Inclusion is good for people and business. I would like to thank Bob Harnish, Al Wakefield and Liz DiMarco Weinmann for their outreach to Gov. Phil Scott and town select boards across Vermont on the idea of Declaration of Inclusion. Not only is being welcoming and inclusive the right thing to do, it will also help Vermont rebuild a better economy after the pandemic. As a tourist destination, Vermont must continue to attract visitors. Vermont also needs more young people, families and small businesses. We want young people to stay in Vermont while also welcoming newcomers.
Thus far in Rutland County, the towns of Pittsford, Brandon, Pittsfield and Rutland City have adopted Declarations of Inclusion. Elsewhere in Vermont, so have Middlebury, Waterbury, Franklin and Moretown.
As a resident and taxpayer in Rutland Town, I am disappointed our Select Board did not adopt the Declaration of Inclusion presented at the May 25 Select Board meeting. I was not able to attend, but watched the meeting later via PEG-TV’s YouTube channel.
First, the good news: I would like to thank the 10 citizens who joined the Zoom call in support of the Declaration of Inclusion, seven of whom spoke in support. You can view the citizen statements from Steve Dardick, Marcia, Steve Schindler, John Liccardi, Matt Getty, Joe Kraus and Karen Prescott from 2:30-18:15 in the video. I was impressed with their thoughtful and heartfelt comments. The Declaration of Inclusion was read by Steve Dardick from 3:00-4:00 in video.
Mr. Schindler described an incident while he played soccer (an international sport) on the Polo Field in Rutland Town, with a group that included some men of color and their children. During the soccer game, someone drove by yelling racial slurs, including the n-word.
Ms. Prescott, a retired teacher and school administrator, said, “We don’t always see what kids see and hear, but it’s real, it’s there every day. … We’re not always aware of what’s happening, but the kids are. It’s our job in the town to protect those kids.”
Matthew Getty, Rutland Town moderator, said, “I really appreciate the way that the Declaration was drafted … I think if we can all agree on what the goal is as to the type of community that we want to foster and create, that’s the first step. If we can agree on the general principles in this declaration, then when particular controversies arise from time to time as they will, we can debate those in a context of understanding that an inclusive community is what we are trying to create in Rutland Town. We may not always agree on how to get there, but we will at least agree on that baseline principle.”
Joe Kraus, former moderator for Project VISION, said, “We only get an opportunity to act on these sorts of things once in a lifetime. The statement that has been crafted is eminently reasonable. It’s hard to find anything controversial or provocative about it. It states some very basic truths about life and the value of human life.”
Now, the bad news: Not only did the Rutland Town Select Board not adopt the Declaration of Inclusion but on a 4-1 vote, they actually “filibustered.” In other words, the Select Board voted to not even discuss and vote on the Declaration of Inclusion itself.
If you watch the video from 18:16-39:22, you can hear the statements of Select Board “Member 1” and his “filibuster motion.” He called the declaration a “petition” but it sounded to me more like a resolution or statement of values. He then went on about the various “Oaths of Allegiance” to Vermont and the U.S. Constitution he has taken, and expressed legalistic concerns. If you heard the actual declaration, you would notice there is no ordinance or legal penalties prescribed. Next, Select Board “Member 2” does a roundabout seconding of the filibuster motion by “Member 1” while at the same time throwing some shade onto “Member 1.” At different points during the filibuster motion, the back and forth between these two members continued.
As a Rutland Town resident, the Select Board’s filibuster segment was embarrassing to watch. If I wasn’t from Rutland Town, I would nominate this segment as fodder for a Saturday Night Live sketch.
I give kudos to Select Board Chair Mary Ashcroft, for voting “No” on the filibuster motion. In Ms. Ashcroft’s statement (35:38 — 36:33), she quipped: “I’m sitting here looking at a copy of our Town of Rutland letterhead. … Our town was incorporated Sept. 7, 1761. Last year in 2020 was the first time that a woman was elected as chair of the Select Board. So is there some history of discrimination? You tell me.”
Four members of the Rutland Town Select Board don’t believe this type of statement of values or resolution should be part of the business of the Town of Rutland. If the citizens who took time to speak could not convince them based on common decency (The Golden Rule), then maybe they might respond on economic terms.
Rutland Town’s annual report booklet cover traditionally features a local business or development, rather than a mountain vista or scenic view, as do other towns. Businesses rely on customers. Customers expect to be treated fairly and with respect. Customers will take their business where they feel welcomed.
Before the pandemic, I worked four seasons as a part-time ski instructor at Killington, often teaching beginners from of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. I’ve taught people from Boston, New York City, Florida and California. I taught a college student from Mexico City and a Chinese grandmother who wanted to be able to ski with her grandchildren. I would love to see skiing and snowboarding continue in Vermont for the long run, and I welcome anyone who wants to enjoy Vermont’s world-class ski resorts.
The Rutland Young Professionals and CEDRR (Chamber and Economic Development of the Rutland Region) have also adopted Declarations of Inclusion. Why not “business friendly” Rutland Town?
I hope these Declarations of Inclusion will spread throughout Vermont and as a state and a people, we become more welcoming and inclusive, not only in word but in action.
Ron Pulcer lives in Rutland Town.