POULTNEY — School will be out — and not just for the summer — once June rolls around for Green Mountain College, and locals are wondering what to do once hundreds of students, staff members and faculty pack their bags.
The town and GMC will meet with local, regional and state officials to decide what’s next for Poultney during a mass brainstorming event in the East Room of Withey Hall on the GMC campus from 10:30 a.m. to noon March 7.
Representatives from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, the Preservation Trust of Vermont, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, Housing Vermont, the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD), the Vermont Community Foundation, the Rutland Regional Planning Commission, the Rutland Economic Development Corp., U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ office, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy’s office and various legislators have been invited to attend.
But VCRD Executive Director Paul Costello said no one knows just yet what will help lift the tiny town out of the gap left by the loss of its main economic driver, and the 150 staff and faculty positions that came with it.
“It’s a tough blow to the community,” Costello said Tuesday. “The energy and youth of the students, the economic benefits of having faculty and student presence ... their dollars, their support for the downtown ... this is a significant challenge to Poultney.”
The meeting, Costello said, would allow for the different organizations to assess what the citizens of Poultney want to bring to downtown, and that re-branding the town may be a key to its resurgence.
But what identity would present itself after GMC had been there so long, Costello couldn’t say.
“We see communities all around the state that build brand identity,” Costello said. “(They) look at how their downtowns work, look at what their core assets are, developing and attracting new enterprises, and incubate digital businesses in an age of online commerce. ... Poultney has accomplished good things over time.”
Maura Carroll, executive director of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, said the organization is ready to provide whatever training, resources and legal advice the town might need.
“(It’s about) how we make a sense of place in a community. ... This is just the beginning of a number of conversations,” she said. “I’m really interested in hearing what the community is looking for.”
Select Board Chairman Jeff King said the town is waiting to hear what the USDA plans to do with the property if it acquires it in June, which will happen if Green Mountain College doesn’t successfully secure a buyer, according to GMC president Bob Allen.
“That’s another business leaving the state,” King said. “That did hurt, but I do believe we will get something into that college. ... We’re not dying.”
In addition to a potential local car wash coming to town and a proposal by Poultney Properties LLC to install a Dollar General, King said there are a number of possibilities on the table to revitalize the town’s economy. Or rather, resurrect it. In a press release, Poultney resident Carl Diethelm, who’s planning a new maker space in town, said the town has lost seven businesses on Main Street in approximately the past three years.
“You need family-generated businesses,” King said. “We just restructured our Poultney Downtown Revitalization Committee and our game plan on trying to entice businesses to come into town.”
With lakes Bomoseen, Hortonia and St. Catherine close by, King said a marina or boat-storage area would be a great addition to the town, and suggested transforming the GMC campus into a wing of the Veterans Affairs hospital.
That is, he said, if people can get to it over the roadways plagued with potholes and infrastructure in desperate need of repair.
“If you don’t have a good foundation, the building doesn’t last,” King said. “Right now, our state doesn’t have a good foundation. ... It’s becoming increasingly difficult for a true Vermonter to live in Vermont.”
Town Manager Paul Donaldson said locals are anxious and excited to be able to speak with the USDA about what can be done with the GMC property, and experts who can help the town now that over 500 younger minds with fresh ideas will be leaving town.
“The key here is, it’s kind of a listen-and-learn what the road ahead is,” said Nate Formalarie, communications director for the state’s Agency of Commerce and Community Development.
“In a time of challenge, you look to your assets first, so we think Poultney has a lot to work from,” Costello said.
Rutland City Public Schools Superintendent Adam Taylor issued a public apology at Tuesday night’s School Board meeting for comments made at a public event last week at Castleton University.
“I wanted to begin with an apology to the board, to our faculty and to our staff, our students, families, the entire Rutland community for comments I made at a Castleton speech,” Taylor said. “In no way did I intend to be hurtful, harmful or disrespectful to any member of this community ... I do hope you accept my apology, and it will not happen again.”
But Rutland City resident and parent, Bob Pearo, one of 15 community members who attended, was unsatisfied.
“Do you have any idea, Mr. Taylor, the stuff that you actually said in that article? You compared the relationship between teachers and students to pedophiles, and the people they’re grooming, prostitutes and their pimps, Catholic priests?” Pearo began. “As much as you want to say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’ you have to realize that it doesn’t matter how much you try to put something back together again. Sometimes it’s so broke, that even if you piece it back together and try to make amends for what you did, there are still underlying problems.”
