Selectboard Meeting Notes – Refugees, and a New Police Chief is Sworn-In

The Brattleboro Selectboard returned from summer break to take up issues such as refugees and a new police chief. BDCC explained why they think the refugee program is a must, ECDC explained what their program was, and Brattleboro can look forward to up to 75 refugees a year and the anticipated financial and housing challenges, as well as the hoped-for benefits to the community and economy.

The board also swore-in new Police Chief Norma Hardy. The entire department showed up in support.

Note: I have family here and quit my coverage after the new chief is sworn in. The board’s summer break might be over, but mine isn’t.  : )

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  • Preliminaries - Refugee Information from BDCC and ECDC

    Chair Elizabeth McLoughlin – we have a change in agenda tonight to accommodate vacation schedules. I’ll ask BDCC and ECDC to make a presentation about refugee resettlement.

    Adam Grinold – I’m executive director of BDCC and will give an overview about why we are here, and Alex will go into more detail. 10 years ago BDCC supported SEVEDS – a federal process for economic development. We tried to understand challenges and assets. The area is aging faster than most places in the state and country, and we were losing population. How do we keep people here and grow the population. We have programs in high school to connect students with careers, and also immigration and migration. In 2014-25 and 16 we researched how to get immigration going. It’s challenging. We did work, changes in the federal government occurred, and we learned how to welcome immigrants, and to have the systems in place. This isn’t so immigrants will grow the economy – it is for a vibrant community, which will grow the economy. How are you going to teach English, have childcare, etc? We have a housing challenge here. It will make us more diverse. Alex will give details.

    Alex – first and foremost, we talked with communities and they said, and employers said, they need more workers. The first thing we did was identify what was causing demographic challenges. This is a story most people are familiar with – our population is declining. Chittenden County is growing. Part of this was looking at what other communities have that we don’t have. Why grow the population beyond workforce? A trend in declining school enrollment, and fewer and fewer students. It impacts things. A student learning English could benefit from more students, and it is more cost effective to teach more students. Vermont is one of the oldest population in the nation. Working age folks will continue to decline. We need to replace them with new people. We peaked in 2010, and now we are down. Our economy has grown and new jobs have been added, but what isn’t happening is the next generation to take those jobs, be volunteers, etc. Why we arrived at more people and specifically immigration, is that it is one.. it is already reversing this trend. More folks who look like me are leaving, and more who don’t look like me coming. A lot of communities have organizations to support immigrants. This is one of many important investments to make in the community, and to make to people who want to be here. BDCC and SEVEDS has known since 2014 that we need to grow the population, and support those who are here. The Working Communities Challenge – we convened a group of stakeholders to explore what it was to be a supportive and welcoming community. What we are doing… our role is to convene partners that we work with to help design a system and infrastructure to support incoming folks from all backgrounds. We work with SIT, and others, and through this work we were introduced to the Ethiopian Community Development Council. We want to be a community where these people want to stay when they are no longer refugees. It is our role to develop those systems so those who want to stay can, in an intentional way. ECDC will explain more.

    Tsehaye Teferra – thank you and good evening. I am the president of the ECDC. We have been operating since 1983 as a community based organization, when we started to help Ethiopians, but we have expanded and include people from all over the world now. Today we have a presence in cities around the country – we have branches in Denver, Los Vegas… we have sister organizations established by immigrant communities. This year we are planning to open 6 more sites – two will be branch offices. One is the involvement in Brattleboro, and one is in Wisconsin. We are very excited and grateful to Adam and Alex. We have had discussions with many stakeholders, and have been welcomed and supported. We plan to open the office as soon as possible, but the process is we applied to the Dept of State and they must approve the application. Then we can start operation. Technically we may start in October, but it might be the end of October, or even December. We are going to start small and let it grow annually, depending on the conditions of the environment. That is very kindly what we are planning.

