Hartford Selectboard member resigns seat, citing experiences of ‘blatant bigotry’

  • Alicia Barrow (Courtesy photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/25/2021 8:36:34 PM
Modified: 1/25/2021 8:36:33 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Hartford Selectboard member Alicia Barrow has stepped down from her position, citing safety concerns and “blatant bigotry” that she said she has experienced in the community.

“Though I no longer feel safe nor welcome in a place I have called home for 15 years, I still care very much for the community and its right to exercise the democratic process,” Barrow wrote in a resignation letter which she sent to the board on Friday evening and shared with the Valley News. She added that by stepping down now, she hopes to give residents a chance to vote on a new board member.

In an emergency meeting regarding Barrow’s decision Monday morning, five board members who were present agreed not to appoint another member to the seven-member board, but rather to allow voters to choose Barrow’s replacement at Town Meeting in March. Along with Barrow’s position, residents will be asked to vote on four other open seats on the board at the March meeting.

Barrow was elected in a 1,419-1,350 vote over longtime incumbent Dick Grassi for a three-year seat on the board at Town Meeting last year. But since then, she said she’s had a lot of negative experiences that have influenced her decision to step down.

Safety was a primary concern, she said; Barrow, who is Black, said in an interview Monday that she’s been the victim of racial slurs and death threats over the phone, in person and by email during her time on the board.

In one instance a man called Barrow a racial slur and told her to “go back to Africa,” she said. In another, a man emailed her threatening to “curb stomp” her. She said she reported the latter instance to police but no charges were filed.

“My life has been threatened and my children have been adversely affected by it,” Barrow said of the negative comments she and her five children have received over the last year.

Barrow, one of three Selectboard members who are Black, said the backlash is due at least partly to her being a Black woman in position of power and an outspoken advocate for racial justice. She said some residents in the community were first upset when Barrow took a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance to protest police brutality against Black people during a board meeting last spring.

“There is much work to be done here in Hartford, that cannot rest on my shoulders alone nor should I be relegated to be a spokesperson for the culture,” Barrow wrote in her letter. She added that having conversations about racial inequality “feels next to impossible in our community that is divided to the point of wearing its bigotry like a badge without thought to the harm it causes.”

Racial issues have been a major topic of discussion in Hartford for several years. In 2017, after then-board member Mike Morris forwarded a racist political cartoon, the Selectboard and School Board decided to form a committee to address racial inequality in the town, called the Hartford Committee on Racial Equity and Inclusion. Morris later apologized for the incident.

Barrow wrote that another reason for her resignation was the “overwhelming feeling of retaliation I feel may be coming” from the Hartford Police Department. Barrow declined in an interview to say what that entails.

“The ideology of defunding the police ticked a couple of hot boxes for folks,” she said in the interview.

Requests for comment from Hartford police were not returned on Monday.

She additionally cited “the tremendous strain of balancing difficult personal situations with giving the community the time and commitment it deserves.”

In her letter, Barrow thanked community members who have “checked in on” her over the past year and those who are “compassionate about human life,” writing, “you are what sparks hope in Hartford even in its darkness.”

The board made no comment on the allegations in her letter during its meeting Monday morning. In an email Monday night, Selectboard Chairman Dan Fraser said he was sorry to see Barrow go, calling her a “strong and needed voice for a segment of Hartford.”

“Alicia had mentioned that she had, was and continues to unfortunately, experience racial slurs, prior, while and after on the board. She had shared this with us, but didn’t specifically ask us to help her address them, stating she would handle things,” he said.

Barrow’s resignation is the third that the board has seen in the last year. In the spring, longtime member Dennis Brown stepped down, citing transparency issues with the board; and in the fall board member Alan Johnson stepped down, saying he was moving to Montpelier. New members Emma Behrens and Rachel Edens were appointed to temporarily fill those positions.

At the March Town Meeting, residents will take action on the seats now held by Edens and Behrens and vote on a seat currently held by Fraser, whose term expires this spring. Voters will also have to elect new board members for vacant seats left by Barrow and Board Vice Chairman Simon Dennis, who is not seeking re-election when his term expires this spring.

Anna Merriman can be reached at amerriman@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

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