Chester Selectboard begins process for policing policy

CHESTER, Vt. – At their June 15 meeting, the Chester Selectboard began what may prove to be a lengthy process to develop a policing policy for Chester, and may result in establishing a community oversight committee.

Town Manager Julie Hance also recommended that the town budget for an assessment of the Police Department to kickstart that process. Hance was clear that the assessment process was “not to find fault” but simply to establish a clear understanding of how Chester conducts their policing, and look at other issues such as what adequate staffing should be, what 2021 policing should look like, what community policing might look like, and whether Chester police officers should use body cameras or not, among other topics.

Hance said she plans to budget for the assessment in the town’s upcoming budget in September and would look to hire an external resource to conduct the evaluation. Hance said this would be valuable dollars spent and help Police Chief Rick Cloud move forward as well as provide input to a possible oversight committee.

Hance distributed several examples of other Vermont town’s policing policies to the board as a way to start the discussion by showing how different towns are trying to address policing in the 21st century.

Hance indicated that Chester’s attorney Jim Carroll has expressed some issues with some of the policies but this was just to get the conversation started.

Board member Lee Gustafson suggested the board review the different policies they have, generate questions for the town’s attorney, and then invite Carroll to talk with the board to discuss his own concerns and answer their questions.

Board member Heather Chase suggested they also include community groups in the process saying she had an issue with coming up with a community oversight committee without community input.

Hance said that the outside assessment could “feed this advisory committee” and could involve some community workshops as well as other community input.

During the meeting, the Selectboard also approved the purchase of an additional vehicle beyond their new 2020 police cruiser. The Police Department added a 2020 police cruiser to their fleet, well below their budget of $41,000. With $17,500 left over, Hance asked for approval to spend $12,000 of the remainder to purchase an additional car to be used by their detective. The purchase would free up a third cruiser to conduct additional radar and would return the remaining $5,000 to the budget.

Hance also updated the board on recent happenings with the Jeffrey Barn. Hance said Chester Historical Society President Ron Patch “has a vision” for the surrounding property of the Jeffrey Barn and would be working with town maintenance workers to coordinate brush clean up. He also suggested moving an existing monument at the location closer to the road for citizens to more easily see it. The monument highlights a historic Indigenous encampment on the property.

Speeding strips will be placed next week on Andover Road to begin capturing travel and speed information on that road over the next three to four weeks. Data from the speed strips should be ready for analysis at the end of July, at which point the board could discuss next steps.

The board moved one step closer to approving their letter of intent for the Community Greenhouse Project, which should be finalized by July 7. Concerns over whether the Canal Street location might be unavailable for the project were eliminated and both locations are now available for consideration. Hance said she had received a letter from a Canal Street abutter requesting that they not choose Canal Street since her property would be visible from the greenhouse project.

The board discussed that a public forum process would be happening after a letter of intent was approved by the board but that it allowed the Greenhouse committee to proceed with grant submissions and fundraising if they have a formal acknowledgment from the Selectboard of their support for the project.

The board approved Hance’s request to use $120,000 of the expected ARPA funds to go toward cost overruns for the Emergency Services Building. Of that funding, $60,000 would be able to roll over into the highway garage project and $60,000 would go to Russell Construction for their cost overruns. Hance detailed that this $120,000 in costs was directly related by Covid-19 impacts and therefore merited the funds.

The next Selectboard meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, July 7 at 6 p.m.

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