RUTLAND TOWN — The town Select Board has opted not to consider a statement of inclusion at this time.
At Monday’s meeting, the board voted 4-1, with Board Chair Mary Ashcroft being the lone “no” vote, to take no action on a statement proposed by several residents.
Resident Steve Dardeck read the statement to the board.
“It says that Rutland Town condemns racism and discrimination of any type, and welcomes all persons, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age or disability, and will protect these classes to the fullest extent of the law. And, as a town, we formally condemn discrimination in all of its forms and commit to fair and equal treatment of everyone in our community. Rutland Town has, and will, continue to be a place where individuals can live freely and express their opinions,” he said.
Expecting that some would argue that discrimination and racism aren’t issues in Rutland Town, Dardeck cited several recent articles in the Rutland Herald quoting locals who have been discriminated against or witnessed it taking place.
“So the problems are here,” he said. “Some of them are overt, some of them are hidden, but whether it’s sexual orientation, racism, disability, old age and other problems, they’re all addressed by this declaration of inclusion.”
Besides Rutland City, several other towns have adopted the statement, or a version of it.
“You should support this resolution unanimously,” he said. “There should not be any dissent. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s the smart business thing to do.”
Several other speakers agreed, including Steven Schindler, who related an instance of racism he witnessed. He said that for 25 years he’s been going to the polo fields to play soccer. Several Black people play, along with their teenage children. They were all playing soccer one day, “and out of the blue somebody drove by, white guy in a pickup truck with his window down, and yelled at the top of his lungs a racial epithet, the n-word, and we all just stopped and were shocked,” he said.
The incident highlighted for him that racism is real, it’s here, and it affects people, including children.
“What bothered me more than anything was seeing those kids and knowing it’s not the same growing up with dark skin as it is with light, it’s just not,” he said. “Being an adolescent is hard enough, dealing with that was really troubling.”
Selectman Don Chioffi made the motion to not consider the statement. He said this was difficult, as he respects everyone who’s spoken on the issue, but doesn’t see a need for it. He noted that there’s no way to tell if the person from Schindler’s story was from Rutland Town or not.
“But I’ve heard no accusations nor any citation of any instances of racism or discrimination of any type, including but not limited to race, color, religion national origin, sex, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, or disability, in the town of Rutland, by any governing body or its agencies or its departments,” he said. “And if I’m wrong, I sincerely ask anyone to correct me.”
He said the title of declaration of inclusion implies that there’s been exclusion taking place. He added that the oaths of office government officials like himself take already bind them to upholding the values in said resolution. He went on to say that the declaration contains nothing regarding enforcement, and might be illegal given its overlap with the oaths of office.
While he ultimately seconded and voted in favor of Chioffi’s motion to not consider the declaration, Selectman John Paul Faignant said there are issues with racism in town, specifically with Chioffi himself.
“First off, Don, you mentioned that if you were incorrect with anything that you said, you wanted to be corrected, and so I will take this opportunity to remind you that you yourself have used the n-word in a police committee meeting,” said Faignant. “So for you to sit there and say that there are no incidents or events of racism occurring, you’re kind of ignoring what’s right in front of you.”
He then took issue with those in support of the declaration saying that it should be passed unanimously with little debate. He went on to say that he’s a libertarian and doesn’t believe the town government should enter into social matters and should stick to paving roads and similar issues. Should the town adopt this statement, he said, more will come before the board and the further it will get from its mission.
Chioffi said he doesn’t recall using the n-word publicly and asked that Faignant speak with him later to refresh his memory.
“That’s one of the things that really irritates me in society is that you can't use that term he’s talking about in any context whatsoever, whether it’s to define it or talk about whether it’s in a book or whether it’s in a quote or anything else,” said Chioffi. “Apparently, the only ones that can use that term, that name, the only ones that can use it are the people that it refers to. They can use it freely, and there’s no problem. And obviously context is important.”
He said he’s never shown animosity towards any race, creed or color.
Selectwoman Sharon Russell said that she is of Italian heritage and when she was young had racial slurs used against her. She was initially in favor of supporting the declaration, but was swayed by Faignant’s arguments. She said the statement is nothing without the belief to back it up.
Selectman Joe Denardo said he’s likewise of Italian descent, but didn’t experience heavy discrimination. He echoed Russell and Faignant’s comments.
Ashcroft pointed out that the town was founded in 1761 and that it wasn’t until 2020 that the Select Board named a woman to be its chair.
“So, is there some history of discrimination? You tell me,” she said. “I’m going to vote 'no' on this motion because I think (the declaration) is appropriately brought before us by the townspeople, and we deserve to affirm the values of our town.”