Chester board appoints cannabis commission, talks police assessment

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

At its May 4 meeting, the Chester Select Board formally created a local cannabis control commission, then appointed five of the seven residents who applied to serve on it. That included some who urged voters to reject the opt-in measure for retail sales of cannabis that was on the Town Meeting Day ballot.

Board chair Arne Jonynas suggested that the commission be made up of public members rather than select board members. photos by Shawn Cunningham

The opt-in article, which was put on the ballot by public petition when the Select Board decided it would hold off as it had the previous year, passed by a vote of 318 to 267. That’s a bit more than 54 percent of the 585 votes cast. To put that into perspective, a total of 553 votes were cast on Town Meeting Day in 2021 and 476 in 2019. Only the presidential primary in pre-pandemic 2020 brought out more voters with 909 ballots cast.

At its March 16 meeting the  board leaned toward forming a commission with the Select Board as its members — in the same way that they are also the commissioners of the Water and Sewer departments. But that changed to two Select Board members and three town residents at the April 20 meeting when board member Lee Gustafson said he would like to see representation of “both sides” of the issue. Gustafson and board member Ben Whalen volunteered to serve on the commission.

By the time last Wednesday’s meeting rolled around, seven people had put their names in to be considered for the commission and board chair Arne Jonynas suggested that perhaps those people should make up the panel and have the select board members step aside. Gustafson said that as town leaders, there should be select board members on the commission and others either agreed or had no preference.

The cannabis candidates

Jonynas asked if the board wanted to interview the candidates in executive session or just let each one outline his or her experience and reasons for wanting to be on the commission. The board decided to do open interviews and an executive session to make its decisions.

Reisa Alexander

Susan Bailey – Saying that people have called her a mediator and described her as diplomatic Bailey outlined her years of working as a paralegal in Northern Virginia law offices and her service as a member of a number of public boards. She felt that she is in a position to bring people together.

Robert Nied – Nied recounted his years of consulting on regulatory compliance as a relevant expertise saying that it important to him to be involved with the community. Nied said he believes that the legislation around cannabis will evolve over time.

Arianna Knapp

Reisa Alexander – Recounting her enjoyment of the “small town village character” of Chester, Alexander hopes the commission will manage the location, environment and – referring to cannabis billboards of western Massachusetts where she lived before coming to Chester – advertising so it doesn’t have an negative effect on that character. She stressed that the commission’s role should not be adversarial.

Arianna Knapp – Noting that she was born and raised in Vermont, Knapp pointed to her experience as an executive in the entertainment industry when she said Chester is about to be part of an exciting new entrepreneurial industry that the state has gone to great lengths to make about Vermont. She noted she has been a cannabis customer in several states and seen the business done well and badly.

Tom Diak

Craig Miller – Miller told the board that he likes living in a small town and as his children are grown and he approaches retirement, he would like to become more involved. Miller said he has had a career in consulting – both locally and internationally – including “very large” Fortune 100 companies. He said he brings a level head and a fact-based approach to his work.

Barre Pinske – Saying that he hoped that there would be income for the town from the sales of cannabis, Pinske said that he hoped that some of that money be used for education around the topic of addiction.

Tom Diak – Diak said that he would work to see that any new business are successful. Noting that he has a variety of work experience, he comes to the commission as a small business owner on Main Street in Chester. He believes that his experience will be helpful to the community.

After hearing the candidates, the board went into executive session and returned to appoint the following to staggered terms intended to create classes of members to ensure some institutional memory and knowledge. Select board members will continue to serve one year appointments while public members will serve three year terms upon renewal of their first terms.

  • One year Select Board members – Ben Whalen and Lee Gustafson
  • One year public member – Tom Diak
  • Two year public members – Reisa Alexander and Barre Pinske
  • Three year public members – Robert Nied and Arianna Knapp

Hance said she would register any member who wanted to attend a webinar put on by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns on May 24.

Police assessment and advisory board

Lee Gustafson wondered what the role and responsibilities of an advisory board would be

Hance told the board that consultant Jim Baker would begin the assessment of Chester’s Police Department around the end of May and that the question of whether the town wants an advisory board and what such a board would look like will be part of that work. She asked how the board wanted to proceed with this and Gustafson asked what the role, scope and responsibility of such a board would be and if the  assessment would answer the question of whether the town needs it.

Board member Heather Chase said that in other towns, advisory committees have reviewed policies, participated in hiring and community police events. “It’s really an interface between the police and the public,” said Chase, “I don’t think transparency and communications can hurt.”

Board member Leigh Dakin said she would like to have Baker come to present his findings the board.

Jonynas said that community forums being part of the assessment but that the board was more interested in an advisory role rather than oversight

Hance said that Baker would be reviewing how the department does things and then meeting with individual police officers to review how the department is doing things and what concerns and ideas they have. She would also like to see focus groups including business people, non-profit organizations and citizens who are rural as well as from the village to see what they want from the police.

Chase asked how long it would be before the board would see an assessment. Hance said that Baker expects it to take “a good six weeks.”

Hance said that these assessments are not just looking at police, but are a part of a long process to assess all of the town’s departments. Pointing to an assessment of the ambulance service she noted that it needed to be rebuilt and that now it’s growing and doing much better.

