Town faces choice with appointed seats (4/23/09)

Applications exceed openings

April 23, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

The town of Williston has sometimes struggled to fill the dozens of appointed positions on boards and commissions. But now the town has more applicants than openings.

There are three people seeking seats on either the Development Review Board or the Planning Commission. There is only one opening on each board.

“It’s going to be tough,” said Town Manager Rick McGuire, adding that he doesn’t want a civic-minded volunteer to be disappointed.

The applicants are a strikingly diverse group.

Michael Alvanos, an architect, wants a seat on the either the Development Review Board or the Planning Commission. Heidi Auclair, a moving company owner, has applied for the same two boards. John Bendzunas, a federal probation officer, seeks a Development Review Board seat.

In addition, Carol Weston, an engineer who works for the city of Burlington, is the lone applicant for a seat on the Winooski Valley Park District’s governing board.

The Selectboard, which makes the appointments, was originally scheduled to interview each applicant on Monday night. But two of the applicants could not attend the meeting, so the board decided to defer a decision.

Nonetheless, the board did interview Auclair and Bendzunas. The applicants were asked why they applied and how they would handle a conflict of interest.

Auclair said she was interested in helping guide growth in Williston and ensuring new projects and businesses are in the best interest of residents.

On the conflict of interest question, “acting morally and ethically is very important to me,” she said. “If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.”

Bendzunas said his experience would help guide his decisions on the Development Review Board, a quasi-judicial body that rules on whether proposed commercial and residential projects conform to the town’s bylaws and comprehensive plan.

He likened the board’s review process to that of a court.

“The spirit of the Development Review Board … kind of has a lot of similarities to my job,” he said. “You get a certain case that represents a set of facts and lay them on top of the law.”

Bendzunas said his experience with the judicial system has allowed him to develop “a pretty good radar” about potential conflicts of interest.

McGuire said the town has in recent years been able to find residents to staff appointed boards and commissions, volunteer positions that sometimes require a considerable time commitment. But at times in the more distant past the town has been unable to fill openings. Several years ago, for example, there was a chronic problem with open seats on the Planning Commission.

Selectboard Chairman Terry Macaig said the board would wait to fill the openings because the other applicants were not available for interviews.

McGuire said in an e-mail that those applicants are still interested in the positions. He hopes to reschedule their interviews for the Selectboard’s May 4 meeting.