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Alderman posts controversial meme online

A post on social media by an alderman has spurred backlash and discussions of white privilege and racism among some in the community.

This week, Alderman Paul Clifford posted a meme photograph to his Facebook page depicting a white woman and her three children seemingly in poverty-stricken circumstances, with the caption reading “White privilege: The ability to suffer life’s universal indignities without blaming another ethnic group,” according to a provided screenshot of the post.

Clifford confirmed that he posted the meme, but subsequently refused to offer comment on Monday.

Rutland High School history teacher Jennie Gartner said the photo in the July 14 post was brazen and proved that the ongoing conversation around white privilege had a long way to go.

“When we say white privilege, we don’t mean ‘I make $150,000 a year and drive a Mercedes,’” Gartner said. “We mean systemic racism.”

The post quickly circulated. Alderwoman Lisa Ryan said she found the post disrespectful and deeply offensive.

“It’s hard for me to now be able to sit in chambers,” Ryan said. “I would have a difficult time ... knowing that those are the types of things he is portraying and sharing, things that are just untrue.”

As a longtime Rutlander, public servant and person of color, Ryan said it was common for white people to cringe from admitting that being born white — regardless of their financial status later in life or their level of education — entitled them to freedoms that people of color do not have access to.

“For somebody who’s white, they’re not going to know how a person of color feels because they’re white,” Ryan said. “And to be in the role where he’s in as a community leader, when across the state and country, there’s a huge problem with racism. ... ‘white privilege doesn’t exist’ is just not wanting to research it. It’s putting up a blinder to it.”

Ryan encouraged Clifford to have conversations with people of color, and to attend any of the meetings hosted by the NAACP to better understand white privilege, and how it limits opportunities for people of color.

While the notion of the term “white privilege” is a fairly recent social focus, Gartner called it a pipeline, a direct result of the centuries-old exploitation and abuse of people of color.

“It’s so broad and so ingrained that it’s impossible for a person who is not a person of color to try to perceive what it’s like to be a person of color today,” Gartner said.

The term “privilege,” Gartner said, is often incorrectly inferred as financial station, misleading many to believe that if one suffered financial hardship, they were not a beneficiary of white privilege.

Fellow Rutland resident Greg Zullo, who recently reached a settlement in his lawsuit against the state over racial profiling leading to his 2014 arrest, said he engaged Clifford online and tried to inform him that the meme that he had posted was offensive, and advised he do some research on white privilege.

“All I was trying to get across was just that, regardless of politics, what it comes down to is understanding peoples’ backgrounds over the course of history,” Zullo said. “To an extent, I see where he’s coming from ... but it’s also disregarding history that is still relevant today.”

Just one generation ago, Zullo said, his mother had to go to a segregated school system.

“Black people seem to be easy targets and white people seem to not do anything wrong,” Zullo said. “You have to listen. You can’t just dictate. ... It’s divisive. History is not a partisan issue.”

Though Zullo, 27, said the demographic in Rutland is changing to a more progressive societal stance, there are still many who have yet to understand exactly what white privilege is, let alone working to stop the effects.

“It seems like (Clifford) already made up his mind,” Zullo said. “Regardless of political affiliation, you are representing citizens of every color and creed, and maybe we should acknowledge that we don’t know everything. ... They’re not going to be doing their best work if they don’t listen to anyone but themselves.

Tabitha Moore, president of the Rutland Area chapter of the NAACP, said she wasn’t surprised by the comment and cited what she called “The American Mystique,” the goal of associating one’s existence with an independent, self-made attitude, and using that pride as a buffer against acknowledging white privilege.

“It’s OK not to be perfect,” Moore said. “(But) it’s something that the United States is not super good at. ... The people in this country are not comfortable with reckoning with what the United States has done. ... It’s a scary time, but also one of great opportunity.”

Moore said she would call for public accountability, and an explanation of why Clifford thought the meme was acceptable to post on a public forum.

“My first question would be, ‘Do you want to understand or do you want to remain in your bubble of ignorance?’” Moore offered. “That type of slippery-slope thinking certainly has an impact on other people’s ways of thinking. ... He just made it very clear how he treats the citizens of color.”

Alderman Matt Reveal expressed shock after hearing about the post, before declining further comment.

“I can honestly say, I don’t know what he was thinking,” Reveal said. “It surprises me.”

Mayor David Allaire declined to comment on Monday.

“I think we all have subconscious biases regarding race, and it’s important that we recognize that in order to make everyone’s lives better,” said Alderwoman Melinda Humphries, referencing the post. “We need to work on social justice and systemic racism in our community, and without acknowledging that exists, I don’t know where to start.”

