BENNINGTON >> Mike Bethel says it's time for a mayor.
Bethel is running for one of three seats on the Bennington Select Board. He lived in Bennington as a child, moved away for a period of time, but has been here for the past 20 years. A self-taught painter, Bethel has been vocal in town politics for many years, advocating for lighting the Bennington Battle Monument, rezoning the former Johnson Controls site, and expanding the Walmart on Northside Drive.
"I think they've labelled me a community activist," Bethel said.
As for why Bennington needs a mayor, he thinks the position would give the town the morale boost and leadership it needs.
"A mayor system would be replacing the town manager and just having a mayor, a strong mayor, a three- or four-year term," he said. "It's nothing to do with any of the personnel we have in our administration, it's not a personal thing, it's just that we do not seem to be moving forward. This town has everything a town could want – a museum, a hospital, Northside Drive, a downtown, factories – we've got everything."
He does not envision replacing the Select Board.
"The only thing is the strong mayor would be able to bring things forward on their own, but they would have to be sure it's what the people want or they wouldn't get their job back in three or four years. It's someone who would be totally accountable, they would have a vision for the town and they will or won't get elected on that vision."
He said the idea has gone before voters twice in the past.
"I think the people are ready," he said.
He wants the town to do more to support, and utilize, the WBTN 1370-AM radio station, and the William H. Morse State Airport, and to expand what the Bennington Recreation Center offers.
"I don't think we do enough for the youth," he said, adding that many after-school programs are too costly for many Bennington families.
He said the town also needs a business recruiter, someone devoted solely to bringing in businesses.
Bethel also feels the Better Bennington Corporation, the nonprofit that receives extra tax monies collected from businesses within the downtown district, should be abolished and the money it gets brought under the town's control.
"They give $70,000 to the BBC, I don't know why that money can't be brought back under the town and some of that money be used for starting up new businesses downtown."
Bethel feels he will be able to work with other board members, but does not plan to "rubber stamp" requests that come before the board.
"I'm not going to be a 'yes' man for the board," he said. "I think I can help them construct a vision and mandates for these organizations we have, and their staff, so they can get things done.
With the Legislature contemplating the legalization of marijuana, the town may, in a few years, find itself having to decide how to regulate its use and sale locally. Bethel said he would heed the will of the voters on the issue.
The town, as well as other communities, has also been seeing an increase in the number of proposed solar array projects, some more controversial than others. Bethel said he is in favor of solar power on principle, but the siting of the arrays concerns him, as does how profits are made and whom they go to.
Bethel is one of seven candidates who will be on the ballot for the board. The others are Michael McDonough, Don Miller, Jeannie Jenkins, Jeanne Conner, Thomas Jacobs, and Jason Bushee. The Banner will run one-on-one interviews with each candidate except for Bushee who did not return calls or emails.
— Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at 802-447-7567 Ext. 115