Grade 4-5 Teacher Needed!

Just a short post to help spread the word that my school in Atmautlak, AK, needs a Grade 4-5 teacher. Please share widely in your network and help spread the word about this great opportunity!

Here’s the skinny:

  • $52,000 starting salary for teachers with a BA and 0 years experience.  Pretty good, eh?
  • $3,000 signing bonus for a 2-year commitment.  $1,000 bonus for a 1-year commitment.
  • 100% cost of rent is tax deductible.  Rent is deducted from your paycheck.
  • Up to $12,000 in loan forgiveness after 5 years
  • 3-year Principal Endorsement Program if you want to pursue an Admin position.
  • Small classes.  K-12 enrollment is ~150.
  • Excellent stepping stone if you want to pursue International Teaching or LKSD Administration.

Anyone interested can contact me or to learn more!

This has been a challenging year for new teachers in Vermont to land a job.  Positions are fewer and competition is high.  Atmautlak’s recent loss of an elementary teacher can be a your opportunity!

And, wow, a $52,000 starting pay with a $3,000 bonus — that must put a ring in somebody’s ears!  Excellent salary schedule for those with more experience!

Joanne A Alexie Memorial School logo


Alaska in range for North Korea attack

Among well-wishers upon my move to Alaska, several people have suggested it would be great to read posts from afar on NatesUpdates.   Oddly, I received one note from a not-so-well-wisher, “…no wonder you’re fleeing to Alaska.”  North Korea News agency photo of missile

That’s just one person, but it gave me pause to think, “Who would ever ‘flee’ to Alaska?”  It can be a cold, dark, harsh, and kind of lonely place in the winter.  And as of today, there’s yet another reason Alaska would be even less of a destination for cowards:  North Korea.  

Today, North Korea launched a missile which has the range to hit the nation’s largest state.  The Las Vegas Review Journal reports “US says missile was North Korea ICBM that could hit Alaska.”

If you haven’t noticed the news, North Korea is quickly becoming an existential threat as the world’s newest member of the nuclear club.  Folks in Alaska have been paying attention because, while not prime strategic targets, they are geographically closer to Kim Jong Un than Los Angeles, New York, or DC.

Mainstream newspapers have covered the Alaska connection since the July 4th missile test, but Alaskans have been reading about it since at least last March.  Here’s a sampling of articles from the Alaska Dispatch News (ADN) documenting the increasing threat:

Senator Dan Sullivan missile defenseEarlier this year, Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan introduced a bill in Congress to add 14 missiles to Fairbanks’ Fort Greely aresenal.  He’s been pushing the bill with increasing urgency.  Just the other day he made a speech at the Heritage Foundation, “What a North Korean Ballistic Missile threat Means for the US Missile Defense System.”

But is Alaska really a potential target?  ADN columnist Dermot Cole is skeptical in his post, “North Korea poses an urgent challenge, but don’t kiss Alaska goodbye just yet.”  Cole suggests Sullivan’s  “America’s Missile Defense Act” is more about politics and war profiteering than strategic military interest.  He quotes David Wright, an expert on nuclear weapons policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists as follows:

I suppose if there were a military attack on North Korea, it might decide to fire something at Alaska as a way of responding against US Territory if that’s all it could hit,” he said.  “But even in that case, it’s more likely to launch against US troops in South Korea and Japan.”

Who else is skeptical?  Apparently Alaskans aren’t in a panic.  Alaska Public Media published “Alaskans greet DPRK missile test with a shrug not a shriek” one day after Kim Jong Un’s July 4th test launch.  But the same article acknowledged that Alaskans are more interested in fishing than talking politics during the summer months.

Alaska July 4th parade

“I was at the 4th of July parade in Seldovia,” ADN columnist Charles Wolforth said by phone from Kachemak Bay Wednesday. “Somebody said ‘Hey I heard that Korea tested this ICBM,’ and the conversation didn’t really go any further because everybody’s out in the sunshine and watching the fish toss.”


Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz expressed faith in the US military for Alaskans’ lack of heightened concern.  “We have complete confidence in the military to defend us, and we have the assurance that no matter what happens to us here in Alaska we’ll be able to take care of ourselves,” Berkowitz said.

Across the whole, I think most Americans are generally confident that even Kim Jong Un isn’t crazy enough to make a pre-emptive strike against the US.  It’s probably not likely that he’ll lob a nuke at US troops in South Korea, either.  But still, it’s important for Congress and the President to come up with new strategies in response to North Korea as a nuclear power.  Give up the One Korea policy?  Sanctions against China and Russia?  Increasing our missile defense system?  Whatever it takes, quite frankly.  Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley summed it up yesterday in a speech before the National Press Club:

“War in the Korean peninsula would be terrible, however a nuclear weapon detonating in Los Angeles would be [even more] terrible,” Milley said in a speech to the National Press Club in Washington, about America’s security threats.  “North Korea is the single, most-dangerous threat facing the international community and the U.S. today”

Credit:  Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Water Street Park update: Photo Essay.

Just a quick post to show the latest developments for the Water Street Park with some pictures.

It’s easy to see how big the park is going to be now that the construction fencing is up.



Here are the two utility poles which will be removed from their current locations.  They will be relocated across the river.  The building in the background with the blower on the rooftop will be razed to make room for the poles.



The next two images show the large, man-made berm which was built to keep the Dog in a narrow channel.  The purpose in removing the berm is to open the width of the river, allowing it to flow in a more natural path.  This, in turn, reduces erosion and the intensity of river flow during rainy periods


Five years before Tropical Storm Irene devastated the Water Street Neighborhood,  Vermont’s River Management Program published a white paper,  “Alternatives for River Corridor Management”. The report discussed the conflicts between land use and healthy rivers.

The conflict goes like this:  A hundred or more years ago, settlers began to farm and live in flood plains.  Then they built berms to protect their homes and farms.  It’s a human vs. nature thing.  Moving into a flood plain and having to deal with floods is kind of like moving into bear country, then having to deal with bears.


Well, it turns out, berms don’t really work.  This berm clearly didn’t make a difference in August 2011 or back in 1972, when the Water Street neighborhood was flooded due to an ice jam.  Removing the berm is a good idea.  An added bonus is that it will give easy access to the river for fishing, skipping stones, or to just appreciate the lull of flowing water.



Last Fall, access to the river last fall looked like this:



But when we got through the mess, the river looked quite lovely:



As you may know, the Class of 1957 has raised thousands of dollars to build a pavilion or gazebo.  They’re encouraging other graduating classes to join them.

To the best of my knowledge, there isn’t an official design for the project.  Here’s a design proposal based on our community’s new (unofficial) logo.


(If anyone knows of a current design, send me a note.  I’ll make the update and post the pictures on  picnic shelter_01apicnic shelter_01bpicnic shelter_01d

Maybe by this time next year, someone will be making river cairn art at the Water Street Park.  Whatever happens, I’m looking forward to the new river park.  : )


A New Chapter for NCDN!

Some folks have been asking, “What will happen with NCDN now that you’re leaving for Alaska?  

It will go on, just like the founding directors had planned from the beginning!

NCDN logo small

NCDN is lead by an incredibly talented team of highly-qualified professionals who meet twice a month, all year long, driven by a vision of economic prosperity and community development.  See the folks in the picture at the top of the page?  They are the driving force behind NCDN.

Tuesday night NCDN will present its work to the Selectboard at the Brown Public Library Community Room.  This will be the last meeting I attend — as a member of the audience — and I hope you join me.  : )

Here’s the team!

Lindsay Cahill Lord, is Projects & Production Manager at Norwich University and serves as Communications Director for Vermont Young Professionals.   Lindsay’s leadership skills are evident as soon as you meet her.

 Annee Giard and Jason Endres make up NCDN’s graphic design team.  Annee is a Graphic Designer at Norwich University.  Jason works for a firm in Manhattan, telecommuting from his home here in Northfield.

