Meet the Candidates: Three seek 3-year seat on Chester Select Board

Three races for the Chester Select Board are being contested in this year’s election: Three people are running for a three-year term and three people are also running for two one-year terms.

Heather Chase, who currently holds the three-year seat, is running for re-election. She is being challenged by Jeannie Wade and Scott Blair. (Leigh Dakin and Jeff Holden are seeking re-election to their one-year seats and are being challenged by Will Hoser. They are the subject of another Q&A.)

In an effort to help Chester voters meet the candidates, The Chester Telegraph has sent the candidates a series of questions pertinent to the community, to allow you to compare and contrast them and hopefully make your decision  a bit easier. We’ve asked them to keep their answers to 250 however for those that were longer, you will see ellipses … where we cut for length.

The election will take place by Australian ballot at Town Hall, 556 Elm St., 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 2. You can also vote early at Town Hall.

A bit about each candidate in their own words:

Scott Blair in front of the Southern Pie Cafe that he and his wife own.

SCOTT BLAIR: Seven years ago my family and I happily moved to Chester. Chester appealed to us as the perfect small town to raise a young family and start our café. Since settling down here I have been active on different boards and committees in town and around the region. Most might recognize me from coaching their children in baseball and or basketball.  Being involved in the community has given me a chance to connect with business owners, residents and tourists. Chester has a lot of young families, and from coaching for the past six years and having our pie shop I have heard from multiple people that we need to get our younger population involved in the town. Our town is moving in a great direction with adding small businesses, appealing to tourists and locals alike, and bringing in more youth. We need to keep the momentum going in this direction and work together as a welcoming strong community.

Heather Chase at the entrance to her business, Corporate Lactation Services.

HEATHER CHASE: I have made Chester my home for the past 19 years, and am the proud mother of four. I am also the founder and president of Corporate Lactation Services, based here in Chester.  Being civic-minded, I am involved in local government. I am the fourth woman in the history of Chester to be on the Select Board, and I serve as its vice chairman. I am also chairman of the Board of Civil Authority, am a Justice of the Peace and have served as the community Health Officer.

 

Jeannie Wade in front of the R.O.O.T.s building on the Green.

JEANNIE WADE: My background is in education, community building and business. I am originally from Long Island, N.Y. I visited Chester for many years with my parents as we have family here. I have nine cousins that have attended and graduated from our public school district. I stand with honesty and hard work. My father is a retired police sergeant and Vietnam veteran. I was raised to find my focus and purpose in this world, how to practice self-discipline, walk with humility and offer grace to others when needed. … My father … taught me the strategies and skills needed to persevere. I practice self-reflection often. I pray to God for strength to do what is right and true. I live a blessed life. I have a happy marriage, five happy and healthy kids and live in a great town in Chester. From the experiences I have had throughout my life, I have learned to respect and appreciate nature. I believe in interconnectedness and that it is vital to engage in the natural world. I believe in our country and I acknowledge and respect all those that have sacrificed so that we have our freedom.  I think we are all a work in progress and through discipline and working together, we can overcome anything. I currently serve on the Green Mountain Unified School Board. God bless America.

What is your position on an “opt-in” vote for retail sales of cannabis in Chester? Do you see retail cannabis in Chester as a positive or negative?

HEATHER CHASE: Within the last couple of weeks, Gov. Scott has formed a committee to address the rules and regulations surrounding the retail sales of cannabis.  The Select Board will provide multiple opportunities for the Chester citizens to weigh in on what their thoughts are on this issue.  After that time I will be able to make an informed decision.  In general, I am supportive of decriminalization of Cannabis use and sales.  I am also supportive of local business.  Based on my understanding this is not an urgent issue as retail stores won’t be opening until 10/2022 and Chester will need to have this issue on an Australian ballot.

JEANNIE WADE: It is imperative to conduct an “opt-in” vote on whether or not Chester is a community that would reject or accept the retail sale of cannabis. When a town offers wholesome support to guide its people, the overall town is more successful. Leadership emulating righteous motivation is key to why any strong nation … prevails overtime. … What we do matters … as does what we consider OK … We set the standards for our children and when our standards are low, our children will … do the same. We must do better for our children, we must push ourselves to accept nothing but greatness. … the American dream and what makes up the true beauty of our nation … is the character of its people, the true patriots, those that serve and do not ask for anything in return but honesty, hard work, ethics, grit and personal responsibility. … when we have faith in our lives and a personal relationship with God, we are AMAZING from the inside out because we are walking and living with purpose. … The public deserves to hear the truth. There are substances that can overtake one’s judgment, alter his or her state of mind, as well as interfere with one’s ability to make clear and rational decisions. It is tricky when a substance such as cannabis is portrayed as a way to attain emotional well being … or better medical intervention practices. The town must decide if an opt-in vote would be a great strategy to assess this. … I have faith that the people will make the right choice for our town.

