Where Are We Going? Does It Matter?

An fbook exchange

Spoon Agave: There are no obvious signs of leadership in Brattleboro so I can only conclude that the collective vision in the Municipal building is that the pandemic will end someday and everything will be OK. If anyone reading this has seen something different please share what it is. At the moment it feels like the town is simply marking time (just filling potholes) until whatever happens happens and we’ll deal with it then. That is one strategy, anyway.

Dot Lenhart: Do you have any suggestions?

Spoon Agave: It would be nice if the Selectboard developed a vision and a strategy. It might help if they just decided if they saw themselves as leaders, or leadership. Or exactly how they are interpreting their role as a Selectboard. And inform the public what they decided. Without any vision or goals or strategy what is their purpose? Perhaps they need to hire people to help them find a role or purpose. I have no idea. It just feels like the town is adrift at a time that such a condition is fearfully inadequate. One could have more confidence in them if they admitted that they don’t know what to do. Then at least the resources, knowledge, skills and experience of 12,000 residents, now lying largely disengaged and dormant, can come alive.

David Evans: “Then at least the resources, knowledge, skills and experience of 12,000…” There are a whole bunch of resources for people, incredibly engaging conversations, neighborhood organizations helping each other, fundraisers, etc. Maybe you don’t see this stuff or don’t pay enough attention, but to basically say nobody is doing anything is disingenuous and false. It sounds like you haven’t heard anything the people or the town have said in the last three months, which is on you, not the selectboard.

Spoon Agave: Then perhaps the place to start is setting goals and seeing how close we get to them. Measurable results are what count. Merely saying that people are doing things doesn’t tell us what actually got done. Maybe the majority of residents believe enough has been accomplished. Although that still leaves us with trying to understand what enough is. Perhaps, for instance, growing one tenth of one percent of our annual food needs locally is enough. Without goals and measurements there cannot be accountability.

Comments | 3

  • Maintenance Mode

    I think you might be looking for centralized leadership and a five year plan — the SB has that. It’s basically a maintenance plan for the things the town already has — buildings, equipment, parking apparatus, etc. I doubt they see themselves as adrift, given that they’re doing exactly the same things they always do. Tuesday night they passed the budget. A lot of people wanted them to reexamine that budget but they passed it, which was their mission for the evening.

    What I’ve noticed generally (not just town government) is that people seem to be making rushed decisions — partly because if you’re still operating, everything seems more like an emergency and everyone has to make it up as they go along. I also think those of us still working are tired. I know I am. There’s a lot of stress involved in just keeping afloat during a pandemic (who knew pandemics could be so stressful).

    Returning to your point, I would argue that the people we usually think of as leaders — elected officials — can’t possibly lead during these times because they’re too invested in the way things are now and the way we’ve always done them. I see this all the way up the chain of command to the President. Leadership right now is coming from the people who want change.

    There are always very good reasons not to change — something might break, things would be different, it might cost more, or be hard to implement. But when people want change badly enough, they eventually get it, and yes, things break and oftentimes change unpleasantly before they get better. That’s the cost of progress, I guess!

  • Planning, tax revenue decline, police, pandemic

    While maintenance is part of the town plan, and there may be plans to do things like encourage walking by building more sidewalks and the official town plan may include things like “encouraging a vibrant and growing community”, it sounds like Spoon is asking where the plan is to deal with the current and coming consequences of the pandemic. For example, there are economic predictions that tax revenues for cities and towns and states will shrink drastically very soon (1-6 months) when the unemployment aid ends and small business support ends (unless Congress renews it, but that is not looking likely at the moment) and corporate debt payments and rents that were temporarily set aside all come due at the same time. What happens then? Does it affect us? There’s a lot of uncertainty so perhaps the tendency is to wait to see what actually happens and how big the shortfalls are. Maybe there are some methods to get some more information; a survey could determine if there are a lot of people here who are close to defaulting on their mortgages, or businesses that are not planning to restart, or will restart with reduced numbers of employees.