Kahwa Douoguih is co-founder of Access.Mobile and Assistant Professor of Economics at Norwich University.  She’s much more than that, but she won’t let me brag about her.

Kaitlyn Keating is an Associate Attorney at Caffry Law in Waterbury.  She graduated cum laude with a J.D. from Vermont Law School and specializes in children’s needs planning.

David Feinauer is Assistant Professor, Electrical & Computer Engineering at Norwich University.  David teaches entrepreneurship on his own time, having hosted startup business pitch events at least two years in a row.

Carolyn Stevens, a recently retired CPA from her accounting and consulting services firm, is NCDN’s treasurer.  Carolyn was NCDN’s lead in become recognized as an IRS tax-exempt non-profit organization.  She’s developing NCDN’s capacity to act as a fundraising fiscal-agent for local groups and organizations.

What I like the most about NCDN’s team is that they are very methodical and purposeful when embarking on new initiatives.  They reach out to our community and listen to feedback.  And most importantly, they are willing to do the bland, time-consuming, behind-the-scenes work to create a platform for future activity.  dsc04585

No one gets a pat on the back for culling through the 2011 Town Report, or 2014 V-DAT report, or the 2016 Area Wide Plan.  But these people do the homework and base their work on prior planning.  They know this type of work sets the stage for tangible outcomes which takes a few years to realize.

To speed things up, this team needs the support of a professional economic development director.  The NCDN team brings excellent soft services and technical expertise to economic development, but lacking a professional executive director, they are limited in how much they can accomplish.  The reason for this is simple:  If you don’t have staff, you can’t close deals, you can’t apply for construction loans — you’re not in the game.  

I brought up the idea of a non-profit economic development corporation at an Economic Development Committee meeting in 2015.  The response at the time was favorable, and this is one of the many reasons NCDN was created.  NCDN’s business model is specifically designed to partner with a municipality, state agencies, and private businesses for community and economic development purposes.

Now, the NCDN team isn’t ready to ask the Town to hire an economic development director — but as a community, we need to start thinking about when that might happen.  Northfield is woefully behind other communities in Central Vermont simply because we haven’t invested in economic development staff yet.

If Northfield chooses to support it, NCDN can become a financially sustainable, job-creating non-profit business.  It can help Northfield grow its tax base by focusing on property development — the #1 driver to grow the Grand List.  It can bring more people to live in our lovely town, increasing foot traffic for local businesses.  NCDN is ready to go.  It just needs tangible support from a community that wants to prosper and succeed.

As I depart for my teaching job in Alaska, I ask all Northfield residents and taxpayers to consider NCDN as the Town’s economic development partner and its vehicle for prosperity.  NCDN was never about me.  It’s about making Northfield better for all of us.


