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Board votes money for bias training

The aldermen voted to spend money on bias training Monday.

The roll-call vote to authorize the mayor to take $2,500 out of the contingency fund for the training came after comments from several members of the public. The vote was 7-2, with Aldermen Paul Clifford and Tom DePoy dissenting. Alderman Scott Tommola departed the meeting a short time before the vote and Board President Sharon Davis did not vote because the president only votes to break ties and on appointments.

The board voted in August to have the General Committee discuss bias training for city officials. The move was prompted by several people approaching the board about racial issues in the community following the allegedly racially motivated mass shootings in Ohio and Texas.

However, no meeting was held and the committee’s chairman, Alderman Scott Tommola, said last month he had decided against holding one. He said he feared such a meeting would become a “circus” and that it had been “made clear” to him there would be no money for such training. Mayor David Allaire also said that such training was not something he saw a need to budget for. Tommola said if someone could be found who would perform the training for free, interested city officials could then attend.

Several people turned up to the meeting Monday in response to that.

“I think it is safe to say that we are all here because we believe that Rutland is a place worth living,” Tabitha Moore, president of the Rutland branch of the NAACP, said. “It is no secret that our population is dwindling, that businesses are having trouble finding people to work.”

Moore said that part of making Rutland a more attractive community to outsiders was going to have to involve addressing racial issues.

“We are in this together,” she said. “I don’t think anyone brought a torch or pitchfork tonight. ... The work of honest self-exploration is painful work. It is painful to think that, regardless of our best intentions and education and knowledge, we still do things that oppress others.”

Moore said she was far from immune from such transgressions herself, so she would be happy on multiple levels to help the board through the process. She also said she and the others with her would continue to show up to make sure something happened.

Heather Juliussen-Stevenson, who had previously pressed the board on its inaction, noted the difference between the board’s eager response to traffic safety concerns earlier in the meeting to their silence in response to Moore.

“Quite frankly, you’re cowards,” she said.

Davis kept trying to bring the discussion to an end. After Moore’s remarks she declared she would allow one more speaker “and then we’re moving on to a different subject,” but a woman identifying herself as a Chittenden resident and city landowner rose to speak in support of bias training. Davis tried to move the meeting on, but Rutland High School history teacher Jennie Gartner rose, saying her students had suggested she offer the board some historical perspective.

Gartner read from an essay by American University professor Ibram Kendi putting President Donald Trump’s racist rhetoric in historical perspective, talking about how neither the racism nor the denialism that accompanies it are unique in history.

“Begin with the eight presidents who held slaves while in the oval office, then consider how Abraham Lincoln urged black people to leave the United States,” she quoted the essay. “Where there is suffering from racist policies there are denials the policies are racist.”

Gartner closed with a section of the essay that argued that “only racists say they are not racist” while anti-racists are willing to grapple with their own racism.

Davis again sought to end the discussion, but Alderwoman Melinda Humphrey then thanked Juliussen-Stevenson for her observation earlier on.

“Our silence speaks volumes and sometimes by not speaking, we’re clearly making our choice,” she said.

City resident Erica Zimmer then rose to speak, reminding the board members that she had emailed each of them to describe her examination of her own biases in recent years.

“It’s a very painful journey,” she said. “It’s embarrassing and it’s humiliating but you have to do it.”

With that, Davis then moved the meeting on and as Allaire began discussing his 2020-2021 budget proposal, Tommola, who had been silent throughout the discussion, left the meeting.

The discussion was not quite over yet, though. Alderman Matt Whitcomb, after completing a report from a Public Safety Committee meeting on selling a fire truck, moved to add bias training to the agenda under unfinished business. This passed by a voice vote with DePoy dissenting. When the board got to that point in the agenda, Whitcomb made the motion to authorize the $2,500 and Humphrey requested the roll call.

There was no debate.



Photo by Jon Olender  

Taking flight

A flock of migrating snow geese fills the sky on the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area in Addison on Saturday afternoon.

Killington kicks off winter season

KILLINGTON — The ski resort officially opened for the season to the public on Monday.

Killington Resort announced over the weekend it planned to open on Sunday for Season Pass, Express Card, Beast 365 and Ikon pass holders. Monday was the first day it was open to the general public, said resort spokeswoman Courtney DiFiore.

DiFiore said the mountain generally opens sometime in October. Some of the earliest openings in past decades have been as soon as Oct. 1. Last year, mid-October was the opening date. DiFiore said the resort believes it’s the first resort to open this year in the northeast region.

