Two new companion bills in the House and Senate would launch a pilot program to test whether municipalities can function more effectively if they can make legislative decisions on a local level instead of sending everything to Montpelier.
In the House, Rep. Mollie Burke, P-Brattleboro, proposed bill H.241 in support of a municipal self-governance commission to review and report on town proposals, and for the creation of a municipal self-governance program that would empower 10 towns to enact whatever laws they want, so long as it doesn’t go against the state constitution, federal Constitution, a legislatively approved municipal proposal or certain state laws.
In the Senate, Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, introduced S.106, proposing the same.
Vermont is one of the nine remaining states to operate under Dillon’s Rule, which resulted from a ruling made by Iowa Supreme Court Justice John Forest Dillon in 1868. It required municipalities only operate with the express permission of the legislative body and derive all of their powers from the state.
States that operate under “Home-Rule” or the Cooley Doctrine, named for Michigan Supreme Court Justice Thomas M. Cooley, are able to enact some laws without going through the process of receiving specific permission from the state, something that communities like West Rutland hope the Legislature will consider.
“It’s an important step,” said West Rutland Town Manager MaryAnn Goulette. “Let the communities pilot self government. ... Because we govern ourselves, we should be able to dictate our rules.”
“‘Most states are home rule where a town can do whatever it wants to do,” said Karen Horn, director of public policy and advocacy for the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. “That means municipalities can only do things that the Legislature permits them to do.”
The bills include that any town wishing to participate would put the issue to a public vote at an annual or special meeting, at which the townspeople would decide.
Horn said the legislation would allow for towns to complete small tasks, such as the banning of plastic bags, resolve parking issues and other issues that primarily affect the municipality.
“Up until two years ago, if a town wanted to appoint a town clerk it had to go to legislation to do that,” Horn said.
The model proposed by Burke and White is based on a program implemented in West Virginia, according to Brattleboro Town Manager Peter Elwell, who Goulette expressed has been instrumental in keeping the topic on the table.
“It was a strong Dillon’s Rule state that had allowed a pilot program,” Elwell said. “Initially, in West Virginia, four municipalities were allowed to participate, now there are 34.”
The idea of local governance is of particular importance to Brattleboro because, like Rutland and Burlington, they’re a hub city that triples in population during the day, Burke said.
“We’re trying to make choices about how to spend our money and not drive people away,” Burke said. “We cant regulate firearms or environmental issues ... it’s a philosophical thing, a pragmatic thing.”
“What we bump into a lot, is the emergence of an issue on a local level,” Elwell said. “We work with local people to resolve it, and we have to go searching for authority on a state level to take action.”
In Brattleboro, the implementation of the plan would allow for the city to remedy their streets, sidewalks and transportation.
“It’s very cumbersome to change parking regulations or speed limits,” Elwell said. “You have to jump through a lot of hoops.”
The plan would also allow for the city to crack down harder on the fees and fines that are owed them, whereas currently municipalities are restricted in what they’re allowed to charge, Elwell said.
Also, Elwell said, they’re restricted in what they’re allowed to do in terms of property maintenance and the enforcement of local health codes and would allow for the redistribution of the revenue sources, which is 85 percent property taxes.
“Twenty percent of the property is exempt for hospitals, schools and nonprofits,” Elwell said. “So only 80 percent of the property is paying 85 percent of the revenue. We want to more evenly distribute the burden.”
Ideally, Elwell said, in the pilot project any revenue source would be approved at town meeting, and they would schedule fees for certain licenses and permits.
“There’s a lot of commercial activity,” Elwell said. “Maybe an additional penny on the gas tax or additional fees that are non-tax fees — in some states, you have payment in lieu of taxes. ... There are some nonprofits that voluntarily pay fees.”
Elwell said the Brattleboro Select Board adopted a statement of very strong support for this bill, and has put a warning on town meeting that would express the community’s strong support as well.
“There’s lots of wasted energy and resources in trying to procure permission from legislation to complete things on a local level,” Horn said.
CASTLETON — As part of Castleton University’s celebration of Black History Month, Rutland City Public Schools Superintendent Adam Taylor spoke to students, staff and faculty in Jeffords Auditorium on Thursday about how to disrupt inequities in education, as part of a series called “Race Matters.”
“Every day is black history day,” Taylor began. “If you get to know your history, you will find that we all come out of the Sahara Desert, and we’re all African when you get down to it.”
Taylor told his story of growing up in an “only parent” household, where he found he was black only because his birth certificate said “Negro,” which is how he identifies today.
He was raised in the projects of West Oakland, California, by his mother, and began his now 27-year career in education as a drop-out prevention specialist before becoming an elementary school teacher, assistant principal and then a principal in the original kill zone of East Oakland.
