The Keep Pawlet Awesome Meeting

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On Wednesday night I went to the “Community Values Mapping Project” meeting, mainly to find out what the Hell it was. Normally, if you come up with a meeting name like that, I’d explain regretfully that I can’t possibly attend because I have to do something much more fun like de-mold my shower curtain.

But Harry Van Meter, the chair of the Pawlet Planning Commission kept telling everyone this was terribly important, and so I trusted him, without really knowing anything more. It turns out that the long, not-very-informative name of the meeting wasn’t Harry’s fault: the meeting was named and sponsored by the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, as part of a statewide initiative.

But “Fish and Wildlife”? Strangely enough makes me think of fishing and hunting, neither of which I do. So what had this meeting to do with me?

Turns out a lot. Because this meeting really should have been called the “Keep Pawlet Awesome” meeting. Vermont Fish and Wildlife facilitator Monica Przyperhark explained that this meeting was all about identifying what aspects of our town we most loved, and communicating to both our town and the state that we’d like to see those aspects preserved.

It didn’t have to be about fishing or wildlife, although it could be. Ms. Pryperhark supplied large Pawlet maps and colorful markers with instructions to identify and label those things we most love about Pawlet.

Oh! Well that was easy! I circled our historic town center, and Haystack Mountain, and all of Route 30 with its beautiful rolling farm landscape, all aspects of our town that I can’t imagine it without. Others circled the Rail Trail, wildlife habitats and swimming holes. When all was said and done, we had marked our map up quite thoroughly.

The end result of this exercise will be to compile all the colorful lines and squiggles into a single report. This report then goes to the Pawlet Planning Commission, who will have the opportunity to incorporate it into the new Town Plan.

This isn’t just fluff. As Harry explained at the meeting, Vermont has impending clean energy initiatives that will require towns to incorporate renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar. If we don’t identify the characteristics that make our town the wonderful place we want to live, we could- for example- wake up one morning and find our favorite view has been replaced by a solar array. I mean, solar power is great, but it isn’t always the prettiest thing to look at.

As our Planning Commission pulls together the road map for the future of our community, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department will be providing them with lots of information to help that process, including statistics about our area’s wildlife, ecosystems, and migration patterns. But they will also provide us with this compiled report which is intended to serve as a sort of mirror: What do we want? What do we care about? What is worth preserving? What makes Pawlet the awesome place it is?

So if you’re like me, you are probably curious as to what this report will actually say.  To find out, come to the Ms. Pryperhark’s presentation of it on Thursday, Nov. 14th at the Mettowee Community School. I THINK it is supposed to be at 7PM, but don’t quote me on that because it is possible I made that part up.

(When you arrive, you can tell them you’re there for the Keep Pawlet Awesome report. No one will know what you’re talking about, but I’m pretty sure it will feel much more exciting.)

Elevator to Nowhere

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I’ve lived in a small Vermont town for the last 22 years. In that time one thing has struck me time and again: how very, very, very important it is To Show Up. Unlike the large, anonymous suburb where I was raised, in a small town one person’s voice really can change the conversation, turn the tide, make a difference. I’ve seen it.

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Pawlet Projects Committee circa 2000 (That’s me with baby Greta in the front row middle)

 

The only catch is that it takes time. Years ago, our local Town Meeting used to take a whole day and involve voting on the floor. Today? Town Meeting is held at night, competing with dinner hour, homework and a million other commitments. Attendance is dwindling and consequently so is participation.

Inevitably, there are those who like it better that way. After all, when you have meetings no one shows up to, you can get a lot done, without all the messy, uncomfortable questions that public participation can bring.

I’ll give you a for instance. Last December I was asked to join the Library Board in my town of Pawlet, so I went to a meeting to find out more. I learned that they were contemplating an expansion to the library projected to cost the town $300,000, yet at the time no one on the Library Board seemed to be particularly in favor of it.

This struck me as odd. Something was up, I thought. I decided not to join the Library Board.

Instead, I spent the next few months showing up. I attended meetings and asked questions. I found out that it all started when the Pawlet Library asked the Select Board to fix a simple problem: in the winter months the handicapped access ramp was covered with falling ice and snow. Could anything be done about this? An architect was hired.

This is when the $300,000 project was introduced.

As you can imagine, the expensive plan doesn’t just fix the ramp’s ice and snow problem. Instead, it calls for the existing handicapped access ramp to be demolished, and a whole new entryway added. It calls for an elevator to the lower level and for a handicapped access bathroom to be added there.

Which would be great if there was this awesome series of rooms that was anxiously awaiting access down there, but unfortunately there isn’t. What is down there is what you would expect in the basement of a three-room schoolhouse built in 1912: a small basement room with tiny windows and two large support columns obstructing the center.

