S. Vt. gets one out of 19 members on economic recovery panel Local lawmakers: Our communities should have bigger voice

Gov. Scott on Wednesday addresses a Telegraph question on the makeup of a task force to reopen the state. Screen capture

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing

A 19-member “task force” to restart the state’s economy after the peak of the coronavirus pandemic has only one member who lives in southern Vermont and the group’s meetings will not be subject to Vermont’s Open Meetings Law, Gov. Phil Scott said at a press conference Wednesday.

On Tuesday night, the governor’s office announced the formation of a “task force” consisting of three “action teams” who will “roll up their sleeves and lend their vast expertise and skill” to help with restarting Vermont’s economy after the Covid-19 spread is under control contained.

In the same press release, Commerce and Community Development Secretary Lindsay Kurrle noted that the state “will need to lean more than ever on fresh ideas and unique solutions.”

But of the 19 people who have been selected for the task force, only former Londonderry Rep. Oliver Olsen lives south of Route 4. The rest of the members live in Colchester, Burlington, Montpelier, Barre, Swanton, Northfield, Peacham, Shelburne and other northern and central Vermont towns.

‘We had so many folks who reached out to us when they heard the task force was being put together. We really wanted to keep it very small so that we could have folks who are nimble and roll up their sleeves and give us bandwith.’

Commerce Secretary Lindsay Kurrle
on why only one person from Southern
Vermont was chosen for a 19-member task force

South of Route 4 is home to one-quarter of the state’s population, and includes Bennington and Windham counties and the majority of Windsor and Rutland counties.

Asked Wednesday about the lack of representation for residents of southern Vermont, Scott deferred to Kurrle who said, “We had so many folks who reached out to us when they heard the task force was being put together. We really wanted to keep it very small so that we could have folks who are nimble and roll up their sleeves and give us bandwith.”

Kurrle noted that one other person who lives in southern Vermont had been asked to serve but could not due to time considerations.

I “feel proud and honored to be a part of the task force and I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and representing southern Vermont,” Olsen told The Telegraph, saying also that he thought others might be added in the future.

Windham-Bennington Rep. Laura Sibilia said she had heard that at least one other person from southern Vermont had been asked and thought that there might be more added to the task force.

SRDC director Bob Flint says he’s satisfied that another Regional Development Corp. is on the panel.

“I hope to hear more and I presume that southern Vermont is being considered,” said Sibilia, who works in economic development for the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp. She praised the selection of Olsen, noting that he had been a co-sponsor of the legislation that created the Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone.

Sibilia said that the southern part of the state has a number of representatives on legislative committees that would have a part in restarting the state.

She added that she had been in discussions with both the Windham County delegation and BDCC and the announcement was not without some sting. “Some people are feeling a bit salty, but we have to give people the benefit of the doubt,” said Sibilia.

Bob Flint, executive director of Springfield Regional Development Corp., said that there was representation by another RDC executive and that satisfied him. “All of these people are experienced and they can all hit the ground running and that’s what we need,” said Flint.

Windsor lawmakers unhappy with lack of representation

But not everyone was willing to give that blanket benefit of the doubt.

State Sen. Alice Nitka: ‘It would have been nice to spread it around so the voice of the south could be heard.’

Saying that he was reluctant to give Gov. Scott anything but “100 percent support for his leadership,” Windsor Sen. Dick McCormack noted that, “One guy below Rt. 4 doesn’t seem fair or representative. The contrast in leadership between Gov. Scott and Donald Trump is staggering, but I am perplexed by having just one member from south of Route 4.”

Sen. Alice Nitka, also of Windsor, agreed, saying, “I think the governor is doing a very good job and I don’t want to criticize but, it would have been nice to spread it out so the voice of the south could be heard.”

Windsor-2 Rep. Annmarie Christensen was a bit more blunt, noting that when she noticed the makeup of the task force, “I found it disturbing that there’s only one representative from the southern part of the state. ”

“I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t studied it yet, but I’m shocked to see only one person from the southern part of the state on it,”  Windsor Sen. Alison Clarkson said following a Wednesday Zoom meeting. “We have plenty of thoughtful, smart people here. Some of the most robust and effective responses to Irene were spearheaded by people here in the south.”

Transparency takes back seat in restarting Vermont’s economy

When The Telegraph asked if the task force would fall under Vermont’s Open Meeting Law, Gov. Scott said that because it was advisory to him, it would not.

Oliver Olsen, the lone southern Vermont rep on a panel to reopen Vermont, says he would like more transparency on the panel. Telegraph file photo.