Ryan suggested the elephant that’s been standing in the room for centuries.

“White privilege and white supremacy affect all of our lives,” Ryan said. “This is the problem. This is how problems start.”


rlayman / Robert Layman / Staff Photo  

Fly me to the moon

Citizen scientist and avid space historian Tom Estill, left, shows Liam Wolff, 9 and his brother Ellis, 7, a model of NASA’s Saturn V expendable rocket, which was on display Monday at the Rutland Free Library along with rock samples taken from the moon. The event preceded a talk by Robert Place, who worked as a NASA launch technician for the now 50-year-old Apollo mission, the anniversary of which is being celebrated all week at the library.

Scott announces $1.5M for school security

MONTPELIER — While students enjoy the summer weather, schools are already gearing up for their return. On Monday, Gov. Phil Scott announced the allocation of $1.5 million in funding for school security measures, a drop from the $4 million given last year during the first cycle of the grants.

“Last year, this funded about 567 projects,” said Sunni Eriksen, school safety grants manager for Vermont Emergency Management (VEM). “Grants are available only to folks who didn’t receive them last time.”

Eriksen said she didn’t know why the funding was lower this cycle.

Due to the success of the program — Eriksen said they ran out of funding for all of the different projects — a second cycle was planned with more open language allowing both private and independent, as well as public educational institutions to apply.

Initially, the grants toward security upgrades were inspired by Fair Haven High School’s push for security upgrades in the wake of an encounter with an alleged would-be school shooter, Jack Sawyer.

“(We’re) working on an anonymous tip line, (and) increasing access to reporting,” Eriksen said about state efforts to increase school security from the top down. “There’s always more steps that we can take.”

Last year, 242 schools around the state received $3,998,241 in funding toward school security improvements, including Clarendon Elementary School ($24,018), Fair Haven Grade School ($959.25) and Fair Haven Union High School ($959.25), according to the governor’s website.

And for the Slate Valley Unified Union School District, that means a reimbursement of $82,000 spent before the last grant cycle on safety investments for their students, staff and teachers, Superintendent Brooke Olsen-Farrell said in an email.

“We are looking at putting a visitor management system in place, we are relocating the main office at Fair Haven Grade School and adding catchment areas in many other school lobbies,” Olsen-Farrell said. “In addition, we have added additional security cameras and are ensuring that all of our schools’ phone systems are E911 compliant. We are also putting in a system for parking permits and implementing a comprehensive threat assessment process and working to revise our Emergency Operations Guides.”

Rutland County schools received over $300,000 for their community projects, with the Mettawee Community School receiving $3,000, Middletown Springs Elementary receiving $10,657.34, and Mill River Union High School receiving $15,111.

Northeast Elementary School received $4,725, Orwell Village School got $959.25 and the Otter Valley Union main campus, middle and high school received a combined $44,500.

“These grants are the latest step in our ongoing commitment to ensuring safe learning environments in all Vermont schools,” Scott said. “While Vermont remains among the safest states in the country — and our schools are no exception — we must continue to build upon this effort through a comprehensive approach, including enhancing safety infrastructure, training staff to recognize and address threats and concerning behavior, promoting the importance of ‘see something, say something,’ and engaging the whole community to keep our schools safe.”

The grants are competitive, and schools are allowed to apply for up to $25,000 to cover their school safety projects, with each school responsible for a 25% grant match.

In addition to the grant funding for school safety, the state Department of Public Safety decided to collaborate with Margolis-Healy, a Williston-based campus security company, to distribute training, planning and exercise assistance to schools, while also developing emergency plans with help from Homeland Security Grant Funds, the release said.


Cameron Paquette / Staff Photo  

This Modified race car, built by students at Stafford Technical Center, was on display Saturday during the 40th annual RAVE Car Club car show at the Vermont State Fairgrounds.

RAVE car show returns to Rutland

From bright candy red to sleek, foamy green, hard tops and convertibles and beyond — the RAVE car show returned for its 40th event in Rutland this weekend, to a wave of gear heads and car buffs from across New England who gathered at the Vermont State Fair Grounds to see the hot wheels glisten.

Around 175 cars, everything from the Model A to a Corvette on stilts made an appearance on both Saturday and Sunday, and families milled around sparkling specimens of the best-kept cars across the counties, munching on slices of hot pizza and fresh pulled pork as enthusiasts took photos of their favorites and examined the motors inside them.

