CHESTER, Vt. – At their April 21 meeting, the Selectboard selected The Commons, a newspaper out of Brattleboro with a distribution of 180 papers dropped off in Chester locations, as their paper of record along with the Chester Telegraph.
The decision follows a public forum during their previous meeting where The Vermont Journal representatives made a presentation suggesting that their original decision to appoint The Chester Telegraph, an online-only news source, was in violation of state statute that states a legal notice must be printed in a newspaper. Mike Donahue from the Vermont Press Association and Steven Pappas of the Rutland Herald also spoke on the behalf of publishing legal notices in a printed paper.
In that prior meeting, several Chester citizens also spoke in support of printed legal notices in The Vermont Journal and Town Manager Julie Hance said she had received two letters and three phone calls in support of The Journal leading up to that meeting. On April 21, the board did not allow for public comment on the agenda item nor discussed comments made previously at the public forum.
Board member Lee Gustafson began board comments on the paper of record topic by saying he was very disappointed in the tone and word choices made by “The Vermont Journal folks and other people” and felt the board was being bullied into changing the decision they made. “If we decide that we’re going to move forward with another paper of record, then I would not be comfortable using The Vermont Journal,” he said.
Board member Heather Chase said arguments being used weren’t congruent and that issues brought up like money and access made assumptions about The Journal, specifically that everyone gets it and everyone reads it. “You can’t measure how many people read a paper that just comes in the mail.”
Chase also mentioned she felt bullied by the tone of counterarguments and said she felt an opinion sent to the board via email by Secretary of State Jim Condos was “very condescending.” She said, “These five board members…we’re in these seats to make the best decision we can for Chester.”
Board Chair Arne Jonynas echoed some of the points from Gustafson and Chase. He also spoke about opinions coming in on the topic from state agencies outside of Chester. “We have a lot of folks very interested in the best interests of Chester from all over the state…from the Secretary of State Jim Condos, Steve Pappas from the Rutland Herald, Mike Donahue, Lisa Loomis [of the Vermont Press Association]… They all pertain to understand or know that the best interests of Chester is served by a printed paper.”
He defended the board’s position, saying they made their decision as members of the town for what was best for the town. He also said, however, that a recent opinion from their attorney, which had not changed from a communication sent in 2019, has given the town a conservative recommendation that the town post a combination of the print and online to cover themselves legally.
Board member Jeff Holden said he thought that the world is progressing; most people are into social media and have that ability. He also noted that notices are posted publicly in several places throughout town. Chase had also made the comment earlier that the town was willing to mail legal notices to anyone requesting them.
Gustafson suggested posting legal notices in The Commons as well as the Chester Telegraph.
Jonynas said he agreed by posting in a printed paper and understood Gustafson’s reasoning. “In my case, I think that I have to take the high road,” he added. “I still think that the interests of the citizens of Chester [are] better served if we are going to go with a printed paper with The Vermont Journal as much as I would dislike going that route for all the reasons that I’ve heard tonight.”
Chase confirmed with Julie Hance that the town advertises in multiple areas and just because it’s the paper of record, doesn’t mean they are not going to post and advertise in other papers.
Gustafson motioned to publish legal notices in Chester Telegraph and The Commons. Gustafson, Leigh Dakin, Chase, and Jeff Holden all voted “yes” with Jonynas voting “no.”
The next Chester Selectboard meeting is Wednesday, May 5 at 6 p.m.