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Letters to the Editor (2/24/21)

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A+ for School Story

I am writing to say thank you. I just read Jonathan Mingle's article ["Cliff Notes on Rural Education," February 17]. It was one of the best written, well-researched and thoughtful pieces I have read on the future of our schools in rural Vermont. I find it heartbreaking that our leadership in Montpelier chose to send us down this path. We are capable of shaping a wiser future for the small towns that define the Vermont character and for the children who live in them. There are important steps we can take that are far wiser than the path we are on. A good first step would be to adopt the recommendations of the University of Vermont Weighting Study. A good second step would be to revisit the entire administrative structure of our public school system.

David F. Kelley

Greensboro

Kelley is the former chair of the Hazen Union School Board.

Too Many Superintendents

It is ironic that ["Cliff Notes on Rural Education," February 17] quotes Jeffrey Francis, the head of the Vermont Superintendents Association, sanctimoniously telling towns about to lose their small schools to "face the future" while heading up an association of 55 superintendents, each making in excess of $150,000 a year! Vermont has more superintendents now than independent school districts!

Other states with our student population make do with one superintendent. How much supervision does a school principal making $100,000 a year really need?

The Vermont Constitution very clearly states that "a competent number of schools ought to be maintained in each town" — not each county, district, region or supervisory union. Each town.

The legislature needs to step up to the plate. It is now responsible for funding our town schools. The revised weighting study now shows that our small-town schools have been shortchanged for the past 20 years in violation of the Vermont Constitution. The town of Lincoln needs to lawyer up and hold the state accountable for making it impossible to run its town school if that's the end result of these disastrous policies.

Howard Ires

Windham

Ires is a school board member in the West River Modified Union Education District.

'Graffiti Is Violence'

I was happy to see an article about Burlington's scourge of graffiti ["Tag Team," February 17] but disheartened by the tone. If I were a "tagger" and read it, I'd feel pretty proud and certainly not educated about the harm I was causing. You must have interviewed Burlington's two most neutral victims of graffiti. Even referencing this crime repeatedly as "tagging" rather than as vandalism gives a certain "hip" validity to actions that result in harm.

Graffiti is violence. It is thievery. In minutes, perpetrators trash restored brickwork, crafted woodwork, art murals and even nature that took months, years or centuries to create, robbing the steward of that property and the entire community who enjoyed it. Emboldened by lack of restraint, they will target increasingly precious structures: The granite sculptures along the lakefront will be next.

I think most of us feel angry, saddened and disgusted at seeing our beautiful city destroyed by graffiti. Perhaps in a future article you could strike a more concerned tone. Educate us on what steps we can take to stop it, as my calls to city hall and the Burlington Police Department have gone unanswered. Research how the BPD can maintain the resources to catch these people in the context of policing reform. Investigate how other cities have conquered this. If Rudy Giuliani could do it in New York City during the '90s, then surely Burlington can figure it out today.

Perhaps we need to start with a new mayor.

Lorilee Schoenbeck

Burlington

Building a Case

[Re Off Message: "Burlington Settles Lawsuit With CityPlace Developers," February 5]: Why are we calling a central core of downtown Burlington "the pit"? This demolition site of the old Burlington mall is not a hole in the ground or a cavity. It might be a pitfall, for some; for the rest of us, it's an opportunity. It is a clean slate for open-space thinking. It is broken ground needing to heal. It is a world of light and air in the thick of a moneyed economy.

The last thing we need right now is more empty space in downtown Burlington. It seems prudent to wait until existing buildings, restaurants, offices and retail begin to rebound from the enormous impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. There is no need to rush and fill the land with an unidentified amalgam of building. If we think of this place as the whole, we can begin to give it a chance to rebound on its own. It has carried a huge weight over the decades — that of neighborhood destruction, of diminishing demand in commercial retail, of destabilizing groundwater patterns, and of compacting and poisoning the earth itself. 

The community needs and desires weigh on all of us — yes, they include housing; yes, they include stores and banks — but they aren't necessarily solved by building! There is often a reason projects get delayed, and it is not because the money isn't there. It is because they are the wrong things at the wrong time. When the timing is wrong, things go bad.

Diane Gayer

Burlington

Seven Days Needs Fair Game

I'm very glad that Dave Gram has landed on his feet at Seven Days. The paper really needs that political column, and I personally feel that he shines on the page. I especially liked the one in which he called out the various Vermont authorities over not tackling the Slate Ridge issue [Fair Game, January 20]. Hopefully, his article and the recent legal ruling will result in some help for the town and neighbors. Wouldn't hurt for the problem to be raised again at the governor's COVID-19 press conference.

Here's to a long and productive tenure for Gram writing Fair Game.