Taylor’s remarks came during a talk he gave at Castleton University as part of the school’s “Race Matters” series last week.
Pearo said he thought Taylor’s words were completely inappropriate coming from anyone, let alone the superintendent of Rutland City Schools.
“We’re not in Oakland,” Pearo said. “I realize where you came from was not necessarily the greatest of environments.”
Pearo said he’d had personal contact over the issue with Rutland High School Associate Principal Steve Sampson, Rutland High School Principal William Olsen, and many teachers currently in the district and has never before been concerned with leaving his children and stepchild in the school’s care.
“I’ve had trust in them, and they’re wonderful people,” Pearo said. “The comparison that you made ... you essentially — you called teachers pimps.”
Pearo also centered on Taylor’s comments about Rutland’s image, and spoke about how the community was actively trying to improve the city’s stereotype by bringing its residents together.
“People are starting to make progress,” Pearo said. “‘I love Rutland,’ you see that all over the place.”
Pearo also noted how Taylor mentioned his anger over residents not wanting Syrian refugees to resettle in the city.
“I’m mad that Rutland had such an issue inviting the Syrians to relocate here,” Taylor said during the Feb. 21 event at Castleton University. “Because of the fact that they are great people and would have contributed greatly to this community. ... Vermont is very white.”
“I have never had a racist bone in my body,” Pearo said. “I was all for the refugees. What I wasn’t for, was someone doing it behind closed doors, rather than actually speaking to people about it ... The more diversity we can have in this country and in this state, and in this city, the better off we’re going to be.”
Rather than uniting people, Pearo said Taylor’s comments divided the community.
“I can guarantee you one thing right now,” Pearo said. “There is not a single person on this board that wants that to be the message that’s being sent out to parents and the students, and the community.”
From now until March or April, Dick Courcelle, president of the city School Board, said he would ask an ad-hoc group to come up with a tool that the board would then adopt in order to evaluate the superintendent.
“There was a whole lot of conversation around collecting and setting expectations for the superintendent, which I think he would welcome,” Courcelle said. “We did not have a good ... superintendent evaluative tool. It is a responsibility of the board of school commissioners.”
Courcelle asked board member Kam Johnston to serve on the ad-hoc group with fellow board member Erin Shimp. Board member Dena Goldberg volunteered to produce a system of evaluation by the middle of April.
“Adam’s anniversary is July 1,” Courcelle said. “We’d be looking at an annual evaluation.”
The state of Vermont is following the lead of the U.S. government and has banned information technology products from a Russian company and several Chinese manufacturers.
The bans are aimed at equipment, such as internet routers, made by Huawei Technologies Co. and four other Chinese firms.
The federal government and now Vermont have also banned the use of security software made by Kaspersky Labs, a firm based in Russia.
Secretary of Digital Services John Quinn said he did not know how widespread the Chinese or Russian technology is within Vermont.
“We don’t expect that it’s prevalent in the state of Vermont environment. But that’s part of our comprehensive risk management approach,” he said. “We hope to have better numbers on both agency and vendor partners once we receive the required reporting back from them at the end of 30 days.”
The state has also ordered its roughly 360 IT vendors to review their services and eliminate the products as well.
“It’s a big number and there’s going to be a lot of work but we feel this is the right step based on the information that we have. We can’t be soft on cybersecurity,” he said.
The state’s directive follows the federal government’s ban on products made by Huawei and the other companies because of national security concerns.
Meanwhile, the Huawei issue has also surfaced in a dispute before Vermont utility regulators. FirstLight, a telecommunications company in Albany, New York, had asked the state Public Utility Commission to intervene in a dispute with Vermont Telephone Co., based in Springfield.
Normally, the agreements are pretty standard, and would allow customers to keep their phone number if they go to the other company.
But in this case, VTel said it did not want to fully link its network with FirstLight’s because FirstLight’s network is “embedded” with Huawei equipment.
“What we’re concerned about here is an unprecedented cybersecurity challenge,” VTel lawyer Anthony Iarrapino told the PUC during a hearing last month.