It is called the Matt Waite Room, because several years ago it was fixed up and turned into usable space in memory of one of our beloved residents. I’m not knocking this space, mind you- it would be perfect as a room for additional book stacks, or extra reading space, or perhaps more computer carrels… but all of these uses are redundant to the ones upstairs and would therefore not necessitate an expensive elevator.

The fact is that no one has ever formally complained about poor access to this room- I know, because I asked. That’s probably because there are many great meeting spaces in town that not only accommodate large groups and exhibitions, but already have handicapped access: the elementary school gym, the Congregational Church meeting room, and the Pawlet Town Hall auditorium. Which means that to date our town has spent over $12,500 on architectural plans that solve a nonexistent problem.

Why?

The reason repeatedly given to me was because the Select Board wanted it. By showing up, however, anyone could plainly see this was not the case. In fact, clear support was expressed by only one of the five Select Board members.

All of this is weird enough. But then I attended the most recent Library Board meeting. I gave them an actual transcript from a Select Board meeting, demonstrating the lack of consensus, so that they didn’t have to just take my word for it.

Now, I really didn’t expect them to say, “Hey thanks, Eve! You know, for doing all this work to try to clear up the confusion! ” But I also didn’t expect what did happen.

The Chair of the Library Board eyed me. She skeptically cited my attendance at many meetings, and how much time was involved. Then she said: “I have to ask. What is your motivation in all this?

As a matter of fact, I do have a motivation. I was one of the founding members of the Pawlet Projects Committee, which worked to save the abandoned schoolhouse in our historic town center, ultimately turning it into our beautiful community library. The first meeting was held in my living room. For years we worked tirelessly to fundraise and grant-write, and ultimately to move the library from a cramped room of the Town Hall to its expansive new site across the street.

But all that is assuming that simply being a concerned citizen is not enough, which it is. I understand that the Library Board wants me to go away and stop asking uncomfortable questions. But you know what? Whether this project- this elevator to nowhere- gets built or not, I have a right to show up. We all do. We all have a right to disagree, and we all have a right to ask questions. Even uncomfortable ones.

Especially uncomfortable ones.

In fact, as it turns out, that’s what public meetings are for.

So I encourage you to show up. Go to your next public meeting- no matter what it is­— Zoning Board, Planning Commission, Design Review Board— and See What’s Happening. Yes, it will take time, and yes there will be boredom- there’s always that. But you never know what you might find out, what questions you might ask that will make a difference. If you live in Pawlet show up and ask why we need a $300,000 boondoggle instead of a nice, serviceable ramp roof. If they look at you askance and ask you what your motivation is, you will know: you’re doing some good.

Town Meeting is SOON

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Get ready Pawlet people! Town Meeting approaches… scheduled for Monday, March 4th at the Mettawee Community School.

Please note that this meeting will not include the school budget. (The school budget meeting is on Feb 27th, 7 PM, Mettawee Community School.)

Curious what’s on the ballot this year? LOTS of stuff- it’s long this year, but nothing terribly crazy or controversial- it’s mostly requests from various local nonprofit organizations. Here it is:

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Chesnut-Tangerman Responds; Cleveland Opts Out

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Monday night at the Pawlet firehouse there was an interesting development in the race for district representative. In an open forum, intended to showcase the different viewpoints of the men running to represent our lovely corner of Vermont: one of the two candidates failed to show up.

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A Full House Monday Night at the Candidate Forum

Not that anyone was particularly surprised by this fact. Ed Cleveland, who is running in hopes of unseating third term incumbent Robin Chesnut-Tangerman, had early on declined to participate in the forum.

Nevertheless, more than one voter— both those who know Cleveland personally, as well as others who have never met him— stood up not so much to ask a question, as to express disappointment and frustration that Cleveland would not appear to discuss his views, and explain how they might differ from the incumbent’s. In an unusual move, Cleveland seems to be participating in no public events in support of his candidacy.

Instead of the hoped-for dialogue, Chesnut-Tangerman took the opportunity to introduce himself as a candidate he hopes has been “building a reputation for being serious, consistent, and open-minded,” and took questions from the audience.

Many questions centered on the controversial proposed “carbon tax,” which aims to encourage alternate, sustainable energy sources by increasing gas taxes a total of 35 cents per gallon over the next eight years.

“The question is not ‘Are we going to have a carbon tax?'” Chesnut-Tangerman said, “the question is, ‘What are we going to do about climate change?’ A carbon tax is just one tool.” he went on to point out that he does not support Vermont “going it alone” with a carbon tax, but only if it were implemented throughout the New England region in a coordinated effort.

He said that many ways to mitigate the negative effects of such a tax are being explored, such as the exclusion of off-road diesel used by farming equipment, and the purchase of electric school buses with Vermont’s share of money from the Volkswagen settlement. Chesnut-Tangerman added that although he supports the carbon tax in theory, it is unlikely to move forward if Governor Scott is reelected.

