Letter: Select board has a right - and a duty - to decry racism

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Editor of the Reformer,

Chris Mays' "Statement requested on anti-BLM graffiti" on Thursday, September 10, summarized debate at Newfane's Select Board meeting (Sept. 8) on whether the town has the responsibility to issue a public statement decrying racist graffiti. Arguments that the Select Board is only an administrative body or that anti-racist work is only for private citizens or coalitions miss the point and unduly tie the hands of a select board.

According to Vermont Statutes (24 V.S.A. 872), the select board shall have the general supervision of the affairs of the town and shall perform all duties required of towns and town school districts not committed by law to the care of any particular officer. The Vermont Secretary of State notes that select boards have general supervision and control over the town and the ability to enact ordinances, regulations, and policies.

The racist graffiti on Route 30 in Newfane is certainly an "affair of the town." Since select boards have control over town policies, then they are enabled to support statements of policy that serve as guidelines for their actions and the conduct of town business. Support for a policy of anti-racism would seem to be the minimum requirement for its conduct and that of the town of Newfane in general. A statement affirming that Newfane "respects and cherishes all of its citizens" supports core values undergirding fundamental rights of due process and equal protection.

As a resident of Newfane, I want my Select Board to understand the power of its influence and its capacity to act. I do not want my Select Board members to hide, by mistake or by intention, behind a false sense that their purview is limited or that their hands are tied. It is not merely an administrative body!

True, select boards are not omnipotent and Vermont is not a home rule state meaning that towns can only do what they are specifically authorized by Montpelier to undertake. But even there, the statutes around town governance are broad enough to include issuing statements decrying racism. If the select boards of Dover and Jamaica and other local towns can do it, so can Newfane. Otherwise, what can we conclude with their silence?

Ken Estey

Newfane, Sept. 10

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