“There were 39 homicides in one year in a nine-block radius,” Taylor said. “There were bodies pulled off my campus from time to time.”
Taylor related being the leader of a school to being a father, and learned through his years of teaching that power should be used not to serve oneself, but to serve others.
“He in the greatest power should be in the greatest service to others,” Taylor said
Coming from an area where 122 languages are spoken, Taylor said Vermont was a very foreign place, without the multicultural landscape he was so used to.
“I’m mad that Rutland had such an issue inviting the Syrians to relocate here,” Taylor said. “Because of the fact that they are great people and would have contributed greatly to this community. ... Vermont is very white.”
In addition to race, Taylor said it was equally important to consider the intersections of lifestyles, gender identity, cultures and needs of every person — especially when in charge of a classroom full of young adults.
“You have to consider that when you consider your students ... that it’s not just about race. Race matters ... black lives matter, but all lives matter.”When he was wounded by a gunshot at age 17, rather than develop a deep hatred for others, Taylor said he began to reconsider life as precious, and acceptance of other people as a remedy for adversity.
That also meant people of privilege had a responsibility to start the conversation about race and keep it going.
“White silence is more dangerous to people of color than racism,” Taylor warned. “I don’t know whose team you’re on. I don’t know which side of the fence you sit on.”
Rutland City Schools is the fifth most impoverished district in Vermont, where 72 percent of the kids K-8 receive free or reduced lunch. With poverty comes trauma, which requires constant updating and training for teachers.
But at the heart of every problem, solutions to racial adversity in schools could be found only when conversations are started and efforts to connect are made, even if that means making oneself vulnerable, he said.
“You have to be willing to have your feelings hurt,” Taylor said.
Taylor stressed the notion that people can choose whether to be offended, to take responsibility for one’s actions and emotions, including racism. He cited the horrors of slavery that he credited with his birth in the United States.
“I’m pretty sure one of my ancestors came over on one of those ships,” Taylor said.
Students of color were not minorities, Taylor said, because there was nothing minor about them, and he said human connection happened at a level below the skin. He said being racially aware was rooted in the art of simply being a good person, and it was important for many of the future educators in the audience to remember that when they set foot into their first classrooms.
“Your job is to motivate and inspire kids to be the greatest they can be,” Taylor said.
When they did, Taylor said, that’s when the real work would begin.
Secluding students to remedy bad behavior only resulted in pushing the student further to the outside, from trusting their teachers, and from success, he said.
“It’s different when you walk in that classroom,” Taylor said. “You have to figure it out. If you don’t cry 70 times in your first year, you’re not meant to be a teacher ... that first year is when you really cut your teeth.” Teachers needed to know their students, and in order for their students to open up to them and allow their teachers to teach them, a level of trust had to be established, which is far more important than hammering through lessons, he said.
“I’ll use an Oakland analogy ... a pimp has to groom, he has to get to know a young lady in order to get her to go out and sell her body to get him money,” Taylor said. “It’s about building that relationship that then gets her to go out and do something that she would not do ... it’s a foul analogy, but it makes sense. It’s about building the relationship. Similar to a Catholic priest ... similar to a pedophile ... it’s about building those relationships where there’s trust, where I will do whatever you ask me to.”
As teachers and social workers, Taylor said, they would be tasked with cultivating difficult relationships with parents unwilling to open up to them.
“Social workers? Teachers? Families don’t trust us,” Taylor said. “They think we’re trying to get into their business ... we’re trying to help them. We’re trying to figure out ways to bridge gaps.”
Taylor urged the students to make strong connections with one another and with the parents of their future students, to always encourage dialogue and always strive to teach the whole truth, even if it goes beyond their teaching requirements.
“Make sure your resources are available to your kids,” Taylor said. “You are their biggest resource.”
PITTSFORD — Josh Tabor started losing his sight around the age of 3. By the time he was 11, he was using Braille to read. At the age of 16, he shot his first turkey.
“Both sides of my family hunt,” he said Thursday, adding that he learned to hunt from his father, Lance Tabor, and two grandfathers, Bill Tabor and Frank Falco.
“Because I was visually impaired, I didn’t think I’d be able to do it,” he said.
Tabor has been hunting for 20 years, despite the fact his eyes can do little more than tell night from day. He said he has a condition called retinitis pigmentosa, and another health issue that affects his hearing.
Tabor said his father taught him hunting skills. Hunting came with a learning curve for student and teacher, as they had to not only teach Tabor how to hunt, but find a way to make it work without the use of his eyes. Tabor said he learned to hang onto his fellow hunters’ backpacks instead of their arms as they stalked through thick woods. When it came time to take a shot, they would line up the sight for him and tell him when to fire. He had to learn how to not tense up before squeezing the trigger.
