Data from the 2020 census showing a population drop means Rutland will have to redraw its legislative districts, local officials said Friday.
“It would be very unlikely the city would lose a representative, but where you vote could change depending on where the lines are drawn,” Board of Aldermen President Matt Whitcomb said.
Whitcomb said that while Wards 1 and 4 — the northeast and northwest, respectively — are still large enough to merit their own representatives, Wards 2 (southeast) and 3 (southwest) are not.
“All four of Rutland’s districts lost population,” said Rep. William Notte, who represents Ward 4. “The state allows for certain deviation ... but by state law, a district can only go 10% above or below its target population. Then we’re required by law to change it.”
Notte said he did not have immediate access to all the data when he was contacted Friday afternoon, but he was able to say off the top of his head that Ward 2 was at negative 17%. He referred additional questions on the numbers to the Vermont secretary of state’s office, which in turn referred them to the legislative counsel’s office which did not immediately respond to an inquiry Friday.
Notte said one way to resolve the issue would be to adjust the boundaries, moving population from the smaller wards to the bigger ones. Another approach could be to merge the districts, giving the city two districts with two representatives each rather than four with one each. Notte said local officials will get to weigh in on their preferences, but the decision will be made in Montpelier.
“At the end of the day, everything is just a recommendation to the Legislature,” Notte said. “Various groups need to be ready to bang the drum and make sure that message is heard in Montpelier.”
Mayor David Allaire said he will encourage the Board of Aldermen and other city officials to get together and take strong positions to influence the Legislature.
“We went through this 20 years ago and had quite a discussion about it,” he said. “My preference would be to keep four districts. Each resident knows who their representative is. That seems to work out the best.”
Notte said that however the lines are redrawn, he is sponsoring a bill that will require the state to send each affected voter a postcard explaining the change and where their new polling places will be. He also said the change points to a more long-term issue that requires the city’s attention.
“I definitely think we are in serious danger of losing a representative in 10 years if our population trends continue,” he said. “City Hall, city leadership, needs to look at how we can reverse our population decline.”
The U.S. Census website did not yet list 2020 data for Rutland as of Friday afternoon, but the July 2019 estimates put the city’s population at 15,074. That’s an 8.5% decrease from the 16,495 people counted living in Rutland in the 2010 census.
Meanwhile, the state as a whole saw its population go up 2.8% over the last decade, according to the 2020 census.
These trends are no revelation. Political and business leaders have been talking for years about the need for population growth in Rutland.
“It shows you there are real-world implications for it,” Allaire said. “It’s throughout southern Vermont, but we are a shining example of it and not in a good way.”
Lyle Jepson, executive director of Chamber and Economic Development of the Rutland Region (CEDRR), said reversing the population decline was the central goal of the regional marketing initiative.
“It is not something that happens quickly,” he said. “We need to maintain as many voices (in the Legislature) as possible because it comes down to votes sometimes and we need to protect Rutland County.”
Jepson said the campaign has a short-term goal of attracting 30 remote workers. He also said the city’s current predicament is why other measures had been proposed in the past, such as refugee resettlement.
“That would have increased the number of people coming into our area in a quick way,” he said.
NORTH CLARENDON — The Black Lives Matter flag will fly at Mill River Union High School this fall.
The Mill River Union Unified School District Board voted 8-3 Wednesday evening to approve a student proposal to display the flag.
The proposal was brought to the board by Reese Eldert-Moore, a member of the Class of 2021, who initially requested the board consider displaying the BLM flag at the school last summer.
At the time, the request was approved along with a proposal by a board member to display the LGBTQ Pride flag.
The board, however, decided to defer the display of any flags following pushback from community members and threats of litigation.
In the fall, it adopted a district-wide policy for vetting all flag display requests.
Earlier this year, Eldert-Moore resubmitted her proposal under the new policy.
The BLM flag she requested includes a rainbow on the right edge of it that represents Black LGBTQ Pride.
As Eldert-Moore explained, “The people of the Black LGBTQ community, especially Black trans women, are being killed at a higher rate than anyone else right now in the Black community.”