Training grounds, chopper landing at Public Safety Building

Gustafson, who chaired the committee that designed the Public Safety Building told the board that the committee had met on May 2 and discussed a five-year plan for the use of the building. He noted that the services will be having more public events than they used to when they were in the town garage.

They discussed using the area behind the facility for training and medical helicopter landings noting there would need to be work done to flatten the ground and to install lighting.

Also in the plan is a sidewalk in front of the building, landscaping including a 4-foot, black chain link fence running from front to back along the property boundary with the apartment complex next door. The fence – which was originally proposed to be much larger and meant to keep vandals from damaging parked cars or the building itself – is estimated to cost $14,500 and is now being seen as a way to direct traffic to the front of the building and a safety measure for women members of the ambulance service. The fence is also seen as a way to keep people from entering during training, which Gustafson said could involve flames, dogs and ATVs.

Gustafson repeatedly said the services want people to “approach the building from the front.”

Other improvements that will need to find a place in the budget include striping the parking lot and a memorial park.

Chase asked it the town could work on good relations with its neighbors and getting buy-in for the fence.

Whalen acknowledged that the land behind the building is public property but asked if kids and dog walkers needed to be there. He said “no.”

Whalen also said that one of the pluses from having the building is that Fire Safety Day at Chester-Andover Elementary can now be a field trip to the fire station.

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  1. Barre Pinske says:

    Having the freedom to express ourselves is one of the best things about living in America. It’s become much more prevalent with the internet. I remember Rosanna Rosanna Danna on Saturday Night Live passionately arguing a topic then being made aware that her premise was clearly misunderstood and ending with the statement never mind! Unfortunately Mrs. Parker’s letter makes untrue assumptions about my position on legal Cannabis and potential influence on the Cannabis Control Board. It also shows a lack of understanding of the role of the board and my goal in being on it. She is interpreting a snippet of dialogue I made so I think it’s important to be clear. Firstly legal cannabis is here, it will happen. The rules are coming down from the State level we will be getting training but from what I understand we will not have any significant authority to create rules. My goals in applying to be a member was in part to have a planning board member on the board to gain knowledge for planning purposes and to help this new industry transition nicely into our community. Also supporting people’s freedom to buy and use cannabis legally and respecting those who with differing opinions. On a personal level as person predisposed to addiction I have had to accept I can’t use substances recreationally and remind myself that if I do my life will unravel. Not that I’m knitted to tightly anyway! Unfortunately humans are a vulnerable species addiction is everywhere. Cigarettes are warning labeled, alcohol ads encourage people to drink responsibly, lottery ads end with a statement about where to call for help if someone has a gambling addiction.
    I realize the majority of people can use alcohol and cannabis recreationally and responsibly with out problems and others can’t. I benefited greatly from a home State program as a young man after receiving a DUI. I learned I had a generational history of alcoholism on both sides of my family that I may be at risk for addiction and after a few years more of “testing” it was clear. Support groups, friends in recovery, treatment, therapy and a lot of effort have gone into any success I have had.
    I have felt cultural loss with celebrity’s overdosing, loss in my family to addiction, losses in our town to addiction. I feel sad passing by friends who have lost adult children I can’t imagine what it’s like for them I imagine them wishing they could have done something to help and feeling helpless at some point every single day. With all I have seen and experienced it’s a challenge for me to respect the logic of sidewalks over addiction education but as the Ostrich buries it’s head in the sand so goes it’s vision.
    I mentioned my goal would be to have this be a comfortable transition for our community. I believe one of the few things the state is offering back to us is money for addiction education. There is no financial benefit directly to the town which was a why here topic for the Select board. If funds for addiction education are available I would like to see us bring in captivating speakers into our schools and community who can breach the cultural goo of much dysfunction and reach people especially our young people so when they reach an age of adult decisions all can recognize a potential problem. In turn learn to respect peers who can use recreationally and be respectful of those with a vulnerability. 35 years free of alcohol and drugs has been a struggle for me I need to remind myself I’ll definitely loose everything and death or jail are likely while peers say you don’t drink or do drugs why not? No one should have to explain themselves do we adults still not understand addiction and people struggle?
    This is a multifaceted issue that effects different people in different ways. I would like to encourage restraint with rushing to judgment I’m hopeful we can have open lines of communication between the commission and the community. Let’s make this work positively for all of us. The more successful we can be in all areas of our lives the more helpful to each other.

  2. Becky Parker says:

    I don’t think members of the Select Board, the body who has been largely responsible for cannabis sales being stalled in Chester despite the established long-held considerations of the people who voted yes for it, should have their hands anywhere near this.

    I think this applies especially to unelected members of other boards and branches in our local government. This commission should have fully elected positions of representatives of Chester locals and not just business owners who now have the authority to deny all of us what we have voted for more than once.

    The goalpost keeps getting moved to undermine the will of the people and I can’t be convinced otherwise until adults can finally mind their own business and be free to buy cannabis in town.

    If you want to talk about addiction, let’s talk about how access to recreational cannabis correlates positively with reduced deaths from opioid overdose. Let’s talk about pain management, especially as chronic conditions from the still ongoing pandemic arise.

    I don’t see liquor sales being used to educate the town about alcoholism, which is a real gateway drug.
    Why don’t we try to figure out how to use the revenue for better pedestrian pathways around town/sidewalks?

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