To the Residents of Vernon,
I know that you are all seeking answers; I fully understand that decisions made have caused concern within our own community. Like all of you, I am also in a state of shock, left wishing that there were other options. However, all other options have been visited previously, which led us here. Every board member lives in this community, our families are here, our kids go to school with yours, and every decision made directly affects our lives also. As a board member I know that every decision made is open for criticism, and that each decision affects everyone differently. Whether it is in regards to compost, the fire department, Town employees and officials, etc., every decision has a lasting impact on every one of my neighbors. Please do not for a minute think that I take that lightly, or that I do not recognize the importance of the position I hold. On the contrary, I want to be sure that the decisions made are based off of well thought out ideas that are in the best interest of our community. I seek factual information, and I seek input from those around me with more experience than myself in the field of which we are discussing.
Recently there have been accusations that the Board is attempting to be secretive, or to hide information, or limit the release of information. I don’t blame you, the recent events have happened quickly, and they were not small decisions, nor were they easy decisions to make. The accusations continue on to imply that the board is only making decisions based on our wants and needs, or that we have kicked the can down the road on issues until being pressured, etc. Again, I completely understand how things could be taken that way, especially in a time when information was limited. It is never the intent of this board to operate secretively, or to hide anything, quite the opposite actually. Our board has been working to create easier accessibility to all meetings that town boards and committees hold. We have strongly encouraged all boards, and committees to record their meetings, just as the selectboard meetings are recorded, in an effort to allow the residents to be up to date on their town’s issues and happenings. These recordings would then be available to all residents so that you may get caught up and informed at your convenience. We have discussed the possibility of continuing hybrid meetings, even after the pandemic is over, so that if you would like to attend a meeting, you can do so from the comfort of your home, and still be able to voice your opinions and concerns. Unfortunately, the Selectboard has received a tremendous amount of push back from some committees in town that do not feel they should be recorded.
As elected members of the Selectboard we have a fiscal responsibility to care for the residents funds through every expenditure you have approved and entrusted the board to oversee. Therefore when the cost goes beyond the amount approved by the residents, such as in the case of the compost bins, which was also doubled with the legalities presented from the State of Vermont, the Selectboard has an obligation to act in the interest of all residents of Vernon. Unfortunately every decision made effects everyone differently. Some want the bins and are happy to pay more to enjoy that service in town, and you are truly missing them and it has caused you an inconvenience in the community you live in and love. On the other side, some do not use the bins as their situation allows for a different option whether it be a outdoor compost bin, or perhaps you pay for another service, and for you the inconvenience would be an increased cost in your community that you live in and love and you may prefer to save that cost entirely.
In the case of the Fire Department, you fund that service, that service is a necessity to this community, and we have an obligation to ensure that service is functioning at the level expected by those funding it. We have to ensure that the dedicated members of the department are being led by a team of officers that are accountable, and oversee the safety of those under their command. When a group of 10 firefighters and EMS providers step forward to express concerns of toxicity, unsafe practices, lack of in house training, and overall lack of leadership, we must act. When I receive a call from the father of a Vernon Fire Explorer (under the age of 18) asking if it is safe to allow his son to continue going to the fire house due to everything going on, we must act. Vernon is so very fortunate to have fire and EMS providers that have dedicated years to their training in an effort to achieve and hold their certifications. These members answer the call at any given hour of the day and night. They leave their loved ones to serve our loved ones, and often they do it un-thanked and un-paid. Their hearts are in the right place, and it is our job as a community to lift them up, and stand behind them when they reach out asking for help to save their department and ensure their safety.
I am aware that given the recent news that has been published, the perception is that we were pressured by a Town Administrator to act in a certain way, and because our decision came after a resignation was received that we must be playing catch up. I want to assure you all that, that is not the case. We needed to make sure that the decision we were facing was made only after we were certain that systems were put into place to ensure the safety and protection of the Town and Residents of Vernon. I reached out to our neighboring towns and we organized a meeting to discuss what coverage would look like in Vernon. It was not until there was a clear and specific outlined plan in place that I was willing to make the decision to suspend operations from the Town Dept. That meeting was Sunday morning and after the plan was presented I asked for the emergency meeting to address the personnel concerns and present the plan proposed by our surrounding agencies.
Many of you know that I am born and raised in Vernon. Many of you know that I had a reputation for being a trouble maker, or just a young punk kid. I have very fond memories of the Vernon Fire Dept., as my father was a member for many years during my childhood. When I reached the age of 15, and was able to join the fire department as a junior, I couldn’t get my application in quick enough. I did the training, I went to the classes, I stood by in the station while the “real” fire fighters went to the call, and I helped put our trucks back in service when they returned. Vernon trained me for what would be an almost 20 year volunteer career with 4 departments throughout southern Vermont. Now I am raising two boys of my own, and oh boy do they give me a run for my money. All too often I see so many of my younger traits in my children. I raise my boys to reach out for help when needed and to help those around you when you can, to admit if you make a mistake and work to resolve that, but to always take responsibility for your actions, and to stand by your decisions. I say this in hopes that you are able to see that this decision was made with a heavy heart, and there was a lot of emotion involved. The Town of Vernon and the Vernon Fire Dept., raised me, and made me who I am today. I do not take any decision that needs to be made lightly, as it affects my children and loved ones the same as yours. I love this town, I love and respect the dedicated members of our Fire Department, and I have the upmost respect for anyone that gives of their time to this great community.
In closing, I deeply apologize for allowing the perception to be that this was secretive or being done behind your backs. That was never the intent and going forward I hope to make town decisions and discussions more accessible to all the residents. Every board member takes the job that you have entrusted us with very serious and personally.
Humbly and sincerely,