SCOTT BLAIR: I am for the “opt-in” for retail sales for cannabis. The cannabis scene in Chester is more present then one might believe because this is a plant that people in our community use for personal medicine and can already legally grow, use and carry. The cannabis industry is currently one of the largest and fastest growing industries in the country right now and if Chester does not opt in then we as a town will lose out on the opportunity to capitalize on this industry and let other towns around us take advantage of the tax revenue while we watch tourist and our own local customers drive right by. Choosing to opt in will help our towns economy and can help bring education for a natural plant that is used as a powerful medicine that for far too long has had a stigma.

What is the responsibility of the town for maintaining its historic buildings?

JEANNIE WADE: The town’s responsibility lies in the buildings which are town owned and operated.  It is important that such buildings are maintained for its historic value as well as its safety.  I am pleased that the town offers a grant to those that are wishing to maintain or restore historic homes.  I am appreciative of the various organizations and committees that work hard to keep our town attractive to its residents.  We live in a piece of history.  This can be viewed as a piece of art, as a relic of yesteryear, as well as a hope for tomorrow.  I often admire the work it took to build many of the buildings in town. It is important that the town sustains its ordinances as well as our value systems, so that others in the future will be left with a town full of maintenance, character, and hope.

SCOTT BLAIR: The historic buildings in this town are a huge part of who and what Chester is. The town should to their best ability keep up with the maintenance of these buildings. This of course through time can be difficult because of the age of the building and some repairs that can not be done eventually. So this should be done to the town’s best ability and judgment.

 

HEATHER CHASE: As you all know, I have been on the board for almost 6 years and I have been a strong proponent of maintaining our historic buildings.  One of the proudest accomplishments during my tenure on the Select Board has been the addition of a funded line item in the budget to address historic building maintenance.  We have received grants and have funded restoration projects on the Library, the Academy Building, Yosemite Fire House, and of course have done needed repairs and maintenance to Town Hall.  In additional Chester Townscape spear headed the wonderful restoration of the Hearst House.  There is a group of citizens helping with the Jeffrey Barn maintenance.  We now have a group Chester Community Greenhouse that has formed to erect and restore a community green house.  The board has signed a letter of support and is available to assist where we are able to. This is all so positive.  I believe that we are stewards of these historic treasures and it is our responsibility to maintain them the best we can. Funding of these endeavors of course should not rely solely on taxes but can come from grants and fund raising.  In recent years we have become much more aggressive at seeking grants, this is largely due to the efforts of Julie Hance.

The downtown Master Plan called for substantial investments in streetscaping and wayfinding signage. Is this taking the town in the right direction or not and why?

SCOTT BLAIR: As a business owner on the Green and at one point having a second location in Ludlow I heard every weekend in my Ludlow location for two years that “oh I thought Chester was gas stations and the train depot. I didn’t know there was a village past the turn to go to Ludlow.” This is all due to the lack of signage explaining what is in our town. Once we get signage up that explains our different areas we have in our great town it will help tourists realize Chester has so much to offer them to eat, play and stay. This will help out our town and its small businesses. Living in town for the past three years I have seen a large increase of walking and biking traffic. The streetscaping projects will make Chester more accessible for the walkers and the bikers, which is a draw for all ages for living and visiting our town. I was involved with getting the picnic tables on the Green this past spring to fall. Seeing them used by people that are walking around town, meeting up with their friends or bringing their family showed that the addition to our downtown scenery will make us more of an active and attractive town.

HEATHER CHASE: Absolutely, this is taking the town in the right direction! The process of doing the Master Plan involved a great deal of time and energy.  Many people contributed to this and we now have so many wonderful projects that have originated because to the Master Plan, (pocket parks, canopy project,  new side walk project) Go Chester Go!

