Posted Thursday, May 4, 2017 5:51 pm
BRATTLEBORO — Kindness and empathy just became a bigger priority here.
"The voters overwhelmingly — by 83 percent to 17 percent — said yes to wanting Brattleboro to be a Compassionate Community," Town Manager Peter Elwell said of the March 7 vote.
The Select Board on Tuesday passed a "Resolution for Compassion Brattleboro" and approved of signing a Charter for Compassion, as part of what Elwell described as an international movement that involves communities around the globe being a designated Compassionate Community or Compassionate City. More information can be found at charterforcompassion.org.
At first look of the website, Elwell worried what kind of commitment the town would be making.
"It looked like it might be a very significant investment of time and money as well to follow all of the formal structure that's laid out on that website," he said. "But it seems to me that it's among the lightest lifts imaginable, among the easiest things for us to do; to commit ourselves to treating each person who comes before us with respect and making decisions with full and fair consideration for the impact to everyone in our community, even the less well-represented or the less well-off."
Elwell said the wording in the resolution came out of a meeting he had with two of the organizers behind the effort, Jim and Dora Levinson. The father and daughter are members of the Brattleboro Area Interfaith Initiative. Several other representatives from the group joined them at the meeting.
"We are really full of energy to try and do everything we can on these two threads," Jim Levinson said. "Both helping people in our town facing challenges and as a town helping others wherever they are in need."
Select Board member John Allen wondered how the effort originated.
"What's a little sad about this — and it's not sad — is that we need to have a resolution to be compassionate," he said. "That just kind of blows my mind a little bit."
The movement isn't only about behavior and treatment of others. It's a network of 400 other communities from 50 different countries, Jim Levinson said.
Dora Levinson said there are other things in the larger community happening around compassion.
"Our committee is trying to pull some of these together and we're working to figure out what we want to do to move forward," she said. "We don't need another organization. We don't need another committee. We're trying to figure it out."
She said the committee would keep the board updated.
"Please do keep us posted," said Select Board member David Schoales.
Resident Pete Nickerson asked if there's any discouragement or encouragement for dissent in the charter. Elwell said in his reading of the charter, the town was committing itself to being open to listening to contrary opinions and working through decisions with respect to all parties.
"So there's no right answer and a bunch of wrong answers," he added. "It's a way of reminding ourselves how to treat each other when making public decisions."
At the end of the meeting, the board began to explore "diversifying" the town's group of employees. Brattleboro currently has no African Americans employees, Schoales said.
"So the question in my mind is, what are we going to do about that?" he said. "It's not OK. It's not acceptable to not have diversification. We're a diverse community. It's something that needs to be fixed. It's a deep gap and problem in our country."
Vice Chairwoman Brandie Starr said some might find it challenging to apply for jobs "where they don't already see themselves physically represented."
"Suddenly it becomes weird to that person," she said. "Even though it's not weird, it just keeps perpetuating itself and perpetuating itself until we have a problem."
Allen worried about creating a system based on quotas.
"I think you choose an employee by whoever applies and if an African American applies and they're qualified, I know we would hire them," he said. "So I'm having this hard time with this discussion that we're not diversified."
Elwell said he could report back on processes the town uses for hiring so the board could assess. One option discussed by the board was finding other avenues for alerting the public about new job opportunities.
Select Board Chairwoman Kate O'Connor recalled the town facing similar challenges when looking for a town manager. She said at one point, the board reviewed about 100 resumes and only two women had applied.
"We have a growing African American community here in southern Vermont and they're not included in our town employees, and we have processes in place that we have used and that have not succeeded in drawing qualified or unqualified candidates," Schoales said. "I think we do want to recruit African Americans."
Noting an open position in the fire department and three jobs available with the police department, he called for the town to take "an affirmative action" in encouraging people of color to apply.
"They have to know it's available and we have to reach out to them. It takes an effort," he said, later adding that being complacent on the issue "ignores the historical reality of what's happened to African Americans over the course of our history."
Avis Ellis, a member of the Brattleboro Area Interfaith Initiative and person of color, suggested a new approach or additional approaches may be needed. She pointed to the time, 9:45 p.m., and the agenda item being the very last item under new business. She said she'll come to the next discussion on the topic if it's scheduled closer to the beginning of the meeting. That's planned for June 6.
[SUBHEAD} In other news:
- The board revised its rules of conduct to discourage the chairperson from making motions to vote.
"I'm not in favor of this," Allen said. "I feel the chair is one of us. I feel the chair should be able to make a motion if need be."
Select Board member Tim Wessel disagreed, saying he thought the revision "just puts into writing something that has been in use" before O'Connor was nominated to the chairperson and the way O'Connor has run the first few meetings. In his opinion, the chairperson has more power to guide the direction of the meetings as they set the agenda and pace.
- The Department of Public Works will award the bid for the Bonnyvale Road retaining wall repair to Bernie LaRock & Son, Inc., of Guilford. The company's $118,400 bid was much lower than the other three: $252,900, $245,000 and $190,000.
- A paving contract for Guilford Street was awarded to another Guilford company, Vermont Roadworks LLC, for $35,728.
- The fire department was given approval to award the bid for a pumper/rescue truck to Minuteman Trucks for $535,496. The truck is made by Pierce Manufacturing. By prepaying, the town is set to save 4.9 percent off the regular purchase price.
"We'll get it in about a year from now," said Assistant Fire Chief Len Howard.