Essex Boards Dazzled by Legislators
12/28/20 Joint Selectboard and Trustee Meeting
by Irene Wrenner
December 31, 2020
Vermont House Representatives and Senators from both sides of the aisle were welcomed to the Joint Board Meeting on December 28th.
From the start, deviation from the agenda led to a sense of chaos, as the Chair flitted back and forth among items, with a minority of peers resisting her direction on two topics.
On the Agenda
Top of the agenda was acknowledging the retirement of long-serving District 8-1 Rep Linda Myers. This included a resolution of appreciation to be signed by the SB, on which she once served. Why the Trustees were also expected to sign is unknown, considering Meyers, as 8-1 rep and Selectboard member, never represented the Village exclusively, as they do.
Before the boards forgot to pass the resolution with Myers was present, a hearty round of commendations was offered by fellow state and local legislators. The former cheerleading coach was lauded for being “a cheerleader for the townspeople in the best sense of the word”. She is well known for introducing resolutions at the statehouse to commend Essex residents on exemplary performance.
This was the second resolution the non-partisan SB has bestowed on Myers. She received a similar one upon leaving the Select Board in 2014.
Not on the Agenda
Other exiting Essex House Reps are Democrat Dylan Giambatista (8-2) after four years and Republican Bob Bancroft (8-3) after six. Curiously absent from the agenda was any recognition of their service. Could this oversight be fallout from years of male domination? The Essex delegation to the statehouse is now entirely female and may not be looking back anytime soon.
Giambatista, an affable and articulate Village Rep, ran unsuccessfully for Senate this summer and appears in the middle photo above. Bancroft, a PhD economist with a dozen years of SB service himself, strongly encouraged legislators to pass the “3+3” charter change in 2020, championing his Town-outside-the-Village constituents’ need for equal and fair representation at the local level.
Members of the public were not afforded an opportunity to share their own statements of gratitude toward any of the retiring House Reps, even when attempted via a “Point of Order” call from the audience.
Tamping down and criticising public comment in SB meetings is becoming routine. Earlier this month SB member Vince Franco articulated a bitter denunciation of input from unfamiliar audience members, as well as those he’s heard from repeatedly. In November, the Chair herself warned against listening to the voices of those who regularly attend.
Legislators briefed attendees on a number of challenges:
COVID-19 relief for municipalities, businesses, residents
Common level of appraisal impact on school and municipal taxes
Town Meeting in the time of COVID
Extending the State’s Local Government Expense Reimbursement program
Act 250 revisions
Potential merger of Village and Town
Status of 3+3 Selectboard charter change
Expectations for upcoming biennium
Citing remote meetings being slower and less efficient than in-person ones, legislators cautioned all to rein in any expectations of seeing preferred legislation passed in a timely manner.
Merger: Selectboard member Andy Watts asked about the likely outcome of the legislature approving a Village merger proposal that differs from the one the SB may warn for a town-wide vote in March.
Echoing Watts’ characterization of that situation as a “whole ugly mess”, Senator Ginny Lyons expressed uncertainty about how the legislature might resolve it, assuming it gets there.
Cannabis: Watts also noted that legal cannabis is coming. Will towns be ready? There’s no municipal representation on the Cannabis Control Board, and that should change. The one-size-fits-all fee structure isn’t appropriate; municipalities are different. They should be treated differently. Timing is tight. How might we adjust zoning? If a vote is necessary, how will we fit that in?
Act 250: Haney stated that if Act 250 is discussed in the next biennium, she’d like a potential waiver for downtown centers, allowing less-restricted development.
Racial Justice: Selectboard member Pat Murray noted that Essex is conducting a fairly extensive racial justice program and seeks such introspection on a statewide scale. Representative-Elect Tanya Vyhovsky (8-1) is already working with Racial Justice Alliance and other advocates on how this might work.
Social Services Funding: The pandemic has identified gaps in the provision of social services, which are in desperate need of funding. Local officials recognized those needs and asserted that merely level-funding any service organization, a common practice, causes it to fall further behind.
In addition, they asked that the state avoid unfunded mandates.
Transportation: Transportation needs funding as well, at least as a percentage match for the Federal Highway Funds anticipated in nearby towns to manage traffic along routes known at Circ Alternatives.
While discussing mass transit service options Selectboard member Pat Murray jested, “How about a monorail?”
Disclaimer: Stock photo, not ETC Next (yet)
But Murray wasn’t kidding when he suggested earlier that artists are among the many who have lost their livelihoods to COVID and need economic relief.
Although traffic ordinance changes were tabled as a whole, due to more staff work required, a long-requested reduction in the speed limit along Sand Hill Road, near Founders Road, was acted upon. A public hearing will be held on January 11th to consider that singular proposal for a 25 MPH School Zone in that particularly dangerous area for pedestrians crossing and children boarding buses.
Click on the map for closer examination.