Friday March 15, 2013

Mike Bethel

The elections are over once again, and I was not one of the chosen few. I want to extend my congratulations to the winning candidates, and my thanks to those who supported my candidacy. We have two new select board members, and one re-elected incumbent. The two new members, will, I hope, stick to their campaign promises, which were to move Bennington’s economy forward so that we can stabilize our ever-rising taxes. The two new members to the Bennington Select Board hopefully will bring different ideas for how to grow our economy, and perhaps inspire the old incumbents to think out of the box to accomplish this mission.

Encouraging new business to come to Bennington won’t be easy, especially with the negative news that has appeared in the Bennington Banner over the last year. We have had everything from drug raids to prostitution rings. Most recently, and most heartbreaking for me, the accusation of mistreatment of one of our special-needs children in our school raises many questions about the screening, hiring, and training of some of our school personnel. All of this unflattering news on the Banner’s front page certainly takes away any warm and fuzzy feeling strangers might have had about our town. And I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there have been instances of people thinking of moving here who changed their minds after reading some back issues of our hometown newspaper.

But let us not despair. I’m sure a lot of communities across the country go through similar ordeals. Now, can things be turned around? Of course. But our Select Board does have to step up to the plate. It is now this Select Board’s responsibility to get the job done. And that job has to focus on not just the nuts and bolts of maintaining our town, but on laying the groundwork for future growth.

A big part of that has to be tackling our present zoning conundrums. Everyone knows that I’m a big supporter of changing zoning for Johnson Controls. But there are other zoning oddities in this town that directly inhibit growth. Oddities such as zoning regulations that prevent certain types of business from locating in our town. Or making the process of businesses obtaining variances so onerous that few, if any, would even attempt it.

Our school board (the BSD) has to also step up to the plate. You can’t turn a community around if the school board is constantly being shown in the worst possible light. Retaining incompetent people in sensitive positions within our school system is no longer tolerable.

A housecleaning is well needed. Only this way will you bring back any credibility to our school system. The taxpayers deserve better, the parents deserve better, but, especially, our children deserve better.

Increasing our tax base is the only way to finance Bennington’s rebirth. If we can’t maintain and expand our roads, maintain and upgrade our sewer and water systems, and make our school system the envy of New England, then we really are doomed to a never-ending spiral of increasing taxes, decreasing services, and a slumping quality of life.

On March 28, the latest study on how to improve Bennington’s economic outlook will be released. It will join all the previous studies lining the shelves of town hall. It is time we stopped studying our problems and began acting on them. Each and every citizen knows what the trouble is, yet our elected and appointed officials seem unable to comprehend the nature of the problems, or develop plans with which to address them. Let us hope that the new faces on our Select Board bring the new ideas and new drive our town so sorely needs, and so richly deserves.

Michael Bethel lives in Bennington.