Per the policy, only MRUHS students or student groups may make flag requests. In addition to Eldert-Moore, who graduated last week, two other current MRUHS students have co-sponsored the proposal.
Flags may only be displayed for a maximum of three months.
The policy requires requests meet a number of technical specifications, and have demonstrated support from students and a faculty adviser.
In addition, the flag may not:
— be libelous, defamatory, obscene, lewd, vulgar or profane;
— violate federal, state or local laws;
— violate any district policy;
— interfere with or advocate interference with the rights of any individual or the orderly operation of the schools and their programs;
— be subject to copyright, licensing or trademarks;
— be commercial in nature.
Requests are reviewed by Superintendent David Younce. If they meet the criteria, they are presented to the board for consideration. Upon hearing a request, the board must vote on the matter within the following two regularly scheduled meetings.
Speaking to the board Wednesday, Eldert-Moore detailed the harassment she and her family faced as a result of her efforts to raise the flag, which ultimately forced them to move out of Wallingford.
“After you said ‘yes,’ a group of angry and scared white people with a specific anti-equity agenda came forward and challenged your decision and used me for their own campaign of hate,” she said.
“If that alone isn’t enough evidence of why we need to take a stand against racism, I don’t know what is enough to convince you.”
She dismissed what she called “false and exaggerated claims” that the BLM movement is a Marxist or terrorist organization, stating, “This fake news will not end until schools do better to educate and explain what the movement for Black lives actually is.”
“It’s a cry for help and a request for solidarity in ending the structural and systematic racism that prevents us from seeing ourselves in our school and in our community. Raising this flag is a sign of hope that maybe we actually do matter in this school,” she said.
Board Chair Adrienne Raymond then opened the matter up for board discussion.
Board member Doug Earle said, as an adoptive father of several children of color who went to MRUUSD schools and endured hardships because of their race, he agreed more could be done to help students of color; however, he didn’t believe a BLM flag was “going to make a difference.”
He then noted instances of violence and property damage he claimed were linked to the BLM movement.
While member Maria French agreed with Earle that a flag alone wasn’t going to solve any problems, she argued that displaying it would still be meaningful.
“It’ll help give a visual support to people in our district,” she said. “I think it’s still important for us to do as a reminder for those of us that aren’t affected so directly by racism.”
Board Member Matthew Gouchberg said, that being Jewish, he experienced antisemitism when he was growing up and sympathized with Eldert-Moore. Nonetheless, he took exception to her choice of words in addressing the board.
“I really enjoyed your speech until you got to the part where you referred to us as ‘angry white people,’” he said.
Eldert-Moore responded, stating, “I’m sorry that happened to you growing up, but please do not equate your religious oppression to my racial oppression. This is something that I go through every single day. And I’m still dealing with it.”
Bjorn Behrendt said that while the past year spent discussing this issue has led him to support raising the flag, the biggest determining factor was his teenage daughter asking him to do so.
Liz Filskov said she was “unequivocally” in favor of the proposal.
“We have a biracial student asking an all-white board to stand in solidarity with a movement to value lives like hers,” she said.
Len Doucette said he acknowledged that he could never truly understand Eldert-Moore’s experience, but stated he felt that the community had not had enough time to weigh in on it.
He then moved to table the vote until next meeting. Andrew Hawkins seconded the motion.
French pushed back, noting that the board has heard “plenty of public comment” during the past year, and added, “overwhelmingly, that public comment was in support of us flying the flag.”
Doucette’s motion failed 7-4.
Board Member Bruce Moreton suggested that approving the flag might be a violation of MRUUSD Policy E4, which is related to risk management.
The policy reads: “It is the policy of the district to minimize risk to the district as it discharges its responsibility for properly managing the resources of the school system. This responsibility includes concern for the safety of students, employees and the public, as well as concern for protecting the system’s property from loss. No new program, policy or procedure will be adopted or approved by the board without first giving careful consideration to the school system’s risk exposure.”
Younce clarified that the policy was related to fiscal risk only.
District Business Manager Stan Pawlaczyk agreed with Younce.
Moreton argued against that assessment, noting the policy included the word “safety.”
