BENNINGTON >> Select Board Chairman Thomas Jacobs is seeking re-election in order to see through what the board has started, and to have more collaboration between economic groups.
Jacobs has lived in Bennington for 40 years. Originally from St. Albans, he came here to practice law. He also happened to work at the Eveready battery factory (not Energizer) for a time.
"It was a good experience, it put a little more reality in my life besides college," he said.
He was with the law firm Jacobs, McClintock, and Scanlon for 23 years before striking out on his own five years ago. His firm focuses on commercial, estate, and trust administration. The move left him with some extra time, so he decided to run for Select Board, winning a seat in 2013, then being appointed chairman in 2015.
"It's interesting, enjoyable, challenging, more time-consuming experience than I thought," he said.
He had no ambition towards becoming the chairman when he started. "I just thought I was going to be part of seven," he said. "The longer I was on, the more interested I was in getting into that role to move things along."
When he was appointed to the chairman's seat, he gave a short speech on how there would be no more "business as usual" for the board, promising to be more proactive regarding economic development and to start doing things the board had never done before.
In the past year or so, the board has worked to create a town scorecard for itself, essentially a measuring tool to see if its goals are being met; it's also created a performance review process for the town manager, and circulated a business climate survey.
Jacobs said these things have only just begun.
"I've found you can't do much in three years, so I've decided to run again to see the things we've put in motion actually implemented," he said. "Patience is not my strong virtue, but at the same time you have to learn government moves ever so slow. When you have a lot of components such as the state, the town, the board itself, just the dynamics make it more of a challenge."
He said he has a lot of hope for the "CAPA group" which formed from a large meeting in December held at the Center for the Advancement of Public Action at Bennington College. The group is made up of local business leaders who agreed to work together to try and develop public and private partnerships to improve the area's economy.
"I do think you have to have a vital downtown to have a strong community and that's where I hope this goes," he said.
Jacobs said that in the coming years he would like to see the town make more use of its economic development fund, review the town plan and make it clearer and more readable to laymen, and consider doing a review of the town charter. The latter has not been done in many years, and there may be some things the town could stand to change or modify. All these things would require a great deal of public input and participation, Jacobs said.
"I have a better feeling than I had this time last year when I started, we've started getting things in motion," he said. "The other candidates running, they're on the whole very proactive and interested."
What he would also like to see is more collaboration between the community's economic entities.
"I think we have a limited amount of resources for these types of things, like marketing and that type of community development," he said. "I don't think we need three welcome centers like we have now. We've got one on South Street, the one out by the Deer Park, the underused state facility there, why we just can't coordinate that all under one umbrella, whether it be combined under the (Better Bennington Corporation) and the (Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce); they can still keep their autonomy but have more interaction."
He said both the BBC and the Chamber should consider re-examining their mission statements and how to best serve the community.
Regarding solar projects, proposals for which are becoming more common, Jacobs would like to see things slow down until the town can figure out the best method of handling them and get a clearer idea of the financial benefits.
"Frankly, if I had my way, I would wait until the Legislature gives us much more direction; I'd put a moratorium on any more in town until we go through it, because we don't know what we're doing or what we're accomplishing," he said.
As for the Legislature possibly legalizing marijuana, Jacobs said he would liked to have seen an advisory vote on the matter beforehand.
"I think it takes a lot more education, we're going to have to have a lot more forums, and I think we should be doing that early in the spring to ask the community what it wants to do," he said. "My approach might not be what the community wants, and I wouldn't want to limit the dialogue with my opinion."
Jacobs is one of seven vying for three seats. The other candidates are Don Miller, Mike Bethel, Michael McDonough, Jeanne Conner, Jeannie Jenkins, and Jason Bushee. The Banner has published interviews with each candidate except Bushee who did not return calls. Town Meeting Day is March 1.
— Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at 802-447-7567 Ext. 115