Also covered was a proposed plan to change the manner in which public education receives funding: deriving from a percentage of resident income rather than, as it does now, from property taxes. Property taxes are not a reliable indicator of ability to pay, Chesnut-Tangerman explained, stating that over 70 percent of Vermont residents receive income sensitivity adjustments to their property tax bills.

“Why not just tax income?” Chesnut-Tangerman said, indicating that this would result in greater fairness and “equity in our tax payments.”

Other issues covered were the fact that Chesnut-Tangerman does not accept any PAC or corporate campaign donations, the lack of adequate funding for mental health facilities and continuing education, and that, although he disagrees with Governor Scott on many issues, he commended the governor for changing his position on gun control.

“I see that as political courage,” Chesnut-Tangerman said.

Asked to name the top ideas he’d focus on if reelected, Chesnut-Tangerman cited conductivity (broad band expansion), a livable minimum wage, and health care.

www.RobinForRep.com                https://clevelandforhouse.org/

 

You’re Kidding Me, Right? Rupert Revote TODAY

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SCHOOL MERGER REVOTE: RUPERT POLLS OPEN TODAY 10 AM to 7PM

Remember how I was afraid to be happy about the school merger vote passing in both Rupert and Pawlet? How I had this weird, lingering doubt that this contentious issue could possibly have been put to rest at last?

Funny story.

Turns out some Rupert residents petitioned for- and got- the right to revote the merger question.

So… right.

Maybe I just haven’t been paying attention, but this particular vote seems to me to be especially, almost troublingly, quiet– especially in contrast to the previous hubbubs. I have yet to see ANY publicizing of the vote today in any of the local media. I haven’t driven through Rupert lately, so I don’t know if there are exclamation-point-filled signs out arguing with each other again, but somehow I doubt it. Mum seems to be the word this time- on both sides.

To make it legal, of course, a few days ago they still had to hold the four-zillionth public informational meeting- also unpublicized as far as I could tell. Maybe you’re one of the people who could bear to go rehash the same arguments over yet again, who isn’t sick to death of the division, the bickering, and what has devolved into some pretty nasty name-calling. I wasn’t.

I love asking super-obvious questions so here goes: is there a single solitary soul left in either town who is still on the fence here? Are any minds being changed at this point? I don’t think so. Rather, I think this is more of an “Are you sure??” vote.

So, for better or for worse the moment is here— again— for Rupert residents to be heard. Please Rupert- go vote. Today. For crying out loud.

And stay tuned.

Pawlet Rupert Merger Approved

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The Pawlet Rupert School Merger was approved yesterday by a vote of 259 to 201 in Pawlet and a vote of 150 to 142 in Rupert… It needed to be approved in both towns in order to be viable, so Rupert’s slim margin of only six votes proves more than ever that every single vote really does count.

Are we allowed to feel relieved that this years-long decision may finally be resolved? I’m not sure yet. This argument has gone on so long, and had so many unexpected twists and turns it’s been like a soap opera that never ends… But nevertheless, tomorrow I’ll be giving thanks that our community may finally be able to move on.

Signs of a Town Divided

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In case you’ve been a hermit for the last few months, I’d like to let you know that our towns have a vote today. Simply put, the question is whether or not the voters of Pawlet and Rupert want to approve the school merger plan. The plan consolidates our school districts, does not designate any particular high school, and would keep us part of the BRSU (Bennington Rutland Supervisory Union.) Polls open at 10AM and close at 7PM. There will also be the opportunity to vote for members of the new merged school board.

If you harbor any doubt that our two towns are a bit -ah- conflicted about the school merger vote today, all you need to do is take a little sightseeing tour of the area. The signs are everywhere. Literally.

I have to give the “NO” signs points for better creativity and enthusiasm… you’ll notice many of the signs say “no” as many as six or eight times. 

The yes signs are out in abundance too, but most of them don’t even say “yes” on them… which I thought was a little weird.

And then there are the defaced signs. I ran across two prominent signs which had been spray painted with red cross-out symbols to forcibly transform them from “yes” to “no”…

See what I mean? Conflicted. I don’t know what the results of today’s vote will be, but can we all agree that this debate has gone on for far too long and been far too debilitating to the fabric of our community?

For my part, I now know that there are some folks in town who will never think I’m a “real” resident, for a variety of arbitrary reasons- I moved here, my whole family doesn’t live here, I don’t work in a local business- and I’m kind of sorry to know that. I liked my illusion better: that we all lived in one town and despite our differences, despite our debates, we could all agree on one thing: we are a community. And a damn good one at that.

So okay. I still love my town, even if every last inch of it might not love me back. I can live with that. No matter the results of today’s vote, there will still be kids in Pawlet, and Rupert too. They’ll still go to school, and we still care about them all.