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Letters to the Editor (3/2/22)


Published March 2, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.

Check Your Facts — Again

The editor's note on my letter of February 23 [Feedback: "South Burlington City Councilor Responds..."] compels me to write again.

According to the South Burlington planning director, there are two designations of the southeast quadrant, aka SEQ: One is a zoning area; another, regulatory. These new regulations affect a larger area than the zoning area called the SEQ. The number of homes in the regulatory quadrant will remain the same, thanks to a zoning change of a large property near the Tilley Drive medical complex: upwards of 500 new housing units. With that zoning change — in an area that could, as a result, draw public transit to a major medical campus — the area south of the interstate and east of Spear Street will have a housing potential of 1,334 homes, compared to 1,184 under the old regs — a net increase. That clarification was not included in the editor's note, and so I wish to provide those numbers to the readers. Finally, as the editor notes, on the relatively few parcels in the SEQ that are less than four acres in size, the regulations currently permit 1.2 units of housing — but that stands to change as the planning commission now tackles infill regulations.

By requiring dense housing, South Burlington's new regulations will make our city more socioeconomically integrated, more environmentally sustainable and more fiscally sustainable, because they will provide more entry-level housing to our workers entering the workforce so that our economic base can grow. They're a huge step forward.

Meaghan Emery

South Burlington

Emery is vice chair of the South Burlington City Council.

Editor's note: The original story ["Zoned Out," February 9] was intended to describe the zoning area rather than the regulatory one. But the article incorrectly defined the boundaries of the zoning area, which is contained by Swift and Spear streets and the Shelburne and Williston town lines. We apologize for the error, which led to the confusion in last week's editor's note.

Miss Maggie

[Re From the Publisher: "Good Neighbor," February 23]: Today I planned to make a reservation at Maggie Sherman's One of a Kind Bed & Breakfast in Burlington. The news was shockingly sad. Unlike almost all the other B&Bs we visited, we had fun with Maggie. She tried out our dinky car, and we shared drinks together in town. So, for however brief, we enjoyed her company and style.

Alan Schwartz and Cate Cowan

Washington, D.C.

Better Bethel

Thanks for Anne Wallace Allen's useful article ["Democracy How?" February 23] about town meeting traditions. An important fact left out is that Title 21 VSA Section 472b of the Vermont Statutes provides that any employee may take a day off to attend town meeting so long as they notify their employer at least seven days in advance, subject to their job not being "essential." The only hitch is that this is an unpaid day.

In Bethel (population 2,000), we formed a Town Meeting Committee in 2012. We did a number of things to educate folks and increase attendance. (Free pie was a hit.) The most lasting thing we did was to create a Bethel Operator's Manual: everything you need to know about living, working and playing in Bethel, Vt. We were inspired by, and received kind assistance from, Susan Clark and the Middlesex Operator's Manual. 

Our manual is a 75-page, graphically accessible directory available free to each household at betheloperatorsmanualvt. org and on our town web page. I spotted a well-worn copy on the seat of a selectboard member's pickup, even though he has lived here his entire life.  

Our committee would be happy for other communities to create their own town manual using ours as inspiration. These manuals can be incredibly useful to newcomers to Vermont, and everyone will find something they did not know.

Let's keep town meetings as in-person events. So much community glue happens in these couple of hours. 

Victoria Weber


Weber is a member of the Bethel Town Meeting Committee.

'True Democracy'

I am writing in response to your article "Democracy How?" [February 23]. I hope that my perspective will give old-time — and new-time — Vermonters some food for thought.

First, anything that reduces impediments to voter participation should be embraced. Voting should allow for all options: early voting, voting by mail and in person for every voter.

Second, there is great value in allowing people to share their views so that others can consider various perspectives. This is particularly critical in this time of fake news and social media silos. Therefore, any mechanism that allows for the exchange of perspectives should be supported.

With that in mind, I believe we should continue to provide a real-time venue for people to meet in person and explain their rationale for their positions (and/or send in their thoughts to be read aloud) before the actual deadline for voting.

This model has worked well for me in the past. Before each election, I invited people with diverse views and political stances to brunch. Each person would make whatever arguments they had for their positions. Others might have asked clarifying questions, but we did not engage in arguments; we just listened and considered varying points of view.

