Chester Selectboard settles flag issue, looks to retool zoning position

CHESTER, Vt. – The Chester Selectboard concluded the recent debate over flags, appointed an interim zoning administrator while the position is retooled, and began discussions about overhauling town employee benefits at the recent Aug. 19 Chester Selectboard meeting.

The board determined that a requested ordinance concerning governance of American flags in town was outside of their purview, based on advice from the town attorney. Their proper use, display, and disposal are controlled by state and federal regulation and is not under their authority.

The issue of proper display of the flags along Main Street has been in front of the board over the last several board meetings by local residents who had issue with the quality of the flags and their proper display. The flags were purchased, hung, and maintained by Chester’s American Legion Post 67. The flags were recently taken down by Jeff Holden in collaboration with the Legion in response to the controversy.

Board Chair Arne Jonynas clarified that no one from the town government nor the board had asked that the flags be taken down, and that there’s no one on the board that doesn’t want the flags back. Jonynas said he thought the issue could have been handled differently and characterized the problem as more of a misunderstanding than an issue. He also announced that the American Legion would be stepping up again.

Ron Farrar, current commander of American Legion Post 67 in Chester, was at the meeting representing the Legion, along with former commander Fred Derosia. He explained that the Legion intended to replace the flags earlier this spring but were impacted by pandemic. He also acknowledged that the flags had suffered greatly in several recent windstorms. He went on to announce that the Legion has ordered new flags with swivels so they should not get twisted again. He thanked the town for their recent support for the flags and asked that anyone who had a concern about a flag to get in touch with the Legion.

Jonynas suggested they make an announcement when the flags go up on Memorial Day and when they are taken down on Veterans Day to remind town residents that the Legion is in charge of them. Board member Lee Gustafson also suggested posting signage to that effect.

The board approved the appointment of Cathy Hasbrouk as interim zoning administrator after learning of the resignation of Michael Normyle who held the position for over a decade.

While Hasbrouk resumes the position as its currently structured, Town Manager Julie Hance is retooling the position entirely to go from its current 8 to 12 hours to be closer to a 20-hour per week position, an update necessary to serve the needs of the town. The position helps guide business owners through the permitting process, which takes more time than a one-day schedule allows and can impact whether a person feels like Chester is a business-friendly town, a criticism Hance had heard recently.

Hance is looking to create a more attractive position by merging several things together and is waiting for more feedback as she crafts the details. Hasbrouk will take over the position effective Aug. 26 but is not able to serve in the position once it is retooled due to other commitments.

With budget season on the horizon, Hance has begun working on “deep dive into employee benefit package,” due to concerns over the healthcare package from current town employees. As part of the process, Hance is comparing other municipalities and government entities within the state of Vermont. She is also looking at the benefit package as a whole, not just for its health insurance coverage.

Hance asked for two board members to participate as she looks through options and details, especially since she herself is a town employee and before going before the full board. Heather Chase and Leigh Dakin have agreed to work with Hance.

The next Chester Selectboard meeting will be Wednesday, Sept 2 at 6 p.m. either in person on the second floor of the Town Hall or via Zoom. Meeting link can be found on the town website.

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