BENNINGTON -- Charles "Chuck" Putney has aided local governments and nonprofit groups with development and public relations. Now he has launched another campaign: To bring his experience to the Bennington Select Board.
Putney, who moved to Bennington in 1978, is one of seven candidates seeking three available seats on the board. He has worked as an independent consultant since 1985, aiding local and county governments, school districts and other organizations.
He said one of his greatest achievements locally was helping the Bennington Free Library expand in the mid-1980s.
Putney said his work has provided him with vast knowledge of local governments and communities.
"One of the things I bring to this is I've seen a lot of small and mid-sized cities around the country, cities where they've had really positive responses to their changing circumstances and cities and towns where they haven't," Putney said. "Places that look like they're going downhill on a fast slide and places that have found away of keeping themselves idle."
Putney has previously sought a seat on the board unsuccessfully. He is running again to provide voters with another option.
"I wanted to give voters a choice. When I looked at some of the candidates that were running, I decided that the voters would have a benefit of having different points of view," he said. "I also think I have skills to bring to the Select Board. I've run before so it's not that I'm a single-issue person. I'm really interested in a lot of stuff. The town of Bennington has a lot of moving parts that affect everyone."
The town should be focused on boosting the downtown, ensuring there is adequate housing and continuing economic development efforts, according to Putney. The needs of residents should be first and foremost in mind, though, he said.
"The residents are first. If there aren't residents here then it's not an actual living community and tourists are not going to come here," he said.
Creating an art district in the downtown and helping downtown property owners develop upper floors for housing could bring vitality to Main Street, he said.
"People will be downtown because stuff is happening," he said. "People want to see living communities. They're not interested in plasticvilles, and the visitors are not interested in strip malls."
But, the Select Board must be adept at "setting priorities and deciding what's most important" because the town is not able to provide everything.
"There are a lot of constituencies in town and they all want their piece of the action, but we can't satisfy all of them without having a tax bill that is skyrocketing. I'm a taxpayer, too. There's a limit to how much I want to spend on my taxes," he said.
The board has grappled in recent years with the potential rezoning of the former Johnson Controls property off of Northside Drive. The board has opted against changing the property to a commercial designation, but has agreed to reconsider that if a viable development plan is presented.
Putney said he shares that view.
"I think that is the appropriate response at this point," he said. "There's a lot more to Bennington than the Johnson Controls project. Some of the candidates have promised lots of jobs. My experience from traveling around this country, is that shopping centers are disposable," he said.
The town has benefited from "a tremendous" town plan and should continue to follow and update that plan. If the Johnson Controls zoning is changed from industrial to commercial the town runs the risk of having existing stores moving to a newly developed shopping center if the zoning is changed, leaving empty buildings behind, Putney said.
The land could potentially be viable as a manufacturing site for renewable energy products, according to Putney.
"I see a huge future in environmental issues, a huge future in the potential for renewable resources," he said. "If things get rolling, is somebody going to want to have a construction site in Vermont where there's a lot of interest in this stuff?" he said.
The Select Board has a mix of executive and legislative duties, Putney said. Sometimes the board is required to provide broad policies and other times take a more hands-on approach to governing.
"In both sides of that the buck stops at the Select Board. I think that there's a delicate balance in terms of managing the town manager. We have someone who is very experienced and who has a lot of skills. But, at the same time, if there's something the Select Board feels isn't being down adequately, then what we do is we say to the town manager, ‘We'd like this to be done,'" Putney said.
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