 

JEANNIE WADE: I think that it is exciting to see the people of this town be passionate about encouraging growth and prosperity. The people that are working toward this plan, love this town.  That love is reflective in all of the work that it has taken to create such a master plan.  I think that when a town is well organized and presented, all who enter, play, and work in the town are enjoying the town.  I think that this plan reflects joy, and joy is something that radiates, ignites, and inspires harmonious relationships and overall success.

 

Recently the town has seen a hot real estate market that has brought a substantial number of new residents. It has also pushed home values up and made living in Chester less affordable for many. How do you view this situation and is there a role for the town in this situation?

HEATHER CHASE: Covid-19 has changed many things for all of us in 2020 and it continues to in 2021.  We as a country are seeing folks moving from more densely populated areas to less. Due to technology like high speed internet we are seeing companies not requiring employees at one site. Remote work is and will continue to be the norm. This national trend has had an impact on Chester and our real estate.  Higher prices benefit some folks however does make it more difficult for others to get into the real estate market.  I believe that this has many positive aspects and some negative.  Vermont has a high average age and I believe the influx of young families could revitalize our schools and communities.  It is unclear as whether this trend will continue once our nation has overcome the challenge of Covid-19.  In general, most economists believe a larger population in Vermont will expand the tax base and this is positive for Vermont. We do need to watch growth and make sure Chester’s zoning by-laws and Planning guidelines are adhered to.  These have been developed to reflect Chester’s vision.

JEANNIE WADE: I think that we will see many things change not just in this town, but in our country.  The year 2020 has been full of change as we all know. I welcome new people as it brings new perspective and insight.  It is important that we join such insight with old insight, respecting all points of views and opinions.  The market goes up and down as our country has seen many times before.  We are in a hard time and many people are struggling.  However, we have been through hard times before and we will prevail, sustain, and overcome.  Positive attitude goes a long way, as well as helping your neighbor any way you can.  We need to reach out to all those in need, be a friend, an ally, as well as be a welcomer of new.  As a town, we need to support all people so that collectively, we are strong.

SCOTT BLAIR: Since the pandemic has started Vermont has been a state that has been deemed one of the safest and healthiest for Covid. This has brought in record real estate sales. Not long ago all you heard was our children are going to college and not coming back and that the population is dropping with youth. Yes this has brought values up and makes some situations less affordable. Is there a role for the town for this? I do not believe there is. Personally I believe this is something that is a catch-22. The town can not help if someone from out of state wants to move to Chester and to secure they get the property they pay top dollar for this property. We should look at all the for sale signs that are coming down due to the market and our great local real estate agents.

There has been a call for civilian oversight of the Chester Police Department – especially as it moves to the new Public Safety Building, which will have a holding cell. What is your position on establishing a public board and what should be that body’s responsibility and powers?

JEANNIE WADE: I respect our police officers tremendously. When we need them, they are there serving our community and keeping us safe.  I think that so many of us have great ideas and/or insight and skill sets that would benefit our police department.  I think it is very important however, that we encourage our police officers, respect them, and honor their sacrifice to our town.  They are doing their job to keep us safe.  We need to listen to them, represent them well, as well as be respectful at all times to their position in law and order.

SCOTT BLAIR: I am for establishing a public board for this but this needs to be done very carefully. Holding accountability is key and also still letting the police do their job is as well. The responsibilities and powers of this board I do not currently know but am willing to listen to what others believe. I am a true believer in listening to both sides of the situation and taking that and doing research and making an educated decision.

 

HEATHER CHASE: Nationally policing policies are a subject of much attention and they certainly should be.  Looking ahead, policing polices are going to be in the forefront of what the Select Board is overseeing.  Town Manager Julie Hance has been appointed and will be representing us on a VLCT statewide committee to address some of these issues.  I am open to having some sort of civilian oversight, again how this looks will develop over time.  Police are a vital part of our community and culture but no area of government should be excluded from examination and evaluation.  Many professions have oversight from professional peers and the community they serve.  I don’t think this needs to be thought of in a paradigm of right or wrong or who’s to blame.  We can look at policing procedures and ask ourselves how can we do this better.  As a nurse, my practice has always been open to improvement and evaluation.  If handled correctly no one needs to be defensive.  Our country, our community, our policing can be improved by involving more perspectives and view-points.  This is a journey not a destination.

What should be the scope and purpose of a marketing program conducted by the Town of Chester?

SCOTT BLAIR: The marketing program from the town should be focused on bringing people to visit and them seeing why it is great to live here. I know the town is currently working on marketing plans and I am excited to see the outcomes of these campaigns.