Third year president Sean Barrett said the idea to bring antique automobiles and restored vehicles to put on display originated back in 1979 by car enthusiasts in the Rutland area who eventually gathered to form the Rutland Area Vehicle Enthusiasts, or RAVE.

“The first show was in 1980,” Barrett said.

And after last year’s successful family event, Barrett said they started planning for this year’s show the very next day, planning the 40 top-pick awards and spectator awards awarded to over 175 cars come Sunday, Barrett said.

All profits from the festival go to local charities such as the Open Door Mission, Wit’s End, and other local charities and rescue squads, Barrett said.

“We try to cater to the local charities as much as we can,” Barrett said.

Cars come from all across New England From Maine to Connecticut and the eastern side of New York to bring their glittering Model A’s and 19, 1969 Pontiac GTO’s, and a Studebaker from 1969 this year, Barrett said.

“We’ve got a good mix right now,” Barrett said. “We got a lot of hot rods, v-rods, and a lot of custom vehicles,” Barrett said. “(The peoples’ favorite) changes year to year…”

But not all that glitters is gold … or old … around one of the first bends of the rows of cars with wide, bright chrome pipes glinting in the sun, one can make out what look like charcoal-colored tribal spears with long black tassels piercing the sky.

Peter Manship, owner of Manship designs in Ludlow, said he’s been obsessed with the post-apocalyptic and Mad-Max genres of film and art, and has made it his creative outlet to transform cars and motorcycles into automobiles of nuclear-fallout and zombie-apocalypse glory.

The kinds of cars you use to plow through zombies and escape gangs of anarchic desert pirates fighting over the remaining source of fresh water.

And so began the building of “Radioactive,” Manship’s 2001 Toyota Corolla into a rust-walled apocalypse mobile, complete with “real” human skull and bars over the glass windows to keep enemies out after they inevitably broke his windshield.

“I restored everything on it, it’s like a new car,” Manship said. “It’s got a 40-millimeter lift kit in it that came from Europe (from its racing days).”

As Manship slowly added on his accessories: a giant “Nuka Cola” advertisement from the Fall Out video game to a ray-gun that Manship said would be able to, theoretically, “shoot every type of ray,” including both gamma and radio waves, as well as laser beams, Manship said he embraced every idea that came to him and honoring the often chaotic creativity process.

In this theoretical wasteland, Manship said he would corner the market on nuclear medical waste and use it to power his post-nuclear death machines, which would don a coat of knitting needles-turned porcupine quills all over the car using magnets as an adhesive come Sunday, he said.

“This is the post apocalypse,” Manship said of his act. “And in a post-apocalyptic world, every knucklehead in the world builds a gas-burning fifty-caliber machine gun,” Manship said.

On top of his car, a small drawer held homemade zombie fighting and hand-to-hand combat sicles, knives and custom round slicing blades on a stick that Manship makes himself alongside his jewelry-making business in Ludlow, to fight of zombies in hand-to-hand combat, if need be.

“I relish creativity,” Manship said. “It’s more important to me than money.”

Just up the grassy knoll towards the center of the festival was a BMW motorcycle … an accessible one, with help from Mobility Works, which also designs accessible vans.

Charlie Nassau said back in 2010, he got three accessible motorcycles designed for those who may be in a wheelchair, and decided to fix one up for his dad.

“I had to put it all together,” Nassau said. “(It took) about a year.”

In March, Nassau said he opened up his newest business that focuses on trike-style motorcycles, and his dad’s motorcycle has three wheels, a BMW torso, bright encapsulating walls and a paddle shifter, with a lowering ramp at the back.

“My dad is 85 years old, and last Sunday we put 100 miles on the bike,” Nassau said.

His next project, Nassau said, would be to create the same thing on an Indian, and he has a custom model going on for sale for $20,000, he said.

“I love Harleys, but the Indian is just a better design for the trike-setup,” Nassau said. “We’re working on a prototype right now that’s taken away a lot of the things I don’t like about this … it was too high, to hard for him to get up by himself … so I’m building a new air suspension system that allows him to get in lower to the ground … it won’t have as many electronics … more old-school styling.”

The problem he most ran into throughout the projects is getting insurance, because endorsing accessible motorcycle riding is considered too big of a risk.

But as far as affiliations go, anyone with connections to Stafford Technical school should be very proud: The Stafford Automotive Technology Program presented their racer, with a 350 engine and a coat of shiny crimson, nearly finished at this year’s show.

“We’re hooking up the last of our power-steering and our ignition system,” said program director James Woodward. “And she is basically race ready.”

Everything is in the car, but they didn’t quite have time to hook up the fuel hose to the fuel cell to their car, so while she sparkled rosy in the sun she remained flightless.