Northfield News: Not Local, Not Original, Not News

I was proud to make the top of the front page in The Northfield News this week.
This hasn’t happened since 1994, when Mark Albury wrote the headline “Freeman Unveils Three Men.”  The piece was about the granite art monument in my front yard, titled, not surprisingly, “Three Men.”
Mark’s piece, as with everything he wrote, was written in his own words.  He called me for a short interview and turned out an original story.  The headline was cringe-worthy, but all in good fun.  Mark wrote what he saw with a sense of humor and an original twist of literary style. 
I couldn’t help but think of this when I read “Selectman Nate Freeman Leaving for Alaska.”  The writing was lifted almost entirely from this website — without permission or attribution to   My Update, “North to Alaska, is certainly newsworthy.   But Editor John Cruickshank’s quote-dependent article lifted well over half of my original work.  Basically, I wrote 65% of an article he published as his own.  
My disappointment with Cruickshank’s article isn’t about the story.  My soon departure to Alaska is relevant news.  However, as a professional writer, I am flummoxed with Cruickshank’s utter laziness in reporting.  I found the article so amazingly quote-abused, I decided to take the time to see what else Mr. Cruickshank printed as if his own.  I’ll get to that in a minute — what I discovered is important for you to know.
Before we get there, let’s put the quality of local reporting in context.  The magic of The Northfield News has always been about local writing and reporting.  What made the Paper of Record vital to our community was its voice.  Editors wrote engaging, funny, and thoughtful columns — the tone of each piece reflected unique perspectives and personalities.  Reporters conducted face-to-face interviews, attended public meetings, and roamed through the community to see what people were up to.    It didn’t matter what was written — the magic was that we could count on the paper to be local, original, and interesting.  
We don’t have that anymore.  We don’t even get news anymore.  The News looks like a newspaper, but it’s not.  
If you read the paper, you’ll probably notice a call to action and contact information at the bottom of almost every article.  This is because you’re reading a series of press releases.  9 out of 14 reading pieces in this week’s edition of The Northfield News are press releases.  Here’s the breakdown of what passes as original content in this week’s edition:
  • 9 Press releases.
  • 1 Syndicated Column
  • 1 “Staff Report” plagiarized from the Selectboard meeting minutes.  
  • 2 Local Columns
  • 1 headline article written almost entirely by me without my knowledge
There are several reasons to find the state of The News disturbing.  Here are the first four that come to mind:
1.  Not Local.  The “news” this week comes almost entirely from towns outside of the paper’s coverage area.  You can read all about what’s going on as far away as Weston, Dorset, and Enosburg Falls.  Two pieces  are from Randolph, one is from Brookfield, one is from Montpelier, and another is from Berlin.  For a paper that covers Northfield and Williamstown, there’s not much of a sense of what’s going on locally.
2.  Not News.  As noted above, The News has become a weekly rag stuffed with unedited press releases.  It’s not a newspaper — it’s a press release aggregator.
3.  Not Original.  Yes, I’ve made my beef about unknowingly writing the headline article for this week’s Northfield News.  But surprisingly, this is the most original piece in the entire paper.  Cruickshank wrote about 100 words from his own pen.
4.  Plagiarism.  The Staff Report copies the Selectboard Meeting Minutes verbatim.  Seriously, you can’t get a better example of plagiarism than this.  The News is free to publish any public document in full — but it can’t credit itself as the author.
Here’s an excerpt from “Northfield May Get Gold Star Monument” credited as a  “Staff Report” at the Northfield News:
Mr. Wobby said about six  months ago he was approached by a national group that designs Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments about situating a monument in Vermont.  After consultation with Governor Phil Scott’s office, Mr. Wobby recommended that the best location would be in Northfield adjacent to Norwich University.
Now take a look at the June 27th official meeting minutes published on the Town’s website:
“Mr. Wobby said about six (6) months ago he was approached by a national group that designs Gold Star Families Memorial Monuments about situating a monument in Vermont. After consultation with Governor Phil Scott’s office, Mr. Wobby recommended that the best location would be in Northfield adjacent to Norwich University (NU).
The “staff report” is copied directly from the minutes.  The quote above is just a sample.  If you read The News side-by-side with the Meeting Minutes, you’ll simply be amazed.  This is the kind of stuff that gets students kicked out of college.  It gets reporters fired.  Claiming credit for someone else’s work isn’t just unethical — it’s illegal.  
The funny thing is, all Mr. Cruickshank needs to do is credit the article with a byline, “Selectboard Meeting Minutes.”  Plagiarism problem solved.  Instead, he credits the public document to “staff” and copyrights the article under his own banner.  “All Rights Reserved.”
This is why I got a little rankled this morning when I read my North to Alaska post almost in entirety in The Northfield News.  What is this laziness about?  This isn’t the article Mark Albury would have written.  It’s not what John Donahue would have written, nor Edna Cain, nor Brad Denny.  The News has a long history of editors who took pride in their work.  They crafted articles with thought and rigor.  They wrote The News as the voice of the community.   They were leaders who wrote about Northfield in whatever way they believed was appropriate.  Whatever words landed in print, the one thing you could count on was that they did the writing.  
This is no longer true.  Today’s Northfield News is empty, lacking vigor and value.  Imagine for a moment you were visiting Northfield for the first time.  You pick up the paper.  What does The Northfield News say to you?  This week on Page 5, The News says, “Go to Weston, Dorset, or Enosburg Falls. Go to Randolph.  Go to Berlin.  Go away.  There’s nothing here.”
It doesn’t have to be this way.  All you need to do, Mr. Cruickshank, is to please write your own stuff.  Write whatever you want.  Be pleasant, be mean — be whatever you want to be.  Stop copying stuff.  Pay attention to Northfield and Williamstown.
And while you’re at it, please request permission to quote from my privately owned and operated website,  It’s a professional courtesy thing.



