Chester Recreation opens pool, board reviews policing policies

CHESTER, Vt. – At the June 17 meeting, the Chester Selectboard heard the latest on the Chester Recreation Department opening of the town pool at Pinnacle Park as of June 22. According to Chester Town Manager Julie Hance, Chester Recreation Director Matt McCarthy has been working with lifeguards and staff to open the pool while adhering to the current allowable group size of 25 people.

That may change with Gov. Phil Scott’s announcement last Friday. According to Scott, effective June 26, outdoor organized events will now allow up to 150 people. Hance said during a follow up phone call that the town will likely loosen their guidelines at the pool, but details would need to be worked out in accordance with the new regulations as appropriate for that space.

Other current restrictions allow for two-hour blocks of swimming time. The pool is also only open to residents and taxpayers of Chester and Andover. Swim lessons are currently on hold for now. Visitors will need to bring their own chairs, and no pool toys will be allowed. Adult swim will be scheduled from 5 to 6 p.m. and the last 15 minutes of every hour.

Other updates on Pinnacle Park include the addition of new parking spaces. According to Hance, the new gate will be going up soon and new signage will be installed, stating hours and other restrictions. The Selectboard will be looking at revising policies for the area in upcoming meetings.

The Selectboard heard from Chester Police Chief Rick Cloud as they examined policing policies in Chester, largely in response to national headlines that are rife with deadly force and discriminatory policing events around the country.

As Cloud explained, Vermont League of Cities and Towns comes up with policing policies, which are then adapted to the town. Any excessive force issues are dealt with through the Vermont Police Academy at the state level and reviewed by a “use of force” committee. Use of force issues include anytime a taser is used or there is a canine bite during any police and resident interaction.

According to Cloud, changes being made at the state level now largely deal with deadly force. He also said that there is more emphasis now on de-escalation, particularly in domestic violence cases and mental health issues.

Cloud said that his department has only had six “use of force” incidents in 19 years.

Selectboard Chair Arne Jonynas expressed his concern that there are procedures for filing a complaint against the police department. Cloud confirmed there was a form that can be filed with the police chief or the town manager. He said that most complaints to date have involved traffic stops, and in which case, the town manager and he would review the cruiser footage together. Typically, those are resolved easily after footage is reviewed. If the one filing the complaint was not happy with the outcome, by statute, the complaint could then proceed to the Selectboard or district court, according to Cloud.

Board member Heather Chase asked how many complaints per year Cloud had received against police department and Cloud confirmed it was about two or three per year, usually motor vehicle stops.

Chase suggested they be open to ways “we can do things better.”

The board agreed to include an agenda item at the July 1 meeting to discuss policies and the way they handle police complaints in future. They would also look at what decisions were being made at the state level before that meeting.

In other business, the board approved a one-year appraisers service contract with New England Municipal Resource Center after looking into a complaint leveled against the company at the last Selectboard meeting. Those concerns were addressed and largely dismissed. Hance reminded the board that NEMRC was familiar with the grand list, worked quickly, and did a good job. She also noted they did not have a lot of options and that most small towns were leaning towards their services as long-time listers were retiring. The board agreed to use them for a trial year to see what the costs would look like and how they would work.

A request to add a streetlight in Gassetts to help light a business property was put on hold until Hance could ask if the owner was lighting the property himself as well. Jonynas and board member Lee Gustafson agreed they were reluctant to set a precedent to install a light for anyone that asked.

The Wednesday, July 1 meeting at 6 p.m. is slated to be both an in-person meeting at the Chester Town Hall and also available for viewing remotely through Zoom. Link will be available on the town website.

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