But late last week, FirstLight withdrew its petition before the PUC. The notice did not say why it was withdrawing. The company’s lawyer could not be reached for comment.
Mayor David Allaire has had to go from being one of the people most likely to rail against budget increases to the person tasked with defending them.
“Any time you change that dynamic, you certainly look at things a little differently,” he said Tuesday. “My goal is the same. My goal is always to present a budget as close to level as possible. This year I achieved that. Last year it was more of a challenge.”
Michel Messier, who is challenging Allaire’s bid for a second term, said the outcome of last year’s budget process was what inspired him to run.
“It was not something I had budgeted for,” he said of the resulting tax hike. “I and other people were taken aback. The mayor had run on a fiscally conservative platform.”
Messier, 56, consults in business software, accounting and real estate. He said he is a “16th-generation Vermonter” and claims descent from Samuel de Champlain — his name appears on the ballot as Michel “Champlain” Messier.
He said he has not run for public office outside a “minor” write-in campaign in a Progressive Party Senate primary, but his community involvement includes serving as treasurer of the Rutland Kiwanis Club, on the board of directors of the Rutland Historical Society and on the Rutland Town recreation commission. He was also one of the organizers of the effort to preserve Combination Pond.
Messier said he has degrees in accounting and finance, and has managed utility budgets in the $250 million range, developing skills he believes he could use to the city’s benefit.
“I believe this city could be run just under $20 million in the operating budget,” he said, explaining that he thinks there are potential efficiencies in infrastructure projects that are not being used.
He also said there is a perception of waste that needs to be closely examined.
“People are relatively upset with the fire department and some of the purchases there,” he said, referring to the city agreeing to a contract that gave the fire chief the use of a city truck, and later awarding him additional vacation time to compensate for hundreds of overtime hours. “We need to make sure all city employees are treated equally. ... When people see that kind of thing, and they don’t get that kind of vacation, and they’re not driving a brand-new vehicle, it concerns them.”
Messier said he would work to make sure Rutland got its share of federal money for cleaning up Lake Champlain, try to get national publications who covered Rutland’s opiate problem to come back and write about the city’s progress, and develop Combination Pond as a recreation area.
Messier said he chose to run for mayor rather than alderman because he believed it was where he could accomplish the most.
“The mayor controls the purse strings, proposes the budget” he said. “My budget would be a more efficient budget.”
David Allaire was elected in 2017 upon his third attempt to unseat Christopher Louras. Prior to that he served in the Legislature and on the Board of Aldermen, including as board president. He said his first term has been a learning experience.
“When you have 160 people that are working for you, it presents quite a few challenges,” he said. “It’s very rewarding work to be responsible for that number of people and responsible for the city.”
Allaire said he enjoys coming to work in City Hall, and that the people he works with are all highly dedicated.
“That’s something I wasn’t aware of until I got here,” he said.
Allaire said he feels he has been successful at creating a “different tone” in the city.
“I think city residents now are thinking about the future and believing that the city has a chance at being successful,” he said.
More specifically, Allaire said he was proud of his choices of heads for the fire and recreation departments.
“Those were good hires,” he said. “They’re leading their departments into the future.”
Allaire also noted that he oversaw the completion of White’s Pool and the Center Street Alley, which was rechristened Center Street Marketplace Park.
As for disappointments, Allaire said he had hoped the proposed downtown hotel would move faster, but developers are still waiting to find out if it is eligible for a particular tax credit.
“I would hope we could get a decision on that soon,” he said. “That could be a game-changer.”
Also, he said that he would like to be more aggressive on infrastructure, but that the city seemed to be “hamstrung” by budget constraints. He said his second term would likely see discussion of a new local option tax.
“I’m not promoting it, but it’s something that’s going to have to be talked about at some point,” he said. “The other option would be to go out to bond, which is essentially putting it on the tax rate, just doing it over a longer period of time.”
“Policy-making is often a slow, complicated and messy process. It requires compromise and consensus. For young people, that’s an unsatisfying reality.”
Bernie boys gone
The architects of the 2016 campaign for Sen. Bernie Sanders abruptly parted ways with his 2020 campaign on Tuesday. A2
Keith Williams will perform music for baby boomers. 9:30 p.m. Hide-A-Way Tavern, 42 Center St., Rutland, email@example.com, 558-9580.