CHESTER, Vt. – The Chester Selection Committee continued to wrestle with the recently approved retail cannabis issue at its April 6 meeting, discussing the authority of the local cannabis control commission that the council established at its last meeting of the Selection Committee, as well as the power of the Selectboard itself to make orders under the title of public nuisance, adult affairs or age-related regulation.
After lengthy discussions, the council agreed to change the structure of the local cannabis control commission to include only two council members, rather than the full council, and to include community members, the final number of participants to be determined.
Board chairman Arne Jonynas said one of the big questions they were looking at was exactly what is the authority of the Local Cannabis Control Commission, which he called, based on the State advice, of fairly limited. He said that was why some people were suggesting the Selectboard pursue nuisance laws or age-focused ordinances. “We have to decide – is this something we want to pursue?” he said, and later added, “What do we want to do as a city, if anything? I do not know the answer.
City Manager Julie Hance had recently attended a discussion that included regional planning, representatives from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, different cannabis support organizations, and those better connected to the State Cannabis Control Board, to sort out some of the questions that have arisen since retail. cannabis has been approved. Hance reported that Chester was the only municipality represented in the discussion. According to Hance, little was accomplished other than discussing the issues in order to get answers to report back to the group the following month. She said she would continue to be part of the group so she could update the board in the coming months.
Hance said she wasn’t sure she would get the answers because, based on comments from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns during the recent discussion, the State Cannabis Control Board doesn’t understand why municipalities are confused and think their document is very clear.
Hance also said she was seeking clarification on the issues with a council performing two different functions, because since an ordinance can only be passed by the selection committee, there must be a separation: does the council act as a local cannabis control board or the Selection Board?
Jonynas said they needed more clarity on how zoning regulations might fit into adult- or age-focused ordinances.
Barre Pinske, a Chester resident, spoke from a distance, saying the townspeople had voted for retail cannabis and there should be some diversity on the commission rather than having the Selectboard as sole representative. “I don’t think it’s in the city’s interest,” he said. “It would be nice to have people involved in the commission pushing for this.”
Board member Ben Whalen said voters spoke out on polling day and it was their responsibility to ensure that was done. He said he agreed that the composition of the commission should be more than just the selection committee. He suggested that the commission establish ground rules and clarify what the group is responsible for and what we are trying to achieve.
Jonynas said they issued a statement for public participation and received two responses so far, but received interest from another resident during the meeting. He said they would spread the word to the city for those interested in participating in the commission. Jonynas then said they would change the committee structure to include public participation and limit Selectboard members to two, so they don’t have to give notice to meetings when they meet. They will decide the final number of participants once they see how many responses from the community they receive.
In other matters, Hance will enter negotiations with the new police union from the end of April and has asked two Selectboard members to join her in the process. Arne Jonynas and Ben Whalen volunteered to participate.
The council approved Hance’s suggestion to hold a community meeting on Monday, May 9 to discuss the use of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funds, which total about $900,000. City department heads pitched some of their ideas, but Hance would like to start with a blank slate at the meeting so community members can pitch their ideas and start brainstorming. Hance noted that this is one-time taxpayers’ money and it would be nice if projects were done that reached the greatest population.
Jonynas agreed, saying, “The more pubic entry, the better.”
The council approved Andover’s contract for fire and ambulance services for this year.
Hance announced a correction to the schedule for the Summer Community Breakfasts at the Emergency Services Building, which will be held the first Sunday of the month, not Saturday as previously stated, from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. The first will be held on Sunday June 5 and extended until Sunday September 4.
The next meeting of the Chester Selectboard will take place on Wednesday 20 April at 6.30pm at the Chester Town Office.