Craig Allen

Bristol

Police Problem — Solved?

After reading your piece "Cops Out" [Last 7, February 10], I thought that a possible solution to the issue of staffing for the Burlington Police Department might be to reduce police presence by one shift in wards that favor reducing police presence and shifting them to wards that favor more. Simplistic? Sure. Workable? I have no idea, but it might merit a discussion.

Mike Gijanto

Wallingford

One Vote

The two Ethan Allen Institute men, Rob Roper and Jack McMullen, complain that Vermont lacks "meaningful ballot security" in our vote-by-mail program [Fair Game, January 27; Feedback: "All Is Not Well," February 3; Feedback: "Column 'Does a Disservice,'" February 10]. I've never been able to see the danger in this other than as a ruse by the right to justify restricting the voting process. Think about it: When you vote, you go to your assigned place, tell a polling official your name and the official then checks you off. If someone came in and voted as me, I would know it immediately — as would that polling official. Ditto with mail-in ballots — not too difficult to verify.

I have never heard of anyone going to vote only to discover someone else had beaten them to it, stealing their name and voting spot. Can that happen? Sure, easily. But it doesn't, or we would be hearing about it. Who's going to keep losing their vote a secret? No one. I would howl like a wounded bloodhound, wouldn't you? Now, can you imagine this happening to a dozen people? That would be big news, nationwide news. Which is why I know it doesn't happen.

Eric Johnson

Burlington

Graffiti Is Serious

Graffiti is getting out of hand in Burlington ["Tag Team," February 17]. When this visual blight is not forcefully addressed, it often signals that a neighborhood is starting to deteriorate. Similarly, it creates alarm among residents. Rampant graffiti also sends the wrong message to youthful vandals, who encourage one another to show off their "tags." Petty and serious criminals also sense illegal opportunities in public disfigurement. Public safety studies confirm that graffiti is an early indicator of rising crime, drugs and gangs.

From the mayor's office and the city council, from the police and public works departments and the state's attorney's office, it is time for parties to begin working together to adapt a zero-tolerance posture toward defacement of public and private properties. Cooperation among public officials, including immediate removal of tags, investment in security cameras and prosecution of people who vandalize the community, is needed now.

Jack T. Scully

Colchester

No Quick Fix

"Star Struck" [February 17] was heavily biased for Elon Musk's telecommunications company Starlink. The interview with Vermont resident Dennis Roland seemed like an ad for Musk. Roland extolled how easy his satellite was to set up. Under his photo was a large, bold pull quote that read: "Getting fiber optic here in Vermont is probably years away..."

Roland is no expert. Fiber optics is happening. The Vermont House Energy and Technology Committee favors it. It is healthier, faster, private and community-based.

In New Hampshire, a state-supported scientific study on the health effects of Wi-Fi on people spurred protective legislation in that state and others. However, the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 gave full legal rights to the telecommunications industry over human and environmental health. There are no laws to protect us — yet. It is the states that might make a difference here and create protective legislation.

Musk has $900 million in federal funds for Starlink. He is probably the wealthiest man in the world. He doesn't need our state funding. I hope the media will stop making him into a knight with a quick fix for us all. It would be at great health cost to us. Many are frightened and hungry for that quick fix.

Somewhere in our history, corporations were granted human rights. That was a bad turn for humanity and the Earth. Let's not make another bad turn and move slowly toward the best possibilities for now.

Judith Ruskin

Hardwick

About 'Uppity'

Regarding Dave Gram's quote in the February 17 Fair Game: "I won't bother defining 'uppity' here or discussing its historic use to demean Black people and women, because everyone knows its definition and context."

My wife and I both graduated from the University of Vermont, she in liberal arts and myself in sciences. We have had five kids graduate from college. I grew up as a kid on a dairy farm. We always thought an uppity person was snobbish. Sorry, Dave, besides Michael Schirling, there are an additional seven that were not aware of this definition and context. We will refrain from using it in the future. We will stop watching BBC programs since some Vermont people think it is snobbish, aka uppity.

Bob Belisle

Burlington

Debate Debrief

[Re Debate: "Burlington's Mayoral Matchup," on Town Meeting TV, February 5]: Mayor Miro Weinberger has timed his attack on the Racial Justice Through Economic and Criminal Justice Resolution conveniently just before the March election. I watched him bully mayoral candidates Ali Dieng and Max Tracy during the Seven Days debate, demanding that they vote his way or stand against public safety.

It took national attention and the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor for Burlington to recognize we have problems, too.

Weinberger repeatedly criticizes our six Progressive counselors, saying they were not relying on facts when they formed this resolution. A 30 percent reduction in force did not come out of a hat. Compared to comparable communities, the Burlington police historically have been overstaffed by 30 percent. This 30 percent will not disappear but will be specialized and appropriate.