This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Selectboard: Who serves next?

I would like to thank the many kind people who have wished me well upon news of my teaching position in Atmautlak, Alaska.  My date of departure for Alaska is July 31st.  I will serve out my term through the July 25th regular Selectboard meeting.  Then it will be up to the Board and Northfield voters to decide who will serve out the remainder of my term, which ends in March 2019.

horserace cropped

Apparently, a couple of people started to jockey for my position before I knew I’d be leaving town.  Such runs the gossip mill in our humble small town.  All’s fair in love & politics.

Given the news that a horse race has already started, I think it’s fair to let others catch up to the folks who’ve jumped out of the gate a little early.

Special Election ButtonThe question I’ve been getting is will there be a special election?  It’s an important question and there’s a process which allows this to happen, as you’ll see below.  The bottom line is, the Board appoints the successor to replace the departing Board member — although voters can call a special election if they choose.

The following memo lays out the details.  It was written by Attorney Garret Baxter at the Vermont Leagues of Cities and Towns.  Click this link if you want to download the info as a pdf file:   ATL Appointed Officer’s Tenure

“An elected town officer recently resigned. How long does the newly appointed officer serve?”

When a vacancy occurs in any town office, the selectboard must fill the vacancy “forthwith” by appointment in writing until “an election” is had. 24 V.S.A. § 963. This election can occur at either a special town meeting or the next annual one. “A town at a special meeting may fill a vacancy in a town office.” 24 V.S.A. § 962.

An office becomes vacant if the town officer resigns, is removed from office, dies, becomes insane, or moves out of the town in which he or she serves. When a seat becomes vacant, the selectboard must alert the public of this vacancy by posting notice of it in at least two public places in the town and in and near the town clerk’s office within ten days of the event creating the vacancy. Note that the selectboard may fill the vacancy prior to noticing it, though not prior to the creation of the vacancy. The notice, which can be used to advertise the availability of the office to interested applicants, informs the public of both its right to petition for a special town meeting to elect someone else to the position and of a change in their local representative leadership. 24 V.S.A. § 961(a).

A special town meeting can be called by the selectboard when it deems it necessary or on application of 5 percent of the voters. 17 V.S.A. § 2643(a). If a special meeting is not called, the selectboard’s appointee will remain in office until the next annual meeting, at which time the voters will elect a town officer to fill the balance of the unexpired term. If a special meeting is called, the newly elected town officer will still only serve the remainder of the original term.

For example, A is elected to a three-year term, serves one year, and resigns. The selectboard appoints B to fill A’s vacant seat. No special meeting is called and B serves until the next annual town meeting, when the voters elect C to fill the vacancy. C serves for the remainder of A’s original three-year term, which is two years.

There is an exception to this general rule. When a vacancy is created in the office of trustees of public funds, the person chosen to fill the vacancy “shall serve only for the remainder of the unexpired term.”

Garrett Baxter, Staff Attorney Municipal Assistance Center

Now it’s up to you.





North to Alaska

It’s been a little while since the last NatesUpdates, and today’s is a bombshell.

I was just offered a teaching position in an Alaskan village waaaaayyyy out in the bush.

Obviously, I want to talk about what this means in regard to my role in Northfield, but first, here’s the update about what led up to this dramatic change.

