acoustic work.

The board also appointed Cathy Hasbrouck as a trustee of the Whiting Library until the next election of town officers in March 2021.

While setting the tax rate was on the agenda, as of July 1, the state had not provided needed information, so a Zoom meeting was scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Monday, July 10 to set the rate so bills can go out by the July 15. Click here for the agenda.

Most of the next Select Board meeting – on Wednesday, July 15 – will be taken up by an explanation of the town’s balance sheet and financials presented by auditor Ron Smith. Moving from cash to accrual accounting has changed the ways past boards have looked at the numbers and Smith will be on hand to help the board adjust to the new system.

In addition, at the Aug. 19 meeting, town attorney Jim Carroll will be on hand to discuss the town’s conflict-of-interest policy. The board will continue with a hybrid form of meeting, with part of it taking place in person with members and the public able to watch and participate via Zoom.

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  1. Whoah! I am aghast that a paid member of the police force would be allowed to weigh in as a select board member to discuss something as sensitive and important as a citizen’s right to complain about the police. That is a serious conflict of interest! Any select board member who is a paid member of the police force should be required to recuse themselves from a discussion on police policy or any police matters. Surely not to do so is a violation of the Town of Chester Select Board policy?

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