“I have full control of the crossbow or rifle,” he said. “The people I trust are my eyes.”
Tabor said his grandfathers recently passed away, limiting his opportunities to hunt.
Tabor also makes powder horns and other accessories for antique firearms. It was through this, and the Southern Vermont Primitive Biathlon event, that he met people involved with the National Wild Turkey Federation and the “Wheelin’ Sportsmen” program.
Kaylee Campagna, of Williston, is the manager of Wheelin’ Sportsmen in Vermont. Wheelin’ Sportsmen is a National Wild Turkey Federation program that pairs disabled hunters with mentors who help them hunt.
“I volunteered some of my time to the one in Ohio for a while,” she said, which gave her the idea to bring the program to Vermont.
Last year was the first time the program ran in Vermont. Campagna said eight mentors volunteered and seven hunters with disabilities participated. Tabor was among them.
“There’s really nothing like this around here,” said Campagna, who wants to expand the program.
To sign up as a mentor or hunter, one can call Campagna at 363-8071, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through Facebook at Vermont NWTF Wheelin’ Sportsmen Hunt. The deadline is March 9. Participants are responsible for their own firearms or bows, and have to buy their own licenses. Campagna said some equipment has been donated by Mossy Oak, a camouflage outfitter.
Campagna said hunts take place all over the state, and hunters are paired with mentors closest to them.
The closest one to Tabor last year was Ken Jones, a turkey hunter from Proctor.
“I’ve been a turkey guy for a long time,” said Jones, 52, who started hunting turkey at age 14.
Jones, who especially enjoys using turkey calls, said he took Tabor hunting last year, and while they didn’t manage to shoot a turkey, they were able to get close to a flock through the use of a blind and some calls.
Jones said Tabor held onto him while they walked through the woods, and he was impressed at how easily Tabor could read Jones’ movements and make his way through the sticks.
“We moved several times on those turkeys, but we couldn’t get one to break,” Jones said.
Tabor said for the Wheelin’ Sportsmen hunt, he opted to use a .20 gauge smooth-bore flintlock musket, a primitive weapon even by primitive weapon standards. Finding the right mix of powder and shot was another challenge, one he and Jones are still working on. He said he hopes to use the gun again this year and be successful. This time, he’d like to shoot a tom, which is an adult male turkey, something he’s never done.
Tabor said he did ultimately get a turkey last year, and a deer — his first — during the fall seasons. All with the help of friends and his crossbow.
“I think it’s a great program,” Tabor said. “A lot of people with disabilities in Vermont don’t have access to a service like this.
While the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife doesn’t directly support the program, it helps publicize it, said Nicole Meier, hunter education and outreach specialist for the department. Information about programs and options for hunters with disabilities can be found on the department’s website www.vtfishandwildlife.com.
WALLINGFORD — Those who commented on the U.S. Forest Service plan to create habitat for birds last year have until April 1 to file any objections to the plan they might have.
Jay Strand, a planner for the U.S. Forest Service, said Thursday the plan calls for harvesting 15,000 acres of timber across the management area over a 15-year period. The area is found in Bennington, Rutland, Windham and Windsor counties. Locally, the area impacted would be Green Mountain National Forest land in Wallingford and Mount Tabor.
Strand said the goal of the plan is to have between 5 and 10 percent of the forest growth be between zero and 9 years old. Such forests are key habitat for animals such as deer, ruffed grouse and other species of birds. Private timber companies will bid on the rights to harvest, said Strand, with the profits the U.S. Forest Service makes going to the U.S. Treasury. In the Wallingford and Mount Tabor areas, cuts are limited to 5 acres. This accounts for about 1 percent of National Forest land in that area.
Strand said after the public comment period last year, the plan was adjusted to decrease the number of logging roads needed to access the areas to be cut. He said people had concerns about soil and water quality.
Other concerns were expressed regarding the amount of zero-to-nine year growth the plan would leave, said Strand. Some felt it was too much. Strand said given that the cutting will be spread out over a 15-year period, the actual amount of “early successional habitat,” as it’s called, would likely never exceed 4 or 5 percent.
Since the cut forest is being replaced by growth, not development and the timber being harvested will likely be used in products and not burned, there likewise won’t be a big increase in carbon released into the environment, Strand said.
The plan, and how to object, can be found at www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=53629. Hard copies are available at the Manchester Ranger Station in Manchester, or the Forest Supervisor’s Office in Rutland. Call Strand at 767-4261, ext. 5522, or email email@example.com for more information.
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Fat bike demo
Part of Winterfest. T-shirt and lunch will be provided. Demo bikes available. $30. 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Pine Hill Park, 2 Oak St. Extension, Rutland, firstname.lastname@example.org.