About a year and a half ago, after serving in the High School as substitute, I realized that what people have been telling me for a long time is true:  that I am a natural teacher.  So I entered the Vermont Teacher Apprenticeship Program at Champlain College and interned as a student teacher under my mentor, Rich Kendrick.  The program wrapped up in March and I began to apply for positions.

It turns out, competition for teaching jobs in Vermont is pretty high.  As a newbie to the profession, I realized right away that my prospects were very limited in Vermont.  In fact, among my 24 colleagues in the TAP program, only one has landed a full-time position.  I expanded my search, interviewing for positions as far away as Arizona — even Bahrain.  The comfort I took in applying for positions far away is the fact that Northfield is my permanent home.  I’m not selling my house or changing my permanent residence.

This is where I’ll be:

Atmautluak 2002

Atmautlak is the home of 350 Yupik Eskimo Americans.  It’s just a flight away from — well, almost everything.  But I’ll only have a very short walk away from an awesome little school with a lot of great technology, fast internet, and a very passionate basketball team.  (Basketball is big in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.)  I’ll be arriving in Atmautlak on or around August 1st — so I have four weeks to make arrangements.

So I’ve been weighing what I need to do regarding my role on the Selectboard.  Legally, I can remain on the Board and attend meetings via teleconference or Skype.  But morally, my head isn’t going to be in the game when I’m 4,500 miles away, especially as a 1st year teacher.  I’ll think about what to do for another week or two — but realistically, I think we all know which choice I should make.

On July 11th, I’ll make my formal announcement at the Selectboard meeting.  I hope to see you there.

— Nate







Bottom Line: Run for Office

I have posted a correction on my response to the question of the MOU I discussed yesterday. You may see the correction in bold.  Thanks again to Susan Stillinger.

But I remain firm in my overarching message.

Before I outline the main points, I’d like to say to my colleagues on the Board that I’m satisfied working with you. We may not agree on many issues but we’ve come to respect each other.  Our current chair may have upset some folks in one of the meetings last year when he said, “I’ve been elected to do a job, and I’m doing it.”  As a matter of the democratic process, Ken Goslant was right.

I’d also like to point out that my colleagues are diligently working on other issues vitally important to Northfield’s future.  I’d like to mention Dave Maxwell in his efforts to build Northfield’s relationship with Norwich University.  Lynn Doney helped deliver an excellent new Police Chief.  Julie Goodrich has come up to speed right away, sharing some good questions and insights on details the rest of us may have overlooked.  And Ken is my primary ally in my economic development activity.   I also want to mention Bill Smith, Chair of the Development Review Board, for his work in helping create business-friendly Zoning Regulations.  (That’s a story for another day.)

As a supporter of the roadside vegetation project, I’d like to point out my respect for the process of decision making, even if I don’t like the outcome.  I lost a 4-1 decision after Town Meeting Day on a different issue and I still disagree with my colleagues, but the vote carries.

Back to the current issue, I remain firm on my position and would like to reiterate my points.  

1. Dissent transforms into leadership.

Run for office if you want to participate in making decisions. There’s a lot of wasted time and heartache in protesting outcomes. Northfield has created a long, agonizing history by voting for a Board then protesting against it. If you don’t like what the Board is doing, you’re not going to get far by approaching problems the same way, over and over again. Protest has led to some successes, but our protests also send a statewide message that Northfield doesn’t have its act together.

2. Pave the road for success…

..and acknowledge potential failure.  Keep the Select Board in the loop prior to outreach to State officials. We’re wasting everyone’s time and making Northfield look dysfunctional when individuals initiate work with State officials to make something awesome, only to have it rejected by the Board. The MOU was rejected out of hand and would have been rejected from the start.

As a result, State officials’ time has been wasted and Northfield looks like it doesn’t have its act together.  Now the State has to go back and find another town to participate in the pilot program. The outcome is that the next time an opportunity may arise, Northfield’s application may be viewed with skepticism.  I think the project is a great idea and yet I also know the application process, lacking initial support, has likely done more harm than good.