During the Seven Days debate, one candidate asked Weinberger why he tried to get the state coroner's report modified when Douglas Kilburn's death was ruled a homicide. Weinberger replied that he considered the report mistaken. Mayoral candidate Haik Bedrosian had a good comeback: But you are not a medical doctor. Weinberger was undeterred, responding that just because you are an expert doesn't mean you cannot be challenged. Now who is working with the facts?

Transforming our public safety system will be a good thing, providing a larger safety net for victims in toxic living situations. How often do victims stay with their abuser because they have nowhere to turn for support, confidence and strength?

I hope councilors who originally supported this resolution do not waver. There is room and need for change.

Caryn Long

Burlington

Call Him 'Tax Tracy'

In your piece on Max Tracy ["Max-imum Effort," February 3], Mayor Miro Weinberger is dubbed "Status Quo Miro." Many labels have truth. Weinberger guided Burlington's taxpayers away from a financial cliff during his time in office. While monikers are being assigned, there is definitely room for one for Tracy. He and the young Progs plan to: 1. locally tax every $500,000 Burlington home; 2. seek local income tax; and 3. impose a middle-class-crushing fossil fuels tax of an estimated $7,000 per year on existing homes.

Each of these Max taxes requires voter approval but is planned in the least transparent way possible — after the election, placed on a November ballot. Burlington voters deserve better. Perhaps "Tax Tracy" is the moniker most apt. Better yet, tell us your plans before the election, lest the nickname become "Cover Those Tracks, Max."

Bruce Baker

Burlington

Plane but Not Simple

[Re "Max-imum Effort," February 3]: Max Tracy has consistently opposed the F-35 basing with the Vermont Air National Guard. Mayor Miro Weinberger worked for U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy and was on the Burlington Airport Commission from 2003 to 2012 when they decided to buy out and demolish more homes in the Chamberlin neighborhood next to the airport. Over 200 homes have been destroyed in that neighborhood. That represents a huge loss of affordable homes in the greater Burlington area.

As mayor, Weinberger has consistently supported the F-35 basing. Leahy pressured the U.S. Air Force to base the F-35s in Burlington, even though it's been reported that the Air Force did not want to base them here. Why were the homes bought out and destroyed? The reason given is that they were in a high-noise zone. Now a much greater area is in a high-noise zone, because the F-35s are much louder than the F-16s. But there was also a plan to expand the airport, which came crashing down after the 2008 financial crisis. Yet the home demolitions continued.

Weinberger was a developer at the time. The Pomerleaus have been one of the biggest developers in the area. Leahy's wife, Marcelle, is a Pomerleau. The Pomerleaus have given back a lot to the community, and for that they should be thanked. Leahy has done much to support organic agriculture, and for that he should be thanked. But they have also supported the F-35 basing.

Please support Max for mayor, as he has been consistent in opposing the F-35s and advocating for much more affordable housing.

Matthew Ennis

Winooski

Weinberger Has Integrity

[Re "Max-imum Effort," February 3]: The city of Burlington needs the balanced, durable leadership of Mayor Miro Weinberger. Mayor Weinberger gives credible consideration to all community voices and is the only candidate for mayor who studies all viewpoints. Progressives on the city council want to add a carbon tax to drive up your heating bill, gut the police department and take steps that hurt our community.

Mayor Weinberger takes time to research and talk to people, even if he does not agree with them. I respect his pursuit of a well-thought-out policy to overhaul our police department, rather than knee-jerk plans to eliminate it. He has played a key role in resolving the downtown marketplace debacle, reducing the size of the development to a more human scale.

On several occasions I have personally confronted Mayor Weinberger at the YMCA, in email and on the street. Even though we occasionally disagree, he takes the time to hear me out. I respect his integrity and encourage you to vote for Mayor Weinberger on March 2.

Ben Luna, Esq.

Burlington

Max Tracy's Supporters

I appreciated Courtney Lamdin's cover story on Max Tracy's campaign for mayor ["Max-imum Effort," February 3]. It conveyed a lot of Tracy's dedicated history and passion for Burlington's growth and well-being.

Lamdin cites some of Tracy's detractors, quoting Republicans and former Progressives defeated in primaries who may have personal reasons to resent a Progressive run for mayor. But considering recent campaign finance reports, I can't help but feel that both candidates' supporters deserve additional attention. Much of Weinberger's support comes from angry landlords, developer friends and others who are doing fine financially despite a pandemic and recession. A long list of individuals made maximum donations out of personal fortunes.

