Category Archives: Writing

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Turmoil at the RFPL Accusations of open meeting law violations, improper actions by trustees chair, and slander bog down library

BELLOWS FALLS—With renovations to the Rockingham Free Public Library in a state of uncertainty following the bankruptcy of its contractor, its board of trustees has been at the center of some ongoing turmoil behind the scenes.

Amid the practicalities of how to accommodate the public during a construction process that has been disrupted, library trustees are engaging in an overall review and revision of library policies, said Deborah Wright, vice-chair of the trustees.

In the process, the board has been redefining “roles and responsibilities” and trying to create clear lines of authority and responsibility — a process that has at times created scenarios where staff don’t feel heard.

 

With additional reporting by Jeff Potter.

Originally published in The Commons issue #200 (Wednesday, April 24, 2013).

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Activist Art Transcends Climate Change

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Eight years after Bill McKibben, the founder of the grassroots organization 350.org, penned this quote, artists of all genres are finally heeding his clarion call. Artists are convening in Montpelier this June to tell the emotional side of being human in a changing climate. What it is like to live with climate change? They are showing us their hope and despair in an exquisite outpouring of inspired, activist eco-art.

McKibben set the stage with his “Art Sweet Art” essay. In 2009 he reflected, “It was probably the last moment I could have written it. Clearly there were lots and lots of people already thinking the same way, because ever since it’s …as if deep and moving images and sounds and words have been flooding out into the world.

“That torrent of art has been, often, deeply disturbing. It should be deeply disturbing, given what we’re doing to the earth,” he concluded.

The Goddard Gallery on Main Street in Montpelier is hosting the eco-art exhibit that continues through June 30, displaying 15 different artists in a full-throated visual chorus of response to climate change.

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Vermont Judges Shape International War Crimes Law

Two Vermont judges, the Honorable Justice Shireen Avis Fisher and the Honorable Justice Patricia Whalen, have been breaking boundaries for decades, shaping laws in Vermont and internationally. Both began their careers during a time when there were no women in the Vermont judiciary. The appointment of Vermont’s first woman state judge, Linda Levitt, by Gov. Richard Snelling took place in 1984; it took until 2010 to see Christina Reiss appointed as Vermont’s first Federal Court judge.

In that context, it seems all the more remarkable that Fisher and Whalen are both serving as judges on war crimes at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague in Netherlands and in Bosnia.

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Vermont’s Energy Choices – The Power to Change

Worried speculation began around the world almost as soon as the Japanese, already shocked by the damage caused by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck on March 11, 2011, learned of explosions at the Fukishama Dai-ichi nuclear plant near the quake’s epicenter on Japan’s northeast coast. Would this become one of the three worst nuclear disasters in history, after Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986?

 

Japanese and plant officials were accused of not getting enough information to the public in a timely manner to protect them from radiation. Now, reports worsen daily: radiation is turning up in food gardens, Tokyo residents are warned not to drink possibly radioactive tap water, and nuclear plant workers are being hospitalized for radiation exposure. Japan’s residents are just beginning to pay the ultimate price for nuclear energy gone wrong.

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Cindy Turcot Grows a Company and Profits for Employees

It’s rare for anyone to stay at a job for 31 years. It’s even more rare for that person to get up in the morning, feeling she cannot wait to get into the office. Gardener’s Supply Company is that sort of workplace. And a big reason why, says Cindy Turcot, Chief Operations Officer (COO) of America’s Gardening Resource, the parent company, is its employee stock option plan.

“I have been fortunate that throughout our evolution, I have been able to work for an amazing founder,” she said, referring to Will Raap, now chairman of the board. Turcot first began in customer service and data entry; but Raap credits Turcot (see sidebar) with committing to a new ownership model and making it happen.

The company decided to invest in its employees in 1987, says Turcot, and has relied on Vermont employees’ inherent frugality, independence and creative thinking. “We adopted an Employee Stock Ownership Program (ESOP) that allows all employees to earn stock and share in company profits.” As of December 2009, Gardener’s Supply became 100 percent employee-owned.

Turcot has been integral to building the company from its humble beginnings in 1983 to its becoming the nation’s largest catalog-and-web marketer of gardening products and accessories. They now have two garden centers in Williston and Burlington, and millions of customers, with matching revenues and 225 year-round employees.

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Land-based Jobs Grow Fuel, Food and Future

In a recently published study of tweets—yes, they’re studying tweet-trends—a UVM research team found our state rated among the happiest in the nation, though generally the trend is spiraling down. And last year, when Gov. Peter Shumlin asked followers on Facebook and Twitter what they loved about Vermont, responses included maple syrup, clean water, beauty, skiing, swimming, and community. All shared one thing in common: a stable, healthy, and clean environment.

Here “sustainable jobs” and “green economy” are not just words, they are being translated into policies and programs that help Vermonters live healthier lifestyles. Almost 20 years ago, seeing the economy’s interdependence with the health of both land and families, some Vermont legislators saw that our future lay along an ecological path. They created the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (VSJF), according to the fund’s webpage, “to strengthen the statewide economic intersection of Vermont’s working landscape.”

Since its establishment in 1995, VSJF and its programs have accelerated the development of Vermont’s green economy. It does this, its website explains, by providing “financing, technical assistance, and networking resources to Vermont businesses committed to creating jobs, products, and services in the fields of renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and forestry.” The VSJF office is in Montpelier.

“We are systems thinkers,” VSJF’s executive director Ellen Kahler told Vermont Woman in a recent interview. “We keep an eye on the big picture of how different markets are evolving, try to identify gaps and barriers to markets working better, and build networks of organizations and businesses who can work collaboratively to unlock market potential.”

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Green Mountain Girls Farm: An Agri-Tourism Success

Mari Omland and Laura Olsen of Green Mountain Girl Farm would count it significant that Vermont chose Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, to overlook Montpelier’s statehouse and surrounding hills. Ceres holds a shock of grain in her arms.

Since the 1700s, Vermonters have been wresting agricultural livelihoods from hilltops and riverine environments. The first farms were self-sufficient and farming families lived on what they raised. Later, sheep farming changed the landscape to open fields of pasture. And now, a new wave of farmers is investing in restoration of the state’s working lands.

Omland and Olsen bought their 40-acre farm in 2007. Nestled atop the hills just south of Paine Mountain in Northfield—and within two miles of I-89, not far from Ceres in Montpelier—the undulating farm and its land is part of 110-acres originally donated to the Vermont Land Trust (VLT) by Thomas and Thelma Osgood in 1993.