“There’s a lot to celebrate this year opening weekend at Killington,” said Mike Solimano, president and general manager of Killington Resort and Pico Mountain, in a release. “On top of all the improvements we made last year to elevate the guest experience, our pass holders will have the opportunity to be the first guests to experience the brand new North Ridge Quad. We’re also excited to show off the progress we’ve made on phase 1 of the new K-1 Lodge.”

Killington Resort and its sister resort at Pico Mountain nearby are both owned by POWDR. DiFiore said Pico isn’t open yet and usually the season there doesn’t begin until December.

Visitors will be able to see where the new K-1 Lodge is being built, but it’s not accessible to the public, said DiFiore. The old lodge is still open and will serve guests for the rest of this season, with the new one ready later in 2020.

She said as per tradition, a lunchtime opening day part was held at the mountain on Monday. Many locals and repeat visitors like to attend opening day, said DiFiore, adding that she spoke to one person who’d made the last eight opening days in a row and hopes to complete their tenth next year.

Also new this year is a Woodward Mountain Park feature by the Reason trail. Woodward Mountain Park is a brand owned by POWDR that offers “terrain parks” for snow sports lovers. DiFiore said for those not familiar with these, they’re similar to skate parks but with snow.

What distinguishes the Woodward Mountain Parks from similar attractions is these are geared towards a variety of skill sets and are designed to let newcomers work their way up to more difficult features.

DiFiore said snowmaking at Superstar Trail, for the Audi FIS Ski World Cup being held at the end of the month is well underway and going smoothly. The event is expected to draw approximately 40,000 people.



Return of the Rink: Locals collaborate to bring beloved skating rink back to school

Rutland Town School is getting ready to lace-up: After decades, a group of dedicated and determined winter warriors are working to resurrect an old friend.

Rutland Town School Board member Korrine Rodrigue said she and Ryan DeCicco, maintenance manager at the Rutland Town School, are working to raise $8,000 with the help of a GoFundMe online, to bring the Rutland Town School Ice Rink back to the Rutland Town School.

“(Ryan) loves hockey, and he played as a kid,” Rodrigue said. “We agreed to work together and get it up and running this year.”

Rodrigue said her husband was born and raised in Rutland and cherishes memories of childhood ice skating on the rink behind the Rutland Town School, where three of her children attend, and has since taken to mentioning how he would love to see the rink up and running again.

As would Rutland Town Select Board Chairman Joshua Terenzini, who has two children attending Rutland Town School who don’t yet know how to skate.

“But they will soon,” Terenzini said excitedly. “She contacted me several weeks ago and pitched this idea. I absolutely fell in love with it.”

Like so many who attended Rutland Town School during the days when ice skaters from throughout the county would escape the cabin fever of Vermont winters to skate, Terenzini recalled fond memories of time on the ice with friends, and was eager to collaborate.

“It’s another opportunity for the community spirit to be alive and well,” Terenzini said.

Since talks began this fall, Rodrigue, Terenzini, DeCicco, the Rutland Town Fire Department, Green Mountain Power, Twin State CED Lighting Company, New England Exterior Solutions and Green Mountain Tree and Lawn Care, who did the initial tree work for free, Rodrigue said.

Next Tuesday, Rodrigue said they’re working with General Electric and at least 30 volunteers to rehab and weatherize the warming shelter and install lights from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

After that, the prepared land will undergo several installments of water — once the ground and air are cold enough — to ensure that the rink has a nice clean surface that Rodrigue hopes will be used for before-school, after-school, and physical education activities by the Rutland Town School.

“Whats important for people to realize is this is taking next to no tax dollars,” Terenzini said proudly.

She’s done an incredible job with local business partners. This is a grassroots effort that many have gotten behind, and would love to see this get off the ground.”

“It’s been two months of hustling,” Rodrigue said. “(The warming shed) hasn’t been maintained in 20 years.”

Rutland Town Fire Chief Chris Clark said he’d be glad to fill the new ice rink, and said it might take 1,000 gallons from their hoses and at least two deposits of water.

“I think it would be good for all of (the students),” Clark said. “Get all of the community members together...I have a sixth grade son that goes to Rutland Town. ... All the kids can get together and be friends (there).”

But Rodrigue isn’t stopping at the rink: She’s also trying to raise money to buy every student at Rutland Town School a pair of ice skates, a feat that will probably cost around $6,000 or $7,000.

So far, her fundraising efforts have collected around $4,000, and she said she’s hoping for twice that.

“We’re treating this first year like a pilot,” Rodrigue said.

Rodrigue said she’s acquired the help of Rutland Town Road Commissioner Byron Hathaway, who is excited to maintain the new rink with the use of his plow.

Rodrigue also said she’s received praise from the Rutland Town School, who said they’d utilize the rink for their Physical Education programs.

“They said, ‘If you can build it, we will utilize it,’” Rodrigue said.

