Bennington Select Board candidates meet for roundtable
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | February 23,2013
BENNINGTON — The seven Select Board candidates answered questions on everything from education to public safety to the character of the average Benningtonian.
Sharyn Brush is the only incumbent seeking re-election next month. Two board members, Jason Morrissey and Chris Oldham, are not running.
All Select Board members in Bennington are elected at large, so the three new members will be those who get the most votes among the field of Brush, Mike Bethel, Peter J. Brady Sr., Thomas H. Jacobs, John McFadden, Charles R. “Chuck” Putney and Eugene “Gene” Rowley.
The candidates took part in a roundtable discussion Wednesday in the studio of Catamount Access Television.
Asked about his top priorities, Jacobs said he was concerned about the town’s aging population and the strain it was putting on the grand list.
“It is all about the economy and growing our grand list,” Jacobs said. “Unless we do that, we’re not going to be able to support our bonding either.”
Responding to a question about the drug problem in Bennington, Rowley cited his history as a retired employee of the Vermont Department of Corrections.
“The police department would look for the support of the Select Board, but by the same token doesn’t want to be micromanaged,” he said. “I think (a solution) is also more access to treatment programs in town. I currently do mentoring and the best way to stop substance abuse is to catch it before it starts.”
Putney mentioned one priority that was unique to him when he talked about finding ways to make the town’s housing stock more energy efficient.
“One of the things that the town could do is try to look for resources to help homeowners and landlords insulate homes and insulate buildings so that the cost of heating those buildings declines,” he said. “I’m very interested in energy efficiency, I have been for a long time.”
The Vermont National Guard maintains an armory building downtown. In recent years, guard officials have begun the process of planning to replace the armory in a new location. As part of that, a tentative agreement has been reached to give or sell the building to the town.
Brady said he had an idea about what could be done with the building.
“I have a proposal, when we look into the armory,” he said. “If we can get it up to code, put the youth center in there and give the kids something to do in this town. There’s a bowling alley downstairs in there. There’s a full basketball court. You could have youth leagues in there.”
Bethel spoke frequently about his desire to see the zoning changed at the former Johnson Controls site. Bethel has asked both the Select Board and Zoning Board to make a change that would allow commercial development at the site.
“We have to start growing our economy in Bennington and no more excuses,” he said. “We just have to start recruiting business to Bennington, all types of businesses.”
McFadden criticized Route 279, also known as the Bennington Bypass, for the effect it’s had on the town’s reputation as a place to visit.
“Unfortunately, Bennington has lost its appeal,” he said. “I’ve been across the state. I went to school in Burlington and when I tell people where I’m from, they have no idea where Bennington is. They ask me, ‘Wait, Brattleboro?’ … As of right now, what we’re using (the bypass) for is proving that we failed our people when putting the bypass in.”
Brush said she thought the bypass had not hurt tourism in Bennington.
“I have the privilege of having my office right on the Four Corners in Bennington so I see lots of traffic and trucks and whatever happens to go through the Four Corners,” Brush said. “Last summer, there were thousands of cars and you could walk up and down Main Street (and see that) half of, three-quarters of the license plates were out of state. ... People do stop here and I think once they get the welcome center open, we’ll see more tourism.”
Select Board members will be elected by Australian ballot March 5.