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Hartford Voters Back ‘Indigenous Peoples Day’; Thetford OKs Town Manager

  • Voting for the first time, Abigail Berard fist bumps her mother, Licia Berry-Berard, after voting in Thetford, Vt., on Nov. 6, 2018. Jason Berard, her father, looks on. The family was at the polls together. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Marjorie Thomas, of Thetford, Vt., votes in Thetford on Nov. 6, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Thetford, Vt., residents Paul Rump, left, and Stuart Blood chat when in line to vote at the Thetford Town Hall Nov. 6, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Thetford residents voted, 805-593, on Tuesday to authorize the Selectboard to employ a town manager, one of several special town meeting ballot questions that were decided along with the midterm elections.

In Hartford, residents voted, 2,198-1,780, to urge the Selectboard to rename the holiday on the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day, and more decisively, 3,283-839, to urge the state to pursue significant renewable energy targets.

Norwich voters decided by a count of 1,575-400 to revive a fund that can be used to support the development of affordable housing.

The affirmative vote in Thetford means the Selectboard may pursue the hiring of the town’s first town manager, a position whose responsibilities under state statute include the general supervision of town affairs and the administrative heading of all municipal departments. Hiring a town manager has been discussed as a measure to alleviate the Selectboard’s work load, and a committee was formed last spring to study expenses and necessary steps for implementation.

Last month, all but eight of 103 attendees at a special Town Meeting at Thetford Elementary School voted “yes” via floor vote to hold Tuesday’s vote, even after some residents expressed concern about a lack of deliberation on the matter.

According to the town manager committee’s findings, a town manager could cost Thetford between $88,620 and $198,580 annually, depending on whether the town finds itself hiring additional staff, as often happens after such a change is made. The panel calculated a tax increase of between $27 and $58 per $100,000 of assessed valuation.

The committee surveyed other area towns with similar populations that had adopted town manager models, including Norwich, Windsor and Hartland, and found general support for the change. Thetford has a population of 2,600.

Hartford’s decision to both adopt Indigenous Peoples Day and to urge the state to curb fossil fuel use comes after the resolutions were stripped from the March Town Meeting ballot.

The Selectboard voted unanimously in January to reverse an earlier vote to put them up for a vote at Town Meeting.

The Selectboard also decided against placing the resolutions on Tuesday’s ballot, saying it would be more appropriate for the public to put such items on the ballot via petition.

Both items were subsequently petitioned onto the ballot. Hartford Selectboard Chairman Simon Dennis initially brought the matter to attention of the Selectboard in 2017, before he was elected chairman.

“We have this reality of genocide, reality of slavery and reality of economic exploitation that we sort of forget about as a nation,” Dennis said in an April 2017 meeting.

Now, he says he hesitates to call the town’s vote an achievement.

“As chair, my job is to create an environment where there is an opportunity for substantive, open discussion,” Dennis said on Tuesday night. “The town voted in favor of this measure and as a Selectboard we will make a decision. It’s not my place to comment on the pros and cons of it at this time.”

If the Selectboard heeds the town vote, Hartford will join a growing list of municipalities and states using the October date to celebrate the historical contributions of Native Americans rather than Christopher Columbus, who detractors argue was an oppressive and exploitative colonizer.

Hartford’s renewable energy resolution urges the state of Vermont to halt any new expansion of significant fossil fuel infrastructure, including pipelines; to firmly commit to 90 percent renewable energy for all people in Vermont and to ensure the transition to renewable energy is fair and equitable for all residents.

Norwich voters re-established a revolving affordable housing reserve fund, which was first created at Town Meeting 13 years ago. It has been extended numerous times since then, most recently in 2012 for five years, and has accumulated more than $45,700. The new fund has no expiration date.

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

Correction

Hartford residents  on Election Day voted, 2,198-1,780, to urge the Selectboard to rename the holiday on the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day, and more decisively, 3,283-839, to urge the state to pursue significant renewable energy targets. An earlier version of this story only reported tallies from one of the town’s two voting districts.