In the past decade, I’ve testified before the City Council about two compelling issues. Years ago, I spoke out passionately to prevent the building of a multi-story parking garage filling the river front space bordered by Aubuchon and Positive Pie. A host of vehement architects and city planners joined in that appeal. A few years later, deep concern about Tasers again brought me to speak out. In preparation, I’d sent fact-filled letters to each council member and Chief Facos. Slick films from the Taser manufacturer and pleas from the police force did not carry the day.

My enduring take away from those sometimes-heated exchanges remains etched in a deep admiration for the respectful, mature, mutual regard of all the contesting parties. Montpelier’s unique civic normality developed over many decades. Such a treasure is slowly constructed, maintained with intelligence, and never undermined. However, in times of stress, some may take advantage of the thin, restraining sinews of this precious heritage.

To learn that a spokesman, partly salaried with city funds, urged local businesses to withhold Times Argus advertising in retribution for an “anti-business” editorial, speaks to a new low in civic responsibility. The Times Argus urging the full range of legal hearings about the city-supported garage proposal, represents the essence of responsible journalism.

As someone who’s shopped and dined regularly in Montpelier for two decades, the fact that some familiar businesses may have answered the call to drop Times Argus advertisements can only be defined as ugly extortion. Hard to believe some very expensive additional downtown parking spaces warrant tossing away one’s personal integrity to target a fabricated fall guy.

Not a Montpelier resident, I could not vote on the parking garage bond issue. As a longtime student of finite energy, the growing urgency of a societal response to climate disruption, and the widespread unconscionable myopia about public investment in any major fossil-related infrastructure, I, like hundreds of Montpelier residents, would have voted “no.”

Over time, responsible citizens will restore the once enviable civic normality of Montpelier. And, over time, rationally informed public awareness about climate disruption will prevent such misdirected commitment of public funds.

Erik Esselstyn lives in North Montpelier.

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