Thursday evening, Outreach Coordinator Cindy Dunigan, who has been helping the students throughout their process, helped them put their logos on their almost-finished project: “’74,’” in honor of Stafford’s first year in operation, Woodward said.

“It feels good to actually be able to see it,” recently-graduated senior David Mills said. “(This) is going to be a part of Stafford for a long time.”

But the cherry-red racer didn’t have a name yet, Woodward said, and though he personally liked the name “Betty,” for a car, Mills suggested another.

“Probably Steffanie,” Mills said pointing to the corresponding double “f” and “St” in the front of the name.

“Not a bad name,” Woodward said. “I like Steffanie.”


City tax rate down slightly

City homeowners will see a slightly smaller tax bill this year.

The Board of Aldermen voted Monday to set the municipal tax rate at $1.7763 per $100 of assessed property value — a decrease of roughly three-tenths of a cent. With the state-set homestead rate also down on the education side of the bill — $1.4577 from $1.4639 — homeowners with a $150,000 house will see their combined tax bill drop from $4,864,65 to $4,850.99.

The non-residential rate, however, went from $1.5579 to $1.6033 — a change that Alderman William Gillam noted applied to apartment buildings as well as retail and industrial properties.

“That’s not just hurting businesses,” he said. “That’s hurting renters in the city of Rutland.”

The board also returned the unassigned fund balance — surplus money used as the city’s cash on hand — to 10% of the budget, keeping with a policy established in 2010 but effectively suspected for the last two years. Where to put the fund balance was the subject of the only debate over the tax rate, with Mayor David Allaire and a handful of aldermen arguing to hold it at 9% another year in order to further buy down the tax rate.

City Treasurer Mary Markowski said she felt that with the city running a surplus — partly due to an increase in revenues and partly due to insurance premiums not going up as much as anticipated — she felt it was the right time to get the fund balance back up to 10%. She said the fund balance allows the city to operate without short-term borrowing and that she did not expect to see further savings on insurance.

Alderman Tom DePoy, however, argued in favor of keeping it at 9%, which would have boosted the tax savings on a $150,000 house to about $46.

“I hear where Mary is coming from and I heard (former Treasurer Wendy Wilton) when she was talking all those years ... but when you’re talking about giving people a $46 reduction instead of a $13 reduction ... they’re both worth their weight in gold,” he said.

Alderman Chris Ettori replied that they first reduced the fund balance in the face of a 6% budget increase and kept it down when the budget went up another 12%.

“That was not the time to move it back to 10 percent,” he said, recalling that the 10 percent minimum was widely recommended by financial experts when the board set the policy. “It’s a slippery slope, to always be chasing that extra $25 a year.”

Allaire said the taxpayers had taken a series of hits in recent years and that spending more from the fund balance would give them some relief.

“We’re very fortunate with increased revenues and I think that’s going to be a trend over the next few years,” he said. “Nine percent has been what we used for the last two years. We have not come close, that I know of. to having to go out for short-term borrowing. ... I’m comfortable at 9%.”

Alderman Scott Tommola wasn’t, calling it “bad business.”

“You have to have that security to get things done and you have to have that cushion for when things happen,” he said. “I don’t think the difference between 9 and 10 is going to be that appreciable on the tax bills.”

Alderman Rebecca Mattis said that she remembered the discussion from two years ago and had thought about the decision to put the fund balance at 9% over the last year.

“Our treasurer, every time she speaks, says she’s concerned about that decision,” she said. “I don’t like feeling like we’re on thin ice. We got lucky with our health care budgeting and we’re not always going to be that lucky.”

DePoy’s motion to set the tax rate with a 9% fund balance failed when only Aldermen William Gillam and Paul Clifford voted alongside him. A motion by Mattis to set it with a 10% fund balance was then approved by voice vote.



“The president can’t stand the fact that seeking protection in the United States is legal, so he’s doing everything he can to make the asylum process as difficult as possible.”

Eleanor Acer of Human Rights First, commenting on a move by the Trump administration to end asylum protections for most migrants who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border. B8

In court

A decision is pending over whether a Pittsford man will be released to home confinement while a charge of involuntary manslaughter is pending. A3


Designs are unveiled for Rutland’s next two downtown sculptures. A3

RHD Hotspot


Mountain Bike races

All skill levels are invited to join us for these 3 or 8 mile bikes, based on ability, which wind through the trails in Pine Hill Park. . $5, 6:30 p.m. Giorgetti Arena, 2 Oak Street Extension, Rutland,, 802-773-1822.