The state’s Open Meeting Law provides an exemption for “councils or similar groups established by the Governor for the sole purpose of advising the Governor with respect to policy.”

However, asked to reconcile the statements within the announcement of the panel’s formation, which called it  a “task force” and “not an advisory committee” and even called attention to that “important distinction,” the governor’s office responded: “Not being an advisory committee doesn’t mean (its) work is not advisory to the governor for policy and decision making. The point of that statement is to make clear this group’s work will be actionable by the Governor. But (its) work will be used for the policy decisions he will make.”

Said Olsen: “While there may be issues of executive privilege, personally I think it should be an open process and I will raise the question. It should be a standard sort of process, but there may be other considerations I don’t know about.”

“I have a lot of confidence in the governor and Secretary Kurrle,” said Windsor 3-1 Rep. Tom Bock, “but that does bother me a little. I want to see what happens and I’d like to see a little more transparency.

‘Orphans of our government’

Last July, when the Scott administration brought its Capitol for a Day program to Chester in Windsor County, Chester attorney Bill Dakin asked the governor and his cabinet not to forget the towns south of Route 4. “Keep us in mind,” said Dakin, who is also chairman of the Chester Economic Development Committee.

Then Secretary of Labor Lindsay Kurrle, in sleeveless dress, and Gov. Scott to her left answer questions at the breakfast kickoff to the Capitol for a Day event Telegraph file photo

At the kick-off for the administration’s visit held at the Fullerton Inn, several members of Scott’s cabinet – including Secretary Kurrle admitted that they had never been to Chester before, a town of more than 3,000 that is home to more than 100 businesses.

After hearing about the selection of the recovery task force Thursday, Dakin told The Telegraph:

“Gov. Scott has been providing strong and reasoned leadership in response to the Covid virus, for which we are all appreciative.

“However … southern Vermont, through its significant business centers including Brattleboro, Bennington and White River Junction, and its large number of small businesses … needs to have its share of representatives on these important economic recovery groups. Otherwise, those of us south of Route 4 will continue to be treated as orphans by our state government.”


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  1. Charlea Baker says:

    Montpelier has a long standing habit of “forgetting” (ignoring) the voices of citizens from the southern part of Vermont. Those along the 89 corridor are too quick to exercise a type of “geographic privilege” whenever plans, projects and (supposedly) statewide decisions need to be made. This was never okay for those of us who live and work in “invisible” southern Vermont. But in these dire times, it is harmful, irresponsible and frankly inexcusable. All of our businesses are struggling. But problems and solid solutions for an urban market like Burlington are not the same as those in a Chester, or Brattleboro or Bennington market. To make a plan and recover effectively will require collaboration gleaned from a wide range of ideas, local knowledge, local perspectives and local experience. While I have no doubt of Mr. Olsen’s qualifications, he should not have to bear the burden of being the sole (token) voice to represent all of the people and businesses who do not reside along the 89 beltway. If the Governor and Secretary Kurrle wanted to set up a small workgroup then it would have been so much wiser to begin by including business leaders representing all parts of the state. The only reasonable way to correct this parochial, myopically designed taskforce is to expand the group. Create a better balance by inviting 3 or 4 more qualified representatives from south of Route 4. Otherwise the credibility of this group will remain in doubt and its effectiveness in achieving recovery for all businesses in the state will be severely hampered.

    In the future may I strongly suggest that when setting up a task force, those in Montpelier momentarily tear their gaze from the golden dome, look around and invite Vermont representation from ALL four corners of our state. We have excellent talented people out here and you need, for all of our sakes to listen to us too.

  2. Toby Fitch says:

    Like the federal 2010 Economic Stimulus money 90% of which ended up north of Route 4. We should secede and do an 1861 West Virginia, Virginia thing. North Vermont can have their utopia to themselves… South Vermont can work and grow.

  3. Hi Ken,
    This is reporting, not whining. At the same time over the years we have
    heard plenty of justified complaints about under representation of the
    kingdom. Democracy is all about representation. Thanks for reading
    The Telegraph.

  4. Doug Friant says:

    Nice reporting Shawn. Oliver is a good representative, but your point that we have a quarter of the state’s population and only a 20th of the representation is telling.

    We also have a small percentage of Covid-19 cases compared to Chittenden County, but we are still closed for business.

  5. Ken Darren says:

    Zero representatives from northernmost Vermont or the NEK, and you don’t hear us whining.