Hartford Racial Equality group broadens membership language

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/7/2019 9:56:13 PM
Modified: 2/7/2019 9:56:23 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Anyone who owns and operates a business in Hartford soon could be eligible to join the Hartford Committee on Racial Equity and Inclusion following a unanimous Selectboard vote to amend the group’s charge last week.

The amendment must still be approved by the Hartford School Board.

At the Selectboard’s Jan. 29 meeting, outgoing Hartford Town Manager Leo Pullar recommended an addition to the HCOREI charge regarding how “community members” are defined in the passage stating that committee members “will be comprised of two Selectboard members, two School Board members and five community members.”

The amended charge would define community members as “a Hartford resident or someone who owns and operates a business within the town.”

The constitution currently states that “One member of HCOREI may reside outside of Hartford,” a position that so far has been occupied by Ann Raynolds, a Pomfret resident who has owned and operated a clinical psychology practice on Quechee Main Street since 2010.

However, HCOREI chairman John Hall recently moved from White River Junction to Windsor, prompting an adjustment so that Hall and Raynolds may continue serving on the committee.

“We don’t want to lose the HCOREI chair and all of the great work he is doing,” Pullar told the Selectboard, according to CATV video of the meeting. “Redefining (community member) in this way would allow John to continue serving as chair, and he very much wants to. John is an incredible individual who brings a sense of calm to the chaos on a committee with energetic members.”

In discussions with Hall and Raynolds, Raynolds offered to step down from the committee so that Hall could begin representing the lone non-resident allowed, Pullar said.

“(Raynolds) brings a lot to the committee, too,” Pullar said at the meeting. “She’s a member of a lot of other influential groups in town, and we’d hate to lose that.”

Originally known as the Hartford Committee on Racial Inequality, the group was formed in 2017 following public outcry after then-Selectman Mike Morris forwarded a political cartoon featuring a racist depiction of Barack Obama to other Selectboard members. Morris later apologized.

The Selectboard and School Board subsequently charged a committee with developing policy recommendations to address racial inequality in the community, and the group now meets twice monthly to work toward various equity and inclusivity initiatives such as those promoting affordable housing and employment opportunities.

First-term Selectwoman Kim Souza, who made the motion for the amendment, had suggested that the HCOREI constitution language could be altered to welcome even more non-Hartford residents, perhaps up to one third of the nine-person committee.

“When it comes to membership recruitment, to me, residency is not the biggest priority,” Souza said in a Wednesday phone interview. “The work HCOREI does is so important, it’s really global and all-encompassing. It’s likely that expertise could come from outside of Hartford, even though ideally it would be comprised mostly of members of the town.”

Prior to approving the motion, there was some discussion about why “and operates” was attached to the business ownership language in the amendment.

Pullar explained that his recommendation was intended to allow business owners who were involved in the community to be eligible for HCOREI membership.

“We have businesses in town that are owned by conglomerates in New York City, so they’re not necessarily the operator,” Pullar said.

Raynolds declined comment and Hall could not immediately be reached for comment.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

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