Letter: Brattleboro deserves real actions for sustainability

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Editor of the Reformer,

I am a pro-science Select Board member who believes that climate change is real and should be addressed in real ways. If we are to spend taxpayer money on sustainability and energy efficiency, I believe we must make the smart investments that result in real value for our environment and our community.

In his recent commentary ("Brattleboro deserves a sustainability coordinator," July 15), Oscar Heller paints a picture of a Select Board that is less than responsive to the desires of Representative Town Meeting, and I must strongly disagree with this sentiment. In re-watching the Town Meeting, it became clear to me that while much emotion and desire to help our planet was present, a clear will to precisely fund a coordinator position was absolutely not. The discussion of the article, coming at literally the 11th hour of a 13 hour meeting, went on for 50 minutes, with total of 10 speaking of the desire for action on the article. Seven of those ten representatives spoke for raising the amount for "sustainability and/or energy efficiency" from $10,000 to $50,000. When a member inquired as to how much would be needed for a full-time coordinator, and was told by our town manager that $50,000 would not be enough for that purpose, it was then that the motion was made to raise the amount to $100,000. Only 3 people (including the amendment proposer) spoke in favor of that doubling, and one representative spoke against the move. That motion, as the one opposed representative described as "rash decision", passed with only 59 percent of the vote - clearly the body was not of one mind when it came to a full-time sustainability coordinator. When the final vote came it's visually clear (since no count was taken) that the body's majority favored the amended article's $100,000 expenditure "to be spent at the Select Board's discretion for energy efficiency and/or sustainability purposes." Again, this is in no way a clear directive from the body to hire a sustainability coordinator.

Even if one was to believe that RTM body had given the Select Board a clear directive here, it is still true that it is not RTM that makes staff hiring decisions: that is the Select Board's role, as it should be. Your Select Board spends multiple meetings and countless hours pouring over the budget over the course of several months, insuring that taxpayer funds are being spent wisely. That's our job. I do not believe it is appropriate, nor democratic, for a portion of Representative Town Meeting to then demand that we add a position that has not been vetted by first staff and then your Select Board.

Returning to my original point concerning appropriate actions, the working group that formed around this idea seems to have started with the question, "What should the sustainability coordinator do?" rather than what I believe is the more appropriate questions of, "What have we done so far, what could we do better, and what actions will have real impact on sustainability for Brattleboro?" Indeed, in their presentation to us last Tuesday, a great many of their desired actions of a proposed coordinator had either already been funded and put into motion by town staff, or not within the purview of Brattleboro as a municipal entity.

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Finally, and most importantly, I want to make it clear that I hear that the citizens of Brattleboro want to make real efforts that make our community more sustainable. But paying someone a hefty salary, every year, who will then come back to us to ask us for more money each year to actually make those actions occur, is NOT the wise choice today. We have a community full of smart people who can come together and democratically decide which steps should be taken, and advise the Selectboard of such during our budget process. Indeed, is this not the role of the Energy Committee? Why add a highly paid staff member to make decisions that must be vetted democratically anyway? Why don't we change the Energy Committee's name to the Sustainability Committee, and begin a democratic decision-making process that will create a more resilient Brattleboro? In the meantime, let's spend that $100,000 on a real action that will make a difference.

The sustainability coordinator position that was proposed did not meet the criteria that we should all be demanding: real, measurable action that results in a more sustainable Brattleboro. Pumping the brakes on this unwise path was completely appropriate. Let's work together and find those actions that will truly make a difference.

Tim Wessel

Brattleboro Select Board Vice-Chair

July 15


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