Letter: Do votes matter in Vermont?
I recently thought of an ad campaign I am thinking of pitching to the state: COME MOVE TO BEAUTIFUL VERMONT—WHERE YOUR VOTE on local issues DOESN'T count!
The state has recently (started in June) begun a campaign to get young, "E-Workers" who can work at their job via the internet to move to Vermont by offering a $10,000 dollar incentive to do so! Unfortunately, one of the key things that has been attractive about living in VT is being undermined. I believe that what will really attract young people to Vermont (besides the obvious natural beauty) is that the ideals Vermont has always held dear are now becoming more desirable by many young people. There is in the larger culture a recognition of the importance of strong, local communities. This is especially true as it relates to the local food movement, which Vermont has been a national leader in. But this also applies to the desire of many young people (in this age of Trump) to have a voice in their governance — and of course in how their children are educated. Strong local governance has been a hallmark of the Vermont way of life and is one of the reasons many of us have found it a desirable place to live and work. The state is really shooting itself in the foot by thinking that imposing mergers on school districts that have voted overwhelmingly against them is somehow in its best interest!
While election issues, voter suppression, and gerrymandering are all issues of national concern, currently we seem to have a unique voting issue at play here in Vermont which is having voting that does not count for anything! As you are all well aware, in November, there was a vote on the merger proposal for Act 46. Votes were held in all merger proposed towns of Putney, Guilford, Brattleboro, and Dummerston. The merger proposal was defeated not in one town (which is all that was needed for it not to be approved) but in all four towns! And it was not defeated narrowly, but by what would be called a landslide in any election. Very close to 70 percent of voters in Putney and Brattleboro voted it down, over 60 percent in Guilford and over 80 percent in Dummerston!
What did the study committee that put together the merger proposal do with the outcome of this landslide vote? The committee ignored it. They sent the merger proposal that had been roundly rejected by their constituents to the state for approval! It is not simply the gall that took that disturbs me, but actually the paucity of thought, and the shortsightedness of it. One has to wonder what level of defeat of the proposal would have prompted them to act in accord with the wishes of their voters? If each town had hit the over 80 percent mark that Dummerston had, would that have been enough? Or maybe each town voting at 95 percent to defeat the proposal would have made the will of the electorate count for something? Or maybe not? Who knows? What we do know is that we should all be concerned and elected officials in particular when a small un-elected body decides that they know better than their constituents what is good for them!
How about we have elections for local offices, but if, say, the select board of the town does not like the outcome they decide they really know much better than the voters who should have won — and work to install this "much better candidate?"
It should not need to be said, but obviously this issue of election results actually mattering is really of critical importance for our democracy. At this point it supersedes my concern about the merger. And I think that people on both sides of the merger issue need to be alarmed. For who knows — it could have gone the other way, maybe a small group of anti-merger people could have been in charge of the recommendation to the state and the vote went pro merger — but hey, "we know better." I am sure you will agree — this is a dangerous road to go down!
Act 46 as it was written — and amended by Act 49, clearly had provisions for what is called an Alternate Governance Structure — an AGS has been well thought out and proposed for the district. We have several key legislators who are in favor of this alternative, including Mike Mrowicki — who has studied this issue extensively and feels it is the smarter way to meet the requirements of Act 46. We are in no way unique in our state in rejecting merger proposals —o ver 90 other school districts chose not to merge as well. The state Board of Education has conducted several forums for eliciting citizen input, the last of which is in our southern area and is being held in Chester on Sept. 19. I urge everyone concerned about our schools — and our democracy — to come!
Putney, Sept. 12
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