I hope that communities in Vermont will continue to follow a participatory model for decision making while maximizing the options for voter participation. In many ways, Vermont demonstrates the best of small-town personal involvement and true democracy. We should treasure that combination as we continually strive to be as inclusive of all Vermont citizens as we can.

Ann Gross


Two Kinds of Freedom

[Re "Crowds at Burlington City Council Meetings Are Becoming Increasingly Uncivil," December 22, 2021]: "Freedom, freedom, freedom!" the anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers demand. Yet they willingly stop at red lights and drive correctly on one-way streets. Why? Because they recognize that not all "freedom" is the same.

Philosophers divide the concept into two: individual freedom and sovereign freedom. The first is "freedom" as generally practiced. In the West, at least, you are free to sit or stand, go wherever you like, listen to whatever music, apply for whatever job, dress and vote as you will, etc. "It's a free country." But such individual freedom is characterized as "ending at someone else's nose" — in other words, a set of choices that does not impinge on other people's sets of choices.

Stepping or pushing beyond that barrier, one enters the realm of sovereign freedom — a set of choices that doesn't care about impinging on others'. Blasting a loud car radio while parked in a sleeping neighborhood declares sovereign freedom, as does the Queen of Hearts' "Off with their heads!" Treatment of the incarcerated, capitalist intentional scarcities practice larger-format sovereign freedoms. "I am the boss here. You have no choice!"

It seems that anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers confuse their existential, even constitutional, demand for individual freedom with demand for a freedom that is basically sovereign. "If I want to control my body, or be free of a mask, that's my business, and my business alone. The effect on you be damned." Would they want to live under a sovereign? No. But they seem to believe in sovereignty.

Marc Estrin


Doctor Appreciation

I do not wish to dispute the findings of ["It's Official: Vermont Patients Wait Too Long, State Report Shows," February 16, online], but I did want to add an observation. After 40 years, I moved back to Vermont in the middle of the virus and have had better health care than I have had in decades. The Rutland Regional Medical Center staff saw me for a broken wrist and a follow-up pronto. The staff was compassionate — lovely, even.

I had emergency surgery for a retinal detachment with Dr. Brian Kim at the University of Vermont Medical Center, and, again, all medical personnel were compassionate and efficient. And I cannot shake the awareness that these people were putting their lives on the line during this virus to help me. From referring physicians Dr. Lisa Graves-Austin and Dr. Praveen Keshava in Rutland to Dr. Kim in Burlington, I simply offer thanks and respect.

Joan Connor


House Rules

[Re "Rental Housing Bill to Return as Part of New, Larger Measure," January 10, online]: True transparency in homeownership is critical to housing equity and requires candid conversations.

We bought our first home last spring. After seven years of professional housing advocacy, I don't make a living wage and I don't have family resources to manage the gap, so the following resources were essential.

1. A friend sold us the house without listing it, circumventing competition with cash-on-hand buyers. People from families who don't own their own home, particularly for families systematically barred from homeownership over many generations, might not have adults like this in their family network. This bars not just access to housing opportunities but also access to information around the home-buying process. That is why we need more intentional housing policy, such as H.273, that targets communities harmed by systemic housing discrimination and racist housing policies.

2. Vermont Housing Finance Agency helped us secure a low-interest mortgage and some down payment assistance.

3. My partner's parents provided financial support. Like many people my age here, we are both graduates of the University of Vermont, one of the most expensive public universities in the country. A large portion of our young adult population comes from families with resources to help subsidize their lifestyles.

Owning a home is autonomy of space. It means not only more personal housing stability but also community stability. Everyone should have housing choice. In Chittenden County, only a select few do. Renters who live with housing uncertainty need our support. Advocate for "just cause" eviction and rental housing safety.

Corrine Yonce


Landlords Have Rights, Too

The "just cause" eviction charter change is anything but just ["Burlington's 'Just Cause' Eviction Bill Clears House — With Changes," February 18, online]. Property owners' rights are being trampled on. Interesting that two-thirds of Burlington residents rent, and two-thirds voted to take rights from their landlords. It's like students voting for the candidate that offers free soda.

