Letter: Town should collect on its $20,000 loan

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To the Editor:

Bennington taxpayers have been duped again, this time by a so-called businessman who spent more than half of a $20,000 economic development grant tied to his promise to buy the old middle school.

On August 13, 2018, then-community development director Zirwat Chowdhury pushed the Select Board to give Charles Crowell, visiting professor at Bennington College, $20,000 in start-up cash to buy Benhi. This was another "free money" deal funded by the Bennington Economic Development fund. All Crowell had to do was get a purchase agreement and certificate of occupancy by January 1, 2019 and he wouldn't have had to pay any of it back. Some folks grumbled (because of the Jon Hale debacle of 2015 when he spent $11,000 in BED funds with questionable results) and others were cautiously optimistic because, after all, Crowell worked at Bennington College!

Crowell acquired the purchase agreement within days and wasted no time spending the $20,000. Records show he used himself as the general contractor for work performed ... so he paid himself. The work he performed was an insult to Bennington taxpayers. To see the work he did — to the tune of $750 (twice) and $1,250 and $1,500 and $3,600 and $600 and $2,775 — go to http://bit.ly/Crowell_20K

After 3 months he never got the certificate of occupancy. The jig was up.

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Go watch the meeting on Cat-TV's YouTube channel and you'll see that Tom Jacobs, board chair at the time, was leery about doling out the $20,000 even though he voted to approve the grant. A saving grace is that the grant became a town loan if Crowell didn't come through after 90 days. He didn't and as of Jan. 1 he owed the town $11,223. But Crowell has not paid back a penny after six months.

"Sorry display of management from the start," Jacobs said when told about Crowell skipping out on his debt to Bennington taxpayers.

Town Manager Stu Hurd has not served Crowell with legal papers to recover the $11,223 even though his staff has gone after others who defaulted on their loans after two missed payments. What's Stu waiting for?

The bigger question is why does the Select Board keep letting folks like Charles Crowell, and Jon Hale before him, rip off Bennington's hardworking taxpayers by milking Benhi for thousands and thousands of dollars a pop?

Joey Kulkin,



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