And Tracy's supporters? They are community leaders, business owners, local representatives and heads of nonprofits that support our kids. Vermont's leading racial justice organization has endorsed Tracy. Unions of mental health workers, teachers and nurses all back him. Besides Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, Tracy's "big-money donors" include schoolteachers and bartenders.

There may be many reasons why someone would criticize a candidate in the media. So I choose to take note of who is willing to put themselves out there for candidates like Max Tracy.

Dan Quigley

Burlington

Vote for Ranked Choice

A "YES on 4" vote will give Burlingtonians the option to rank city council candidates in order of preference starting next year. It's a system already used by more than 9 million Americans — in red and blue states. Our neighbors in New York and Maine use it to elect city councilors, mayors and even the president.

Unlike our current system that allows someone to win with only 40 percent of the vote, ranked-choice voting allows only majority winners. And in cities that use the system, more women and people of color are running for office — and winning — because ranked-choice voting discourages negative campaigning and improves the quality of discourse.

Ranked-choice voting also saves money by eliminating costly runoff elections.

Former Democratic governor Howard Dean and current Progressive City Councilor Zoraya Hightower are leading the effort to institute ranked-choice voting in the Queen City. A group of Democratic, Republican, Progressive and independent legislators in Montpelier recently proposed similar legislation for the whole state.

For a more fair and functional democracy, I hope Burlington voters vote "YES on 4."

Cecilia Crews

Burlington

Time for Tiki

I was especially interested in your account of the race between Tiki Archambeau and Perri Freeman as we near the election of the city councilor from the Central District ["Changing of the Prog?" January 13].

As a retired professor of philosophy who specializes in writing about the integral links between true liberalism and true radicalism, it is very easy for me to choose Archambeau.

The most obvious way that Archambeau represents both true liberalism and true radicalism is in his opposition to what Freeman has helped to do against the police, including stripping them of funds to hire new officers, to get bulletproof vests and even to have some semblance of liberal due process rights in terms of job security.

However, I like to link this issue to what all of my four letters in Seven Days over the past two and a half years have emphasized, namely defense of free speech against the Burlington Progressives' misguided efforts to ignore, if not destroy, it. Three of those letters dealt with the misguided censorship of famed artist Pierre Hardy's downtown mural by removing it from public sight.

The reason that I link my opposition to the censorship of the mural by Freeman, and Archambeau's opposition to Freeman's attack on the police, is that what both issues require is a little common sense. Ever since Aristotle, this has been a vital component of true philosophical thinking about political issues.

Common sense is also at the heart of the true liberalism and true radicalism represented by Tiki Archambeau.

Norman Arthur Fischer

Burlington

Eviction Fiction

[Re Off Message: "A Just Cause? Landlords, Tenants Battle Over Burlington Eviction Proposal," February 15]: In the first paragraph, your writer Courtney Lamdin states that tenants can be evicted for no reason under Vermont law. Lamdin should first check the law, because that is total nonsense. That whole ballot question No. 5 is nonsense. It is based on ignorance, or it might be purposefully misleading. Every eviction case has to go to court if the tenant doesn't want to leave, and only after the court decides that there was a just cause — and housing courts are very harsh to landlords. Then the tenant is ordered to leave.

City Councilors Brian Pine and Max Tracy — who presumably are authors or coauthors, or who support voting "yes" on this question — either have no idea what they are talking about or are misleading the public in a pretty nasty way. In any case, just for that alone, they shouldn't be either councilors or considered mayoral candidates.

Evzen Holas

Burlington

A Landlord's Perspective

[Re Off Message: "A Just Cause? Landlords, Tenants Battle Over Burlington Eviction Proposal," February 15]: Of the 370 "no cause" evictions in Chittenden County, I wonder what percentage was for the benefit of the other tenants or the benefit of the person being evicted? Tenants don't want a "for cause" eviction on their record because that makes it more difficult for them to find housing the next time.

I evicted a tenant for nonpayment of rent, threatening violence, multiple people living there and much more. I paid for her moving costs and didn't take her to court or pursue damages even though the apartment was destroyed. I would wager that 90 percent of the "no cause" evictions were to avoid costly legal proceedings that both parties want to avoid. Vermont is last in the country for evictions. This is a solution in search of a problem.

I think we have more affordable housing per capita than any other city in the country — why isn't this ever mentioned? We are growing because people want to live here — and that's a good thing — so we need to add density to the downtown, and we need people to want to invest here.

Have the Progs thought about the unintended consequences of their proposed policies? Rent costs will continue to spiral out of control because landlords won't take a chance on anyone other than students and short-term tenants, and small landlords will be squeezed out in favor of large holding companies that have no connection to the community.

Lincoln Huston

Burlington