Not Democracy At All
Your October 30 week in review [“Last 7”] describes the city council debate about the F-35 being based in Vermont, and it concludes, “Ah, democracy.”?If there is one thing at work in this process, it is not democracy.
At the city council meeting, generally those who were allowed to give “public comment” were people who had not commented before, which is to say those in favor of the planes who had refused to participate in democratic debate in the months before. Those who were put at the back of the line and never had an opportunity to speak were those against the planes coming, who have studied the issue in-depth, including the environmental lawyer who drafted the resolutions before the council.??
The absence of a fair process at the council echoed the lack of democratic debate in the months and years before when proponents of the planes being based had refused — and continue to refuse — to engage in a fair, open dialogue with opponents so that claims on both sides could be vetted in public meetings.???
Katherine E. Kirby
Rabbi Joshua Chasan
FPF Is For Chickens
Front Porch Forum is a valuable community resource, but it is important for people to realize that it is not an open microphone [“Is Vermont’s Front Porch Forum Moderating Civil Discussion — or Censoring Free Speech?” October 23]. Some of my own posts to the forum have been subjected to filtering by the FPF staff. Members should be aware, as your article highlights, that Michael Wood-Lewis and his team have the final say in the content of each neighborhood forum. In response to this implicit censorship I personally decline to engage in political or social discussions on FPF. However, if my chickens escaped their coop, FPF would be the perfect place to publicize this unfortunate event.
As to the question of whether the State of Vermont should have awarded a monetary grant to FPF, one can make the argument that this type of online communication is invaluable during a disaster, although inappropriate for political discourse.
I was fascinated by your recent article on the need for more urban housing [“Demand for Urban Housing Brings Building Projects to Burlington’s Old North End,” October 16]. It’s become routine to blame college students for this. But actually, there are many more refugees living in town than there are college students living off-campus. Contractors have no problem with the situation, though; they get to dig up every square inch of green space they can find. The city has no problem with it; all that construction increases the tax base. The schools have no problem with it; they get more money from the state to educate ESL students. And landlords have no problem with it; they can get full subsidies for renting to refugee families while they get only partial subsidies for renting to non-refugee families. It’s a win-win for everyone, except those who have called Burlington home for most of their lives.
Unfortunately, the political nature of Burlington doesn’t allow for a civil discussion of the issue. As soon as you bring it up, the name-calling starts. But most refugees just go where they’re told. It’s those in charge of bringing them here who should answer a few critical questions. Does the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program have a cutoff number? We should be asking these questions before high-rises start popping up all over the Old North End and more of our neighbors lose the housing they’ve had for years.
AWOL, Not MIA
I disagree with the characterizations of the opponents to the F-35 in Fair Game [October 30]. First, there wasn’t any “elaborate theater” back in July at the Winooski City Council meeting, but respectful and civil testimony. When I expressed my opposition to the F-35, I didn’t present my “own set of facts” but relied solely on the U.S. Air Force Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and the Executive Summary. Those documents and the Final DEIS state that BTV is not the environmentally preferred base for the F-35; Hill AFB in Utah and McEntire AFB in South Carolina are, respectively, “the environmentally preferred alternative” and “preferred” base for the F-35.
I don’t fear “inevitable doom” but have legitimate concerns about increased noise levels and decreasing residential property values. It is the greatest, underreported irony that the opposition to the F-35 is premised largely on the Air Force EIS and it’s those facts about the jet’s noise impacts that have been ignored. Winooski city councilors had copies of the DEIS and in the end they had the courage to vote to delay the basing of the F-35 at BTV. Our congressional delegation and governor aren’t “MIA” — that term implies engagement with the issue, and opponents haven’t “let them get away.” AWOL is more appropriate for their dereliction of duty by avoiding any public discussion on the F-35. Is it the Vermont way to put economic interests first without any discussion of environmental concerns? I don’t think so.
Sound and Fury
Thank you for the unsolicited correction to Mark Davis’ inaccurate blog post of my F-35 comments to Burlington City Council in the paper’s Last 7 feature [October 30]. I would further clarify that my action was not simply an act of “defiance.” I wanted councilors to cast an informed and compassionate vote after understanding how 30 seconds of unwanted noise feels.
While I may have been disobedient and unpersuasive, I believe the video on saveourskiesvt.org shows I was civil in my discourse, and because my wife yielded back her two minutes, I did not take time away from others. I said during my comments I believe the greater health risk to neighbors in the F-35’s path is deaf politicians — not hearing loss. Combine anger at not being listened to with the annoyance of unwanted noise, and you’ve got a recipe for heart attack and high blood pressure.
The council president’s reaction to my 30-second recording of white noise, not a fighter jet as many presume, perfectly demonstrated this point. Davis’ blog accurately states the council president’s voice rose as she “slammed the gavel” and yelled “Not another word.” Feeling the council president’s anger and knowing my actions were the catalyst was unsettling. I can’t imagine willfully inflicting this stress on someone for six minutes a day, four days a week, forever. Amid calls for civility, this is what my city council and mayor chose to do by remaining deaf to the plight of our neighbors. How sad.