There is no free lunch. This change increases landlord costs and will therefore increase rents. It will restrict the supply of housing, because landlords, myself included, will be far more careful whom we rent to. In fact, we may well sell and move to medium-term furnished rental.

I'm sure I'm not alone. With this confiscation of owners' property rights, combined with Burlington's ever-increasing tax and regulatory burden, rental property ownership is becoming a losing proposition. Remember, no landlords means no rental apartments, and Burlington is on the path of removing the small property investor from the market. This will hurt everyone and is an extremely misguided proposition. The housing market will get worse because of this.

Robert Perry


Perry owns rental property in Burlington.

'Special Place in Hell'

While reading ["Bove Brothers Plan to Evict Low-Income Refugee Families in Winooski — and Raise Rents," February 16], I found myself underlining all the parts of it that were completely infuriating, which ended up being most of the article. There is a special place in hell for the Bove brothers.

Meghan Brooks


Murad Needs Oversight

I thank the Burlington City Council for voting against making acting Chief Jon Murad our "permanent" police chief ["Burlington Council Votes Down Murad's Appointment as Police Chief," February 1, online].

The American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont even got involved last summer, writing an open letter that accused both Murad and Mayor Miro Weinberger of waging a "campaign of misinformation" by blaming gunfire incidents on the council's police-cutting vote. The letter also questioned Murad's deployment of officers and pointed to a Seven Days story that revealed the acting chief wasn't consistently staffing downtown during the weekend overnight hours, even though that area had the highest call volume.

Why not have an oversight committee? It has become apparent that no matter what the mayor says, the police need to work on procedure. People are leaving all types of businesses. I do not blame the council at all.

Another quote from the story: "Commissioners Stephanie Seguino, Melo Grant and Susan Comerford all said they've witnessed Murad become defensive and unprofessional in commission meetings and during executive sessions, particularly toward female commissioners."

Councilors Zoraya Hightower and Karen Paul had a compromise crafted but were turned down flat by the mayor. Can Weinberger negotiate?

For many reasons, I trust the council's decision more than the mayor's. I think we should have enough police but that they should be responsible to someone who is impartial — someone who never gets "defensive and unprofessional."

Let's get the police beefed up with people who have good judgment, know how to de-escalate and know the citizens are their real boss. Compromise is key.

Charlie Messing


Search: 'Murad Harvard'

I'm not a Burlington resident, but what goes on in our state's largest city affects us all ["Burlington Council Votes Down Murad's Appointment as Police Chief," February 1, online].

With that in mind, I ask all Burlington residents, particularly your Progressive city councilors, to go to YouTube and key in "Jon Murad - Harvard." And then I ask the city council Progressives: What the heck were you thinking when you rejected him for police chief?

I'm a Progressive, maybe even left of that, but I think that defunding the police is wrongheaded, and when it leads to this kind of outcome, it's downright destructive. You can make an argument for police reform, but simply cutting budgets and refusing to pay reasonable salaries to get the best people will only result in what you've got: low morale, vacancies and long response times.

It's time to reconsider, for the health of a city we all want to be proud of.

Richard Butz


Next Time, Ask for Evidence

I wanted to point out a nuanced oversight in [WTF: "What's Driving Burlington's Recent Wave of Vehicle Thefts?" February 16] and a calculated misdirection by Burlington acting Police Chief Jon Murad.

The article reports that police found the former Sears Lane encampment to be a "go-to place" for local law enforcement tracking down stolen vehicles. However, there was no source or evidence provided that any stolen vehicles were ever found there. Despite this, Murad is quoted saying, "There was definitely some vehicle disassembly going on there."

This is post hoc fallacy nonsense, but it manages to effectively assert a connection between the Sears Lane encampment and the recent increase in car theft.

If no stolen vehicles were found at Sears Lane, then the takeaway and focus of this paragraph should have been that police suggest a connection between the increase in auto theft and the Sears Lane encampment but that there is no evidence or sources of information to support it. (Or if there is, find it.)