Rotary International and the Kiwanis Club have also been helpful in discussions over helmets for the students, and Mark Alderman of Alderman’s dealership has offered to match every “like” for the project on Facebook with $1 up to a $1,000 donation from his family.

With any luck, the ice rink will be up and ready for Rutland Town students right around break, and Rodrigue said they hope to eventually open the rink up to community nights once they have their systems established.

“The Spartan Arena and the Giorgetti are great,” Rodrigue said. “But it’s nice to be on a skating rink outside.”



ending homelessness
VAO director honored for work with veterans at Dodge House

An employee of the veteran-assistance organization known locally as the Dodge House was recognized this year by the federal government for her work to end homelessness among veterans.

The certificate was given to Christina Morgan, who is not a veteran herself but takes her responsibility to those who have served very personally.

“There’s been some veterans in my family but more to me than that is there’s that real meaning behind those magnets that you see that say ‘Welcome home veterans’ or ‘Support our troops.’ That really means something to me. That really means an action to me. What are we going to do about it? How can we help our veterans? The Vietnam veterans who were a part of making this place possible, their motto was to improve the life of a veteran in any way that we can. I try to remember to do that every single day,” she said.

The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development issued the “Certificate of Appreciation” to Morgan, who is not only an employee at the Dodge, which is the headquarters for the Veterans Assistance Office on Crescent Street, but the only employee.

Morgan, the executive director of the Veterans Assistance Office, or VAO, said the primary function of the Dodge, which has five beds for men and three for women, is to provide transitional housing for veterans.

“We don’t really like to be considered a shelter. That’s part of what’s offered. But veterans who come through here really have to have a plan and a program,” Morgan said.

That plan can change depending on the veteran’s needs. One current resident will likely transition to hospice while another had stayed in the building for about a year but was expecting to move to permanent housing by the end of the year.

Morgan, who has been with the VAO for about 14 years, most of it as the leader, said transitional housing is only one of the services provided by VAO.

“Veterans can come here for anything, even if they don’t need shelter. We have veterans that come here for bags of food, for shoes. We have veterans that come to watch TV. We have veterans that come use the computer. Sometimes we have veterans that maybe need assistance getting a DD 214 (a document that provides proof of the veteran’s service) or a ride to the VA. It’s kinda whatever it is I can do, wherever I can jump in and help,” she said.

While the VAO is not part of the VA, the federal Veterans Affairs program, she said they have a strong working relationship that allows them to work together in meeting needs for veterans.

“Could not ask for a better network,” she said.

Morgan said one of the values of the certificate she was given at a New England conference in August on ending veteran homelessness was that it recognized the importance of the ongoing need to meet the needs of the men and women who served in the military.

“I wasn’t expecting it. … I have a really hard time with this because I feel like there are so many people around me that are in this to end it. I feel like there are a lot of folks who deserve this award,” she said.

Among the allies are the Castleton Elementary School which raises money for veterans every year and the Sons of the American Legion throughout Vermont which has been the Dodge House’s primary sponsor.

Morgan said she was particularly proud of the Shoes for Veterans program which has been supported by the “Vet Net” employee team at Comcast.

Sean Sexton, director of project management for Comcast’s Western New England region and one of the leaders of the VetNet team, said the team works with a lot of Comcast employees who are veterans but also reaches out to see how they can assist community organizations.

“The Dodge House really fits into our wheelhouse as a great group,” he said.

During a Comcast Cares Day, when Comcast employees work locally with a service organization, they spent some time at the Dodge House.

“About two or three years ago, we called Chris up again and just asked the question. ‘Listen, a lot of people say what they’re going to do for you, I’m just gonna ask you the question of, what is it that we can do for you that you feel is a need at your current location?’ She talked about the fact that (what) she wanted to do (was) if any veteran came in and needed shoes, she would be able to give them shoes,” he said.

The first year, Comcast provided about 150 pairs of shoes and boots, with socks, and in the second year, they provided about 250 pairs of footwear.

Sexton said the group was looking forward to starting their 2019 campaign.

Morgan said the VAO also takes pride in serving veterans through voluntary donations and hasn’t approached the city about getting a place on the ballot for funding.

“We want people to be willing to donate and not forced,” she said.

After 14 years, Morgan said there are several factors in what keeps her involved. Part of it is her respect for the veterans but she also said she understood what it’s like to need assistance with food and housing.

“There’s not a veteran who’s ever been through here that I don’t know. No veteran who’s ever been here, I’ve not ever forgotten them. … I could tell you a story about every veteran that’s been through here. They just mean something to me, y’know,” she said.

The VAO was created in 1990 and the Dodge house officially opened in 1998.




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