3.  Better Back Roads grant.

Northfield’s Town Manager, Jeff Schulz, has secured a Better Back Roads grant which may help achieve the same or similar goals as the MOU, and in a shorter time frame. Ask to be involved in a public input process.  And maybe say, “Thanks, Jeff!”

4. Run for office.

Yes, I’m repeating myself. But if you don’t run, don’t expect anything to change.  This is the bottom line from my post yesterday.

5.  My Role & Economic Development.

I have a year and a half left in my term and I won’t be seeking re-election. My primary focus is economic development.  Prior to my position on the Select Board I served as a member of the public on the Town’s Economic Development Committee.  At a meeting in July 2015 I commented that many towns partner with a non-profit organization as a vehicle for grants and other economic development activities.  The concept was received as a good idea, and in January 2016, three dozen members of our community came together and decided to form the Northfield Community Development Network .  

My hope is that my colleagues will recognize the advantages Northfield may enjoy if we hire an economic development director either as an employee of the Town or as the leader of the NCDN.  (I would abstain from any vote on that decision.)  The NCDN is already working hard behind the scenes under a professional board.  However, the primary message from state officials is that Northfield needs an economic director if we want to coordinate grants and become eligible for significant opportunities.

6.  Scenic Roads and Economic Development.

I understand how scenic roads contribute to economic development, and this is why I support the MOU and better oversight of Limlaw’s tree removal project.  We need to remove trees for safety reasons, but we need to also consider local beauty as a factor when people decide to move to Northfield.  In my campaign video I said, “This is what keeps bringing me back; the reason I call Northfield home.”

The roadside vegetation assessment MOU should be signed because it can help strike a balance between road maintenance and local beauty.  But it won’t move forward right now.   My colleagues feel differently than I do, and I don’t think they’re going to change their position.  They may even dig in their heels.  The self-started fire will rage all summer long.

7.  From a completely pragmatic view, the MOU has a fatal flaw.

It’s a multi-year project.  Limlaw’s tree removal work will be complete before the roadside vegetation inventory report is released.  Proponents for the MOU have stated that the project won’t hold up the tree removal project.  Therefore, trees included in the inventory may no longer be standing by the time the report comes out.

8.  Doing my best.

Once again, I would like to thank everyone engaged on this issue. I also want to assure you I’m doing my best.  As above, I’d like to thank my colleagues on the Board for their work on different issues and for their support of my work in economic development.  Serving my community, while sometimes difficult, is one of the most fulfilling jobs I’ve ever experienced.

Trees & Roads Redux

Here we go again.  

I’ll get to the details of the Trees & Roads debate in a minute, but first I want to say, I hear you — again.  I also want to be honest in sharing my exasperation about the way Northfield does business.  And I’m not talking about trees or even our current Select Board.

Our problem is governance.  

If I’m sounding a little jaded, it’s because I am. Northfield seems to spend most of its time lighting fires then putting them out instead of taking care of business.  It’s a huge waste of time and a whole lot of heartache.  And it seems to happen every single year.  Here’s a quick list for the last three years:

  • 2014: Rezoning for the Green Mountain Family Practice health care facility
  • 2015:  Proposed firing of then Police Chief Jim Dziobek
  • 2016:  Tree removal contract with Limlaw

In each case, there was something not quite right with the way decisions were made, and each issue certainly deserved public attention.  Indeed, I received a phone call in 2015 about the police chief issue even though I didn’t hold a public office at that time.  I politely declined when asked to show up at a Board meeting to protest the decision.

My response was, “This happens all the time in Northfield.  If you want to do something about it, run for Select Board.”

It’s something I’ve been saying for quite a long time now, but there haven’t been many takers.  The result:  Northfield elects a board then protests against it.

This isn’t how a healthy town self-governs.  In a healthy community dissent transforms into leadership.  People who invest time and motivate others should eventually realize they can be more effective by making decisions instead of fighting them.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Seriously.  If Lillian Kaushtupper on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt can go from protester to public official, you certainly