    Issues like defunding the police should be discussed and would require quite a bit of planning, many people aren’t even sure what defunding the police means. I think Robert Reich (former US secretary of labor) has a good perspective on this:

    “What Defund the Police really means: replacing social control with investment”

    For a small town like Brattleboro this doesn’t necessarily mean firing police officers, it could mean changing the organization of the police into new departments with different responsibilities. So there could be a traffic division, a crime division, and a social division. Traffic and Social would not involve carrying guns and Social in particular may require some new training. Police have already been being used to handle social problems so they have gained some on-the-job experience in it, and with additional training could be very good at it. The new divisions could have different uniforms to distinguish them, so when a Social division officer shows up at your door you’re not afraid they might shoot you. There would be some costs involved in such a reorganization and they would have to be planned for. This isn’t a completely new idea though, and shouldn’t be that difficult to figure out; the way police departments work now is mostly very different than they used to be, so changes have already occurred several times. Any place that social control has replaced social work should be moved away from enforcement and back to being a social service. The police don’t want to be involved in domestic squabbles and probably should not be enforcing traffic laws either (which has mainly been shown to generate revenue and does not change peoples actual driving habits). They (as people with guns and the permission to use them) should only be called into play when there is an enforcement issue. Public safety should also be disentangled from enforcement. All these are mixed together currently and may be difficult to separate (e.g., how does traffic enforcement safely bring in crime enforcement when evidence of a crime surfaces? If Public Safety responds to a traffic accident how do they safely shut down a highway?) It would probably require more people for the greater number of roles (perhaps some of these roles can be shared between towns) and would certainly require new channels of communication and training in coordination. So it would probably cost a lot and require hiring even more police (for non-enforcement roles). I think Brattleboro currently has about 16 officers working three shifts so if enforcement is needed 24/7, plus these new roles, certainly more people would be needed. Maybe as the new roles come into play less enforcement will be needed though and officers could be retrained for new roles.

    It would probably be better if this was done with a lot of forethought from the top down, starting at the federal level, to the states and then down to the cities and towns and counties (state police, sheriff, town police, fire, social services) and done in a predictable way so that no one feels their livelihood is threatened (although even the required role changes some may find disconcerting.) It could be started at the town level also, but such a major reorganization may be outside the capabilities of the Selectboard. Still some progress might be made at the local level too. People will tell you that traffic stops are important for the police in finding new leads to crimes, though I suspect most of that is drug related, and might be better handled in other ways. This NY Times article breaks down what the police actually spend their time doing in a few select cities, it’s an interesting place to start thinking about this (a subscription is probably required to see the article):


    So it seems to me that the Selectboard could tackle some changes that are closer to their scope, yet would want to be a voice in plans at the state and federal levels. The likely changes in tax revenues seem like something that should be planned for including information gathering. There are probably other issues that the pandemic has brought or will bring that may affect town planning too, e.g., a second wave of infections after this first wave. Vermont is lucky in that we’re rural which acts as a natural barrier to the virus and also our State Health Dept has been doing contact tracing (most states are too overwhelmed to even consider it). However, even though Vermont’s numbers have gone down they keep trying to come back up and will succeed in places. Brattleboro _could_ be one of those places as it is something of a hub town on a small scale.

    We’re not in this alone though, other towns are going through the same thing, and some town to town communication seems in order to find out what other towns are doing and planning, which is another thing it would be good to hear a report from the Selectboard on.

  • Leadership Comes from People Who Want change

    Lise, Really that was what many in my (our?) generation wanted badly! Examples to follow that taught us how to love! Sadly ego and wanting to live for the moment got in the way as the revolution of the 60’s progressed. I worked with the founders of NOFA Vermont back in Hardwick, Vt in the early 80’s and some of the disillusionment was pretty sad. That is when I noticed the humble hard working people in Island Pond as they stood together during the infamous “Raid on Island Pond”, June 22nd 1984. That was also George Orwell’s year!

    History is repeating itself before our eyes! Melevav

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