Chester Planning Commission ousts Hudkins as chairman

UPDATE, Feb. 25, 2021: Article was updated to reflect the correct name of Commission member Naomi Johnson.

CHESTER, Vt. – The Chester Planning Commission unanimously voted to remove Peter Hudkins as their Board Chairman during their special meeting Feb. 22, a meeting scheduled specifically to refute statements made by Hudkins at the Chester Selectboard meeting Wednesday, Feb. 17.

All five current commission board members were in attendance via Zoom including Tim Roper, outgoing member Naomi Johnson, Barre Pinske, Cheryl Joy Lipton, and Hudkins.

Hudkins, who was appointed as chairman last March, started the meeting by admitting he acted like “a crazy uncle” at the Selectboard meeting but defended himself saying that after two years on the board, he still had questions.

Johnson called out Hudkins for using the Selectboard meeting to air his grievances when the purpose of their participation at the meeting was to report progress of the commission. Johnson outlined that the Planning Commission had prepared two different reports for the Selectboard but that Hudkins prepared his own report, even though he had told the board he did not have time to prepare anything. His report, which essentially blindsided the rest of the board, was against their rules of procedures, according to Johnson.

She further admonished Hudkins for never voicing the “vast majority” of concerns to the Planning Commission, either through statements or in writing, prior to airing them to the Selectboard, which she said was “a grave concern to all of us.”

Roper characterized Hudkins actions saying he “degraded the professionalism of this commission” by representing only his views, not those of the Planning Commission and that he had lost Roper’s respect.

After Hudkins countered that he had a right to his opinion, Lipton countered that they want his opinion in the mix but, “We give our arguments, we vote, and compromise” and worked together to work things out. “You were supposed to represent the board.”

Pinske called Hudkins a “rogue character” saying, “You’re not understanding that you are part of a board. You have proven to us, over and over and over that you are on your own island and you’re not a team player.”

In response to the statements made by Hudkins at the Selectboard meeting, Johnson and Roper prepared a letter for the Selectboard to clarify issues raised by his opinions. The letter contained three different sections to counter, point-by-point, Hudkins comments. Categories of “false statements,” “misleading statements,” and “statements needing further review, research, discussion, and explanation” in all refuted 14 separate statements.

Roper further clarified that the Planning Commission’s document to date is a draft with some issues not having been discussed yet. He said that Hudkins talking about it as if it were final was doing “an egregious disservice to Chester.”

Chester resident Steve Mancuso participated in the meeting and said that Chester residents don’t have clarity about the specifics and details of their plan. He also accused members of being agenda driven and said they need more of the public involved.

Lipton said it was hard to get the public to attend meetings, but she wants them to come.

Select Board member Lee Gustafson also attended the meeting via Zoom and said that conversations he’s had recently with residents show there is a lack of understanding of how the governing boards work. He suggested to Town Manager Julie Hance to help clarify board processes.

At the end of the meeting, although Hudkins accepted responsibility for his actions and acknowledged that he lost the trust of the board, Roper called for his removal as chairman. The board unanimously approved his removal as the chairman, although he will remain on the board.

The next Planning Commission meeting is scheduled Monday, March 1 at 6:30 p.m. via Zoom.

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