 

 

HEATHER CHASE: In 2020 and 2021 the board approved expensing $10,000 toward a marketing plan.  This plan is meant to focus on presenting Chester as a wonderful place to live, come and stay and recreate.  I am 100% supportive of this effort as it provides an opportunity for our community to increase awareness of Chester and all we have to offer.  The scope is not to encourage just tourism but also portrays our community as the wonderful place it is to live and raise a family. We also are promoting Chester as a great place to own and operate a business.

JEANNIE WADE: I think that a marketing program should focus on supporting existing residents, businesses, and organizations as well as present our town as a great place to live, work, and play.  We want our town to flourish and for families to be thriving.  Our marketing plan should reflect this hard-working character as well as town history and culture.  It should celebrate our town as a place that offers longevity, sustainability, and transparency.  Our marketing program should reflect the actual actions the town is taking to support its residents.  The purpose of the marketing program should be to encourage local pride as well as a place to call home.

Why are you running for this office?

HEATHER CHASE: I have held this position for the past 6 years and  I am running for re-election as I believe I am well suited to serve the community. I have a track record of strong leadership, listening to voters, and advocating for our community.  In the next few years we will be looking at new challenges and I believe an experienced Board is essential to accomplishing our long term goals.

 

JEANNIE WADE: I am running for this office because I am wanting to serve my community.  I am willing to learn and grow personally and professionally while serving on this board.  I am open-minded and listen carefully to others perspectives.  Together, our town can flourish and overcome any obstacle.

 

 

SCOTT BLAIR: At the age of 33 years old, I am running for the 3-year seat of the Select Board because I believe our younger population needs to get involved in our town government and new energy is always great for moving forward. I am very small business and local driven which is a main reason why my family moved to Chester. Working with Chester Helping Hands during this pandemic has shown me that all of our town’s different generations can work together and make one strong community. In hard times such as now being in a pandemic for the past year we need to work together, keep positive and have great leadership.

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  1. Katherine Henry says:

    I want to thank the Chester Telegraph for publishing these Q&A articles, allowing voters to get a little deeper understanding of the candidates and their interests in regards to the direction our town will go in the coming years. As is typical of many Vermonters, especially in these trying times, I am often sequestered on my property, working on personal pursuits. I sometimes lose track of what is going on just down the road. Anyway – just wanted to express my appreciation, we sometimes forget to do that…

  2. Marilyn Mahusky says:

    I echo the sentiment of others in their support of Heather Chase. Heather’s approach to addressing the needs of our community is thoughtful and principled. She has demonstrated responsible leadership and commitment to the positive growth of our town. She IS the most qualified of these candidates to meet the demands of our community.

  3. MJ Miles says:

    Heather has done a great job but since I am a proponent of term limits and support change in government to keep infusing new and fresh ideas, I support Scott. He has been out there volunteering his time to make things better for our community and that says a lot about dedication and devotion to our town. I also believe, having been to town meetings we need someone who can inspire the huge population of younger people and families to get involved in effecting change here that meets their needs as well as approving budget items that are appropriate for our town not just doing the same old thing each year. I think Scott has shown by example he can do that.

  4. Robert Nied says:

    Heather Chase has consistently demonstrated her leadership skills and ability to thoughtfully evaluate both the challenges and opportunities presenting themselves in our community. She works collaboratively with a diverse board to build consensus and to develop solid solutions for resolving current issues and forward-thinking initiatives to build a positive future for Chester. Heather is experienced, decisive and insightful. I would encourage Chester residents to re-elect Heather to the select board.

  5. Tim Roper says:

    Thank you, Chester Telegraph, for providing the opportunity to learn more about the 2021 Select Board candidates. This is an important service to our community.

    While I like Scott Blair and greatly appreciate his positive energy and community involvement, Heather Chase’s experience wins my vote in this race. Knowing how to navigate the sometimes arduous and lengthy path required to create meaningful change in government is not something that’s readily acquired. Heather has been doing this work for six years; she’s shown that she knows how to keep things moving forward and she’s always been open to hearing and considering others’ points of view in the process.

    This current point in time will almost certainly prove to have been a pivotal one when reflected back upon from the future. Our town and indeed our nation, are evolving and in need of effective, grounded and well-informed leadership. As the answers to the questions above demonstrate, Heather Chase is the most well qualified of these candidates to meet the demands placed upon our leaders in local government today.

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