    Rebecca – ECDC – thank you. I’ll briefly talk about the program. I have a presentation we can start showing now. We wanted to have an understanding of who refugees are – escaping persecution, coming from different part of the world. We haves resettled over 60k people. How do they come to the US? A presidential determination sets a number, with Congress. Refugees are identified and are referred to the refugee program, funded by the Dept of State. How are they determined? It is a long process – interviews, extensive background checks, medical exams, prearrival orientation classes, then they wait for flights to be booked, and we receive them. How do we get them to their locations? There is a location process we follow – an external allocation, and some get connected to families who are already here, and for others, they get allocated. Once we have our portion, we find places around the US, and we look at the capacity of the branches we have, language capacity, housing, and other things before we allocate to different sites. We have 4 branches and 11 affiliates now. We plan to add 6 new places. What steps are planned for Brattleboro? We have had committee consultation, we have a proposal, a notice of funding from State Dept, plan to get a director in Sept and plan to hire. In October we’ll hire additional staff and case managers to help. In October – November we expect first arrivals. 75 individuals. We sign agreements, and requirements for the programs. For prearrival, we collect household items and help raise funds, and we need to secure housing for clients. And arrivals we have to provide clothing, pocket money, and language support. Within 5 days we have an intake interview to get information, and we share what the role of our agency. With 7 days we apply for cards and medical assistance, and food stamps. We enroll them in English language classes, file change of address forms. Within 30 days we have to get their kids enrolled in school, complete a health screening… How are we involving the community? We work with organizations and service providers to help refugees become self sufficient. We meet every quarter to discuss challenges and build partnerships. We encourage community groups be cosponsors help newcomers along the way. Thanks for your time and we can answer questions.

    Liz – ready for comments and questions? Let’s start with board members..

    Daniel Quipp – thanks for the presentation. It was helpful. What kind of conditions are people seeking refuge from?

    Rebecca – they come from different parts of the world.

    Daniel – Migrants are different than refugees…

    Rebecca – people who come have been placed in a neighboring country. They have families, or might be a single case, or a family. Different language capacity when it comes to English but know other languages. Some are smart but have to leave due to war. They have varied backgrounds. They need help and eager to get help.

    Tsehaye – a refugee is fleeing their country due to persecution – religion, politics, national origins, language, or other social aspects. They have to establish a genuine fear of persecution in their country. People flee to a third country. So refugees are mainly resettled from third countries. Some directly from Afghan – people who worked for the US government. I think these are the people we see – people fleeing their country due to persecution.

    Jessica Gelter- some places are much larger than Brattleboro. What’s the drive to be in a small town?

    Tsehaye – most are in big cities. There is already saturation in those cities, and there is a need to also work in smaller cities where refugees will have a better interaction to be integrated. In large cities, there are already people from their country so having a smaller city would have an opportunity for people to interact more.

    Jessica Chapman – I’m here now.

    Tim Wessel – Difficulties with housing are at the top of our minds. I like to welcome new community members, it is a question that has to be addressed very quickly to put people’s mind at ease. To help with our local housing crunch.

    BDCC – regardless of who is coming, those trying to find housing here, and people already here, shouldn’t compete with organizations already doing this work. We need to be part of the conversations. Today, someone from Northampton could come here. When we look at how people seek housing, it is really making sure we don’t compete with people here, but help with others, like immigrants, … no one will solve the housing crisis by October. It’s that we’re all working on solutions, and planning for two-three years down the road… people here and the people we want. Don’t want to compete for units that are here. Want to make sure people who come have as good an opportunity to find housing. We have to understand where housing is and match resources. We can solve these problems collaboratively. This happens with the community, not TO the community. There are lots of three bedroom homes that aren’t in big demand.

    ? – the problem goes back to the 70’s. I get asked questions about whose fault it is about housing. We want to invitee more people into the conversation.

    Ian Goodnow – yeah, uh.. the question of population and housing I’ve heard my entire life. I don’t feel a lot of shame about myself state, but when a community rejected refugees a few years ago I felt it in a deep personal place. I told myself that if I was ever in a position of leadership I’d fully embrace it. It isn’t a municipal action, but I fully support refugee resettlement in Brattleboro – diversity, inclusion. Issues are interconnected. We need to be pushing forward to make Brattleboro and Vermont what we want it to be.

    Liz – glad you can fulfill your dream. Thanks for the presentation. We understand the situation of the Iraqi and Afghan interpreters but good to know about the others. There is no action we’re taking. We’re glad you came to inform us on the project. Public comment?

    Joseph – I had some questions. One – the numbers. I here this is a good plan, but how do you determine that without knowing the number. Rutland wanted 100 people a year for 10 years or something. Also, for the ECDC, these refugee agencies get paid with our tax dollars per person they resettle. They have an incentive to flood the community. Maybe your incentives don’t align with ours? How do you benefit financially from the program.

