candidate forum bennington

Participants in a recent Bennington candidate forum included, clockwise from top left, Banner Executive Editor Kevin Moran and candidates Tom Haley, Gary Corey, Nancy White, Jim Carroll, Chris Bates, Tina Cook, Colleen Harrington and Kevin Hoyt. Candidate Mike Bethel participated by telephone, and Phillip Guerard did not take part.

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BENNINGTON — The annual town ballot features races for three open Select Board seats and a proposal for a mayoral form of government in Bennington.

CROWDED RACES

In the race for a one-year Select Board term, filling a vacancy caused by the death in 2020 of board member Bill Scully, there are five candidates for that seat: Mike Bethel, Phillip Guerard, Tom Haley, Colleen Harrington and Kevin Hoyt.

In the race to fill two three-year board seats, there are eight candidates, three of whom are also listed on the ballot in the one-year term race — Bethel, Harrington and Hoyt.

Vermont allows candidates to be listed in different races on the same ballot, but if anyone was victorious in two or more races, they would have to choose which to serve.

The other candidates seeking one of the three-year terms are Chris Bates, incumbent Jim Carroll, Tina Cook, Gary J. Corey and Nancy White.

Bates, who calls himself “The Fishin’ Politician,” is a fishing guide and has hosted outdoors themed shows on the CAT-TV cable network and WBTN-AM radio in Bennington. He won election from the Benningtion, 2-1 House district in 2018 but did not run for re-election to the Legislature last year.

Bethel, who is one of the lead sponsors of a proposed amendment on the ballot to allow a mayoral form of government in town, replacing the appointed town manager with an elected mayor, has been a frequent critic of Town Manager Stuart Hurd and the Select Board, especially over efforts to spur the local economy.

Carroll, an incumbent on the board, has also served in the House, representing District 2-2. In both roles, he said he has focused primarily on responding to constituent concerns and questions, especially during the COVID-19 epidemic. He has been an independent business owner for most of his life and is a Bennington native.

Cook said she hopes to become the first African American to win election to the Select Board. A Southern Vermont College graduate and standout athlete while at the former college, she is a graphic designer and internet marketing communications specialist. Cook has been involved in efforts to reform Bennington Police Department policies and procedures and is a member of Rights and Democracy.

Corey is a town native and an architect who has maintained an office on Main Street for the past 30 years. He said he would focus on development of the local economy and on improving the health of residents, while advocating continued cooperation with organizations, businesses and individuals to reach those goals. Corey has been involved in volunteer work with a number of local groups and committees. Guerard is a graduate of local schools who has worked in manufacturing and transportation most of his life. He is the founder of POPS. Phil’s Outreach Program and Services, established to assist the homeless and needy. Guerard has been a strong supporter of the police and sees public safety as a top issue for Bennington, saying such efforts as community watch groups and more police foot patrols should be a priority. Haley is a former town Democratic Party Committee chairman and the current county committee chairman. He is an activist who has focused on health care and equity issues. Among his top issues, he said, are efforts to reform police department policies and establishment of more citizen oversight, and a need to improve Select Board transparency and communication with citizens.

Harrington said her goals include more closely monitoring town spending and taxes and making it easier to access all public records. She has contended that there is “a current lack of honesty within our local government,” and has alleged that she and her partner, Hoyt, uncovered evidence of multiple clerical errors or possible voter fraud during the 2018 election, which they contend local and state officials have failed to address. “I hope to stop the wasteful spending and corruption that has permeated the soul of Bennington,” she said during her campaign.

Hoyt is a hunting show video producer and guide and cable show host. A Vermont native, he is a past Republican candidate for House and independent candidate for governor and an active gun rights advocate. Hoyt has said he’s “interested in transparency and accountability for our Select Board.

I think we’ve got some major issues that our leaders seem to be overlooking,” including opioid addiction. “In 2018, he said, “Colleen Harrington and I did an election audit, and we found massive, massive irregularities, and the fact we can’t get anybody in our local government or our state government to do something is very concerning to me.”

White has been active during board meetings for many years in raising questions and seeking answers from the Select Board and other officials. She also is a lead sponsor of the ballot question calling for a charter town charter change to allow a mayoral form of government. White is a town native who has said, “I’ve watched the select board meetings for 40 years.

I am very aware of how our town government used to operate. Over the past decade transparency and accountability no longer mean anything.” She said she has “had it with the Bennington machine deciding they want to block the rest of Bennington from our own town.”

MAYOR OR MANAGER

The mayor question on the annual ballot represents the fifth time the idea of a mayor has come before town voters, having been defeated at four prior elections. The current proposal would amend the town charter to allow an elected mayor, but then require a vote at a subsequent town meeting to institute a specific mayoral format. Essentially, the mayor in this proposal would replace the professional manager, who is hired by the Select Board. Voting on March 2 will be from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Bennington Firehouse. A face mask and social distancing requirements will be in effect. Voters also can consider early voting. Ballots are available for pickup or through the mail. Contact the town clerk’s office at 802-442-1043 for information. A secure drop box to return ballots will also be in place outside the town offices on South Street. A copy of the complete ballot can be found on the town website.

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont. Email jtherrien@benningtonbanner.com.

Reporter/editor

Jim Therrien reports for the three NENI newspapers in Southern Vermont. He previously worked as a reporter and editor at the Berkshire Eagle, the Bennington Banner, the Springfield (Mass.) Republican and the former North Adams Transcript.


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