Vermont League of Cities and Towns
Equity Committee Meeting
Monday, March 8, 2021
Members Present: Chair, Elaine Haney and Members Brian Carroll, Kerin Durfee, Rachel Edens, Tyeastia Green, Ellen Kaye, Marguerite Ladd, Peter Lynch, Nathaniel Miller, Todd Odit, Sasha Thayer, Phoebe Townsend, Al Voegele, Elaine Wang, and Deborah Wright.
Others Present: VLCT staff Abigail Friedman, Karen Horn and Maura Carroll.
All attended via GoToMeeting.
Agenda Item #1: Call to order by the Chair. Chair Elaine Haney called the meeting to order at 1:07 p.m., introduced herself and thanked everyone for their attendance and for agreeing to serve. While the chair currently serves as the Chair of the Selectboard in the Town of Essex, she informed the committee that she lost her re-election bid and would be stepping down from the VLCT Board and the Equity Committee. At their meeting on March 18, the VLCT Board will discuss the appointment of another Board representative to the Committee.
Agenda Item #2: Additions and deletions to the Agenda. No additions or deletions were made to the agenda.
Agenda Item #3: Introduction of all members and staff in attendance. The Chair asked that all members and staff in attendance introduce themselves and identify why they are interested in serving, as well as sharing a bit of their personal backgrounds.
- Peter Lynch, the Shoreham Selectboard secretary, has run an international organization working with high school exchange students. Shoreham is not having conversations about race because there are almost no people of color and he wants to know how to start the conversation and have it be meaningful.
- Nathaniel Miller, Selectboard member in Northfield believes that there are no more important conversations going on right now in the nation and in communities. He believes the Selectboard has recently made some good steps forward and would like VLCT to offer some real concrete guidance to towns.
- Marguerite Ladd, assistant manager in Essex and former town administrator in Cambridge wants to enable all municipalities to have some kind of tool kit to use going forward. She has done some equity work with schools.
- Kerin Durfee, Police Commissioner in Burlington, works at the Echo Leahy Center and is a member of the Vermont Commission on Women. She feels strongly about normalizing black and brown women in leadership roles and positions.
- Tyeastia Green, Director of Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging in Burlington is on the committee at the request of Mayor Weinberger. She agrees with Kerin Durfee’s statement about normalizing black and brown women leaders and stated that Vermont is probably most racist place she has ever lived.
- Rachel Edens, Selectboard member in Hartford has been in Vermont since 2014 is originally from North Carolina, and was surprised at the level of racism, bias and misogyny here. She is interested in this work, has experienced support in Hartford but states that it does not drown out the vicious threats and hateful voices in Vermont. She also sees the state as the whitest, most racist and segregated place in America. She is interested in how Vermont can move beyond conversations to action.
- Todd Odit, Town Administrator in Jericho and elected member of Essex –Westford school district. He said the efforts by the school district have piqued his interest and while the town experienced responses to the Black Lives Matter movement last summer, he wants to be sure that Jericho does not “duck” and hope issues of racism will blow over. He wants to address them.
- Brian Carroll, Selectboard member in Glover and recently retired from a career in special education, has always looked for equitable opportunities for those with disabilities. He is looking forward to getting more information, direction and credibility to move the conversation forward.
- Al Voegele, retired municipal manager, currently serves on local and regional planning commissions for St. Albans Town, has relatives who are people of color and has what he calls a minimal understanding of what it’s like to be minority in a majority white community and has tried and will continue to try and make changes.
- Elaine Wang (correct pronunciation Wong [inflection going up]), Assistant Manager in Barre Town, the need for resources in her town and wants VLCT to develop some baseline resources. She is the only person of color on the town staff and has lived experienced as a member of a minority community.
- Deborah Wright, Village President in Bellows Falls is of native American descent. She is the only woman on the Village Board and both boards comprise primarily older white individuals. She would like to see more diversity but it hasn’t happened yet. She wants to listen and see what ideas, programs and actions work.
- Ellen Kaye, Diversity and Equity Committee member in Barre City is a racial justice activist, a UVM librarian where she also serves on the inclusive excellence committee. She is encouraged that there are more women serving on the Barre City Council now and excited that the committee recommendations may now get heard. She wants to see cross-fertilization of those in equity and inclusion work and actionable work on VLCT’s committee.
- Sasha Thayer, Selectboard member in Plainfield said that she has been interested in this work for 45-50 years and is sad to learn about how painful it is to live as a racist state. She believes that the realization that this is a white person’s problem is important, that education is needed as are tools to support people of color.
- Phoebe Townsend, Human Resources Director in Winooski for the last year and worked with Kerin Durfee at the Echo Leahy Center.
Karen Horn, Abigail Friedman and Maura Carroll are present in a support role on behalf of VLCT. Karen attends the legislature’s Social Equity Caucus and follows equity issues at the State House. Staff want to convey the importance of this issue and to be available to assist the committee in whatever way members deem appropriate.
Agenda Item #4: Election of/Consensus for a Co-Chair. At first, the committee expressed concern that electing a co-chair would be difficult since the committee members do not know each other well. After some discussion, Rachel Edens expressed her willingness to serve as a committee leader. Upon motion duly made by Peter Lynch and seconded by Al Voegele, the committee voted unanimously to elect Rachel Edens as co-chair of the Equity Committee. Rachel Edens abstained from the vote.
Agenda Item #5: Discussion of Board-Adopted Plan and Committee Member Expectations. Maura Carroll provided an overview of the plan adopted by the VLCT Board. Committee members discussed the plan and offered comments, including: that VLCT has a strong role in helping communities thrive and with this issue, VLCT can add that equity and diversity strengthens communities; that there is a lot of important work for “white folks” to do and one question that needs to be asked is what are the barriers to these conversations in our communities. It was agreed that the plan is a good starting point and that working definitions of terms will be helpful and homework needs to be done before the next meeting.
Agenda Item #6: Set a Meeting Schedule. After much discussion and elimination of days with several other meetings scheduled, it was agreed that Monday afternoons at 1:00 p.m. was the best time for most committee members. Members recognized that at least one member was not able to attend afternoon meetings, but it was difficult to find a time that worked for everyone. The committee will meet monthly to start with further discussion as the work of the committee proceeds.
Agenda Item #7: Other Business. No other business came before the committee.
Agenda Item #8: Adjourn. Without objection, the Chair adjourned the meeting at 2:27.