    Liz – some of the terms you used were insulting. You can ask for info, but don’t want derogatory comments toward our gets.

    Joseph – I just want to know the numbers and how much they get paid…

    Liz – 75 a year…

    Alex – up to 75 a year. The pace we approach that number is in partnership with eh community.

    Liz – I’m sure it is time-consuming…

    Tsehaye – the number is max 75… about 5-6 people a month. With regard to financial – $1,250 a one time grant per refugee. With that money we have to provide housing, buy food, furnish apartments for the initial period. You can imagine what kind of financial benefit we get from that. It is not a public program. It is a public private partnership. The $1250 must be spent on the refugee. We appeal to the community and public to join us as partners in the public private sector to make the program work. WE have foundations that may help us in the initial resettlement. I don’t think there is a financial benefit that motivates us to do the work. We’re a humanitarian organization to help people get away from traumas and conflicts. If they had choices, they would have stayed home. But they are driven from their homes and rams. Anyone working in this field is not motivated by financial means.

    Adam – we’ll be working wit them to help raise funds, reaching out to landlords that want to work with this effort. Reach out to us. We do need to raise significant community funds this and every year after to support this.

    Tim Maciel – alto of us feel that refugees is good economically and morally, but our schools will benefit from more diversity in the classrooms. We have language instructors, the career center. WE prepare children for life in America… this is a great thing for us. I hope the first batch has a lot of children entering schools.

    Gary Stroud – welcome to the family here in Brattleboro. You can never put a price tag on freedom – a lot of us paid a price when our families came to this country. Welcome to the family.

    Jeff lewis – I’m here with a small group of t Micheals Episcopal – we are exploring being a partner in this. Proud to be part of this. We were all refugees to this country.

    Liz – thanks to all for the presentation… oh, wait.. hands up.

    Rikki Risatti – I have two statements. The first being about with me trying to follow all the organizations trying to welcome refugees… none have said they are advocating for equal voting rights protection for people coming here and it is fundamental to welcoming them here, and I don’t feel ethically ok funding organizations that don’t support equal voting rights. I was wondering why I wasn’t invited in for an interview for the ADA appointment?

    Liz – thanks for your two comments. I have no response.

    Kate Paarlberg-Kvam – executive director of community asylum seekers in Brattleboro (we support 11) -we support asylum seekers in Brattleboro – it is similar, but it happens from within the US, not outside. We are collaborating on this new project. The work is similar. Over the last month or more we’ve had good conversations, they are thinking it through well. We’re fully on board.

    Marion Major – thanks for having me. I’m with WWHT to comment in support of this. It is a systemic strategy coming from a lot of angles. Housing is a challenge., as are demographics. This is an exciting strategy to meet the needs for a thriving community here.

    Audrey Garfield – I live in Brattleboro and want to thank the presenters. I’ve been listening to the questions and comments, and have to say that some makes me very uncomfortable. With housing – out of staters have paid over market price to price out locals. People are already coming to Brattleboro, and why are there now concerns about this demographic. We’ve heard what refugees can give to us – what can we give to them. Brattleboro has a reckoning with racism and xenophobia – how do we create a community where people of color feel safe and valued? That’s the bigger picture. I want to welcome Chief Hardy – she plans to help with equity and inclusion. It can’t just fall on her shoulders. It is for all of us to do this work. Let’s go beyond perforative lip service, and take action to make Brattleboro a place where people can feel safe and valued.

    Liz – ok…

    Tim – I want to make sure to say I’m fully support this, but housing will come up. I was happy with the answer – to improve housing and not to exclude people.

    Liz – thanks!

  • Police Chief

    Liz – now we have a ceremonial item. Peter Elwell has the honor of swearing in Normay Hardy as Police Chief…

    (audio breaks up…)

    Elwell – a surprise to her and me that the department has shown up tonight. A time we’ve looked forward to for a long time. I think she’s a powerhouse, but also a human being. Give her time to get to know us and work for the team. It will work out great. With that, my pleasure to swear in Chief Norma Hardy…

    (He reads the oath, she swears she’ll follow it!)

    Applause, (and sound breaks up in Zoom again…)

    Liz – we’re going to take a ten minute recess to congratulate Chief Hardy…

    and with that, I’m going to check in on my family…

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