NEAL P. GOSWAMI
BENNINGTON -- Jim Carroll, known to many people as the man behind Jimmy Joe’s Curbside Grill, is hoping to turn his regular day job into open office hours as a member of the Select Board.
Carroll, who was born and raised in Bennington before heading to New York City for work, returned home following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
"I missed Bennington. As a kid growing up here I wanted to escape," Carroll said. "I was Joe and June’s kid. I didn’t know who I was yet. Š I missed home and as fate would have it, my folks got sick and my brothers and sisters are scattered to the four winds."
Bennington had evolved from the town he remembered, however. Carroll said many of the things he loved about his youth no longer remained.
"When I came back to Bennington there was a noticeable difference, in my mind, from how Bennington was. Growing up here Š when we didn’t have the big chain stores, the downtown was where people did their shopping. They met the neighbors," he said.
Carroll is hoping to help revive the downtown as a member of the Select Board. He said boosting the downtown will help attract new residents and business.
"If you can get the downtown thriving again -- and it’s a tough sell, it’s a tough job -- everything else will come. You’ve got to make the town an attractive place where people want to come and settle down, raise families, buy homes and broaden the tax base," he said.
A large Vermont products store that can serve as an anchor for the downtown is part of Carroll’s vision. He said such a store could include crafts and products from a variety of vendors.
"I get excited about this and enthusiastic, because I feel like this would be an engine, not just for Bennington, but for the state, in a big, big way," Carroll said.
The town must also continue to invest in its own infrastructure, Carroll said. He said the town must move forward, and with more urgency, on replacing the town’s aging water system and with repaving roads. It will cost money, he said, but is more cost-effective to stay on top of it.
The town did the right thing when it worked to clear debris from the Roaring Branch several years ago. Had the town not acted then, Tropical Storm Irene could have been even more devastating.
"Irene came along. When that happened, I don’t know if anybody was thinking about worst case scenario, but we did get a worst case scenario. Had those trees not been cleared, can you imagine the mass of all those trees?" Carroll said. "I think the same principle applies here. You can’t wait. You’ve got to spend the money. It’s part of the social contract that we all sign and all agree to, in a metaphoric sense, and it’s our responsibility as taxpayers and members of the community to take care of our responsibilities."
The current Select Board may be poised to change the zoning designation of a long-vacant industrial property to a commercial designation. Carroll said he does not support changing the former Johnson Controls designation until the owner "decides what he wants to do with it."
"I don’t see the point in talking about that, and I’ll tell you why. The man that owns it is not interested in selling, so what’s the point of spending time on that until he decides to change his mind," Carroll said.
After recent questioning by local firemen, Carroll said he has determined that consolidating the Bennington Village and Bennington Rural Fire Department may not be in the best interests of local residents. It undoubtedly would produce savings, he said, but could raise insurance rates on homeowners and put people at risk because of the longer response times.
"It just doesn’t make sense to me. It actually frightens me, because two or three or four minutes that it takes for an apparatus to get to a fire location may be the difference between a house being engulfed or a kid dead," he said.
Carroll faces four others, including incumbent John Zink, for two available seats. Incumbent Vice Chairman Matthew Maroney has opted against seeking re-election.
Carroll said if he is elected he will bring a commitment to Bennington, forged by several generations, to the table.
"My family goes back 100 years on my father’s side, 150 on my mom’s. My grandparents on my father’s side met at the McCullough mansion. My grandmother was chief cook and my grandfather was chief coachman. That’s where they fell in love," he said.
His family has helped instill in him a love for Bennington, and a desire to serve, Carroll said.
"I love this town. I absolutely am passionate about it. Anybody that knows me, that’s visited the cart -- Bennington is on my mind every single day and I’m thinking of ways to make it better. I think I’m very well informed and when I approach a topic I research it as carefully as I can," he said.
His job running the hot dog car on Main Street will serve as an easy way for residents to seek assistance or pass on ideas, Carroll said.
"Certainly, I’ll be the most visible selectman on a daily basis on the street. I want those people to be able to come to me and I want to be able to help them answer their questions," he said.
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