To contextualize and correct this misdirection is the work of good journalism. Please, Seven Days, be aware of this tactic and ask follow-up questions. Figure out when a source is drawing you to write the conclusion they want you to, and don't do it without backing it up with evidence to support it.

And, unsurprisingly, shame on you, Chief Murad, for (predictably) shoehorning Sears Lane into an article about an increase in crime.

Kris Fiore


Jane Says...

In ["Burlington Council Votes Down Murad's Appointment as Police Chief," February 1, online], Burlington City Councilor Jane Stromberg (P-Ward 8) is quoted saying: "Character comes before credentials, no matter how many a person has."

To Jane, I offer a hypothetical: A beloved member of the community is in heart failure and requires a heart transplant. Two surgeons are available. One is described by patients as the warmest, most caring and sincere individual they have ever met. The other surgeon is described as rude, abrasive and dismissive of every question asked about the procedure. The success rate of surgeon No. 1 is 50 percent, while the success rate of the mean and nasty surgeon No. 2 is 95 percent. Whom will Jane choose?

Society is living through a time when merit and accomplishment are portrayed as evil, instead of viewed as a social and personal good.

Gerry Silverstein

South Burlington

Gray's Way

[Re Feedback: "Experience Isn't Everything," February 9]: Ideally, Vermont's next representative in U.S. Congress will be someone who is extremely smart, principled, deeply devoted to public service and an expert in the workings of government. That individual will also have great people skills, will already have worked on Capitol Hill and will have extensive experience in international relations.

I am describing Molly Gray, the leading candidate for election to Congress in November. Molly has served as Vermont's lieutenant governor for the last year. Before that, she was an assistant attorney general for Vermont for two years, after clerking for U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Peter Hall. Earlier, she worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross, leading missions to Eastern Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. Earlier still, Molly served as an intern for U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy and worked on U.S. Rep. Peter Welch's staff in Washington, D.C.

Molly Gray is a native Vermonter who grew up on a farm in Newbury, so she knows us well. She is also an independent thinker who refuses to accept campaign contributions from corporations. She has exactly the right skills and experience not only to represent us in Washington, D.C., but also to help lead the nation in these perilous times.

Stephen Dycus


Word From Karen

Hello, my name is Karen. Born in 1968, I always liked my name but wished it hadn't been so popular (there were four Karens in my first-grade class)! I will never forget the beautiful mug my grandmother gave me for my 12th birthday that read "Karen: one who is pure and kind." As an adult, I value my character traits of kindness and compassion above all else.

My social media consumption is highly restricted by choice, so you can imagine my dumbfounded dismay when I read the Seven Days piece [Last 7: "Karens in the 'Crossfire,'" February 16] citing how the name Karen has become synonymous with intolerance and self-righteousness. Really? My name? While the New York City incident that prompted this negative distinction is clearly racist and disturbing to me, Karen Taylor Mitchell's verbiage indicating that our society "manufactures hate" seems very accurate — and troubling beyond belief.

Come on now. Everything feels hard enough.

Karen McFeeters Leary


Keep Masks On

Two weeks ago brought news of lifting mask requirements in our public schools ["Schools With High Vax Rates Can Lift Mask Requirements Soon," February 15, online]. I believe this is a premature move that may cause more distress than relief. I have watched our schools struggle this academic year with subjective and little guidance from the state, which insisted that our schools implement processes with no support.

Vaccines are effective, but they do not prevent the transmission of the virus. Germs spread pretty quickly in an unmasked school environment. With an 8- and a 10-year-old of my own, I can assure you that I have been on the receiving end of a variety of germs. Social anxiety and wanting kids to get back to "normal" is the impetus for the suggestion of removing masks. There is no going back to pre-2020 normal. We need to embrace what is our current normal and what will become our new normal.

I would continue to send my children to school in masks, and I worry about bullying or teasing. We preach being kind and respectful, but not every student practices being kind or respectful. It is hard being a kid who is perceived as different, and kids would continue to be anxious.

The Agency of Education needs to focus on pupil weighting, legislative redistricting and the change in special education funding, rather than on dropping masks in our schools. When our students return to school with no masks, we will see more transmission in our schools and again will be putting vulnerable populations at risk.

Tara Arneson


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