“This policy is about fiscal risk. It’s in the fiscal policy section,” said Younce. “It’s required to be in place in order to comply with insurance requirements, etc.”
Behrendt eventually moved to approve Eldert-Moore’s proposal, amending it so the flag would be raised at the start of the upcoming school year. Filskov seconded the motion.
The motion passed 8-3, with Behrendt, Gouchberg, French, Filskov, Raymond, Doug Earle, Samantha Green and Asha Carroll all voting “yes,” and Moreton, Doucette and Hawkins voting “no.”
Gouchberg explained his “yes” vote, stating, “I see this as a learning experience where differences can come together. … No matter how big or small, your problem may seem, it should never be minimized.”
Speaking Friday, Eldert-Moore said raising the flag gives her hope for the future of the Mill River community and the next generation of students.
“I’m glad Mill River is taking a step in the right direction. Even though it took so long, I’m glad we’re taking a step at all,” she said.
A local artist is back in Rutland County as the first of this year’s cohort for the 77ART visiting artists series.
Benjamin Aleshire, one of the rare writers hosted by the series, will be part of an event at the Opera House on Saturday, June 19.
Aleshire said he was excited to be part of the residency locally and added, “Right now, it’s happening in Rutland” while comparing the city to other areas that are larger and more traditionally known for arts.
But he also noted his local connection.
“Rutland County is my home. It’s where I grew up. All my ghosts are here, all of my memories are here, all of my first experiences happened here. This the place that formed me as a person and an artist, so I call it a homecoming, and it really is,” he said.
During the early days of his residency, Aleshire said he spends time walking around Rutland and retracing his steps and rediscovering things.
“For a poet, for an artist, it’s a pretty exciting opportunity,” he said.
Aleshire is from Cuttingsville but has traveled around the United States and the world as a poet and a photographer with a particular interest in cyanotypes.
Cyanotypes have been around for 175 years and use an iron salt solution to create an image printed entirely in blue tones.
Aleshire is using the process to create portraits in “vibrant blue tones.”
Aleshire is the second writer to be part of the 77ART visiting artists series. He said he is writing a book called “Poet for Hire” about his experiences traveling around the world and writing poems for people on his typewriter.
By email, Whitney Ramage, director of the 77ART residency program, said Aleshire was invited to join the visiting artists program because of his local roots.
“We’re very excited to have Ben as writer-in-residence to kick off our 2021 cycle. I love the fact that this a homecoming for him — it gives us all a chance to take stock of the talent that gets created right here at home and spreads throughout the world,” Ramage said.
The program was paused last year because of the pandemic, but is active again with more artists scheduled to come to Rutland later in the summer.
For June, Aleshire will be writing and creating at the Opera House on Merchants Row and living on Cottage Street.
He’s excited to be back in local environs after living in places like Burlington and New Orleans and has been part of residencies at Saranac Lake, New York; Paris; Hamburg, Germany; and the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson.
“But I have to say, 77ART has so much more space. Their gallery is like five or 10 times as large as the Vermont Studio Center gallery. … The resources available here in Rutland, it’s so exciting. The studios are huge,” he said.
While Aleshire said there were excellent facilities at the studio center in Johnson, he said he was drawn to the connection available between the artists and the community provided by 77ART.
The Vermont Studio Center provides food created by a gifted and highly-trained chef but for 77ART, Rutland residents volunteer to bring artists lunch.
“Then you have a chat with someone from the community,” he said.
Aleshire noted that that he was in residency at 77ART and inclined to speak favorably, but promised he was sharing his true impressions.
“It is one of the coolest residencies I’ve ever been to — I think it’s the most exciting artistic thing happening in Vermont right now. I’ve been based in Burlington so long. There’s nothing like this happening in Burlington” he said.
At 1 p.m. Saturday, Aleshire will host a free poetry workshop for the community aimed at people of any age or skill level.
At 7 p.m. June 26, Aleshire will host an open studio party that will include a poetry reading. He has invited other poet friends to come to the event to read their work as well, including Clare Welch, a poet from Pittsburgh.
Fair Haven Union High School graduate Kim Alexander prepares to take over as athletic director at the school. B1