Chichester lightning rod Jason Weir has sparked controversy over residency and mask-wearing 

  • Selectman Jason Weir and girlfriend Allie McIntosh GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 5/13/2021 4:36:10 PM

On Election Day in Chichester on Tuesday, Town Moderator Ewen MacKinnon had a question for Select Board member Jason Weir.

Before Weir even got close to a voting booth a prickly relationship between an outspoken board member and several in town who say they’re tired of his grandstanding had already been laid bare. Last month, Weir’s refusal to wear a mask forced the postponement of a Select Board meeting.

This week, after Weir entered Chichester Central School to vote, MacKinnon wanted to know where Weir lived. Really lived. His pending divorce and subsequent move to Loudon were well known in town. Did Weir realize a Loudon home address would nullify his vote in Chichester? And disqualify him from the Select Board?

They debated the exact definition of domicile, never an easy task. MacKinnon tried to simplify things by asking where Weir’s head hit the pillow most nights.

Weir told the moderator to mind his own business. MacKinnon then called the Secretary of State’s Office, looking for a clear definition of domicile, and - after yet another episode in the wacky adventures of Weir’s World – MacKinnon stepped aside and let Weir vote.

“I do not take this personally,” Weir told me by phone. “I never react. What I try to do is my homework. I do what is best for Chichester. You can say anything you want about me.”

Residents do. Sometimes on the record, sometimes off. Select Board Chair Richard Bouchard told me he plans to ask the state to investigate to determine if Weir is following the state domicile rules for voting.

That’s the backdrop for Saturday’s Town Meeting. It will start at 10 a.m. at Chichester Central School.

You can watch it live in the gym. Masks are mandatory, and a six-foot social distancing rule will be in place as well. Or you can watch it without a mask on closed-circuit TV in the kindergarten classroom.

Weir said he’s not sure where he’ll watch the meeting. He may or may not wear a mask in the gym, if in fact that’s where he chooses to sit. Indecision is rare for Weir, who admits he’s loud, knows full well he’s a lightning rod, and can string together sentences, in a booming voice, like a seasoned auctioneer.

“I am not afraid to bring up unpopular topics,” Weir said. “If it’s about masks or anything else, they look for reasons to get you back.”

Still, an angry tone never surfaced during our discussion. Instead, Weir seemed to relish a good joust.

He’s proud of his full-speed-ahead attitude when he believes something is unjust. He told me my initial column last month documenting his refusal to wear a mask during an open meeting was biased. The problem? I hadn’t spoken to him for the story.

Weir admitted that at that time, he had no interest in justifying his stance to the media. That changed Thursday when he finally answered the phone.

“I am not biased, and nothing I could have said would have changed your article,” Weir said. “I don’t need that. I am perfectly comfortable in my own skin and my beliefs, and I do not change because of peer pressure.”

He calls himself a “libertarian-minded independent who tends to vote Republican.” He’s 47 and has been living in Chichester his whole life. His kids represent the fifth generation of family members who have moved within a square mile of each other.

His grandparents drove a Chichester school bus. His father and two aunts were Select Board members. His parents were local business owners. His father ran the transfer station.

Yet, some still see him as an outsider. He stirred the pot last month by refusing to wear a mask at a Select Board meeting, causing its postponement and forcing town officials to scrap in-person meetings in favor of Zoom. 

Weir argued that the process used by the board to enforce mask-wearing was illegal. He called the mask rule an ordinance, insisting that two open meetings were required before a vote could be taken.

He’s wrong, Select Board Chairman Richard Bouchard said.

“It was not an ordinance,” Bouchard said. “We passed it as a policy and followed the CDC guidelines, and having masks in all town buildings was something that we can do.”

Bouchard, for the most part, remained diplomatic when speaking about Weir. Eventually, though, he acknowledged that the domicile issue is not dead. Bouchard remains skeptical over Weir’s claim that he was and remains a resident of Chichester.

“I’m going to make sure this gets pushed forward,” Bouchard said. “I’ll make sure it goes to the Attorney General’s Office. I’ll tell Jason if he says anything.”

The confusion centers on Weir’s move to Loudon during a messy divorce procedure. 

Weir said he continues to pick his kids up from school, pulling into his driveway. He said he was allowed to vote on Tuesday following that call to the Secretary of State’s office. 

Weir and MacKinnon stated their cases. Weir won.

“The law says where you sleep does not matter,” Weir said. “What makes a resident is someone who pays taxes and registers the car in one place more than any other, and when you are an active part of your community.”

Weir said he felt badly for MacKinnon, who, as the moderator, called himself a political referee. He was responsible for bringing the issue to Weir as the two met inside the school on Election Day.

“It was possible it was awkward for him,” Weir said. “He was doing his job. It was not uncomfortable for me at all.”

Said MacKinnon, “You have the information and that is my job as moderator. If it happens with anyone else, it’s the same thing. It’s part of the right to vote.”

With the closed-curtain vote done in what is a traditional town meeting format, residents will vote openly on issues about putting money into capital reserve funds and buying new rescue equipment.

Weir is going. He’s never missed a vote, at the polls or the annual Town Meeting.

He’s just not sure where he’ll sit. Or if he will wear a mask.

“You’ll have to come to the meeting,” Weir told me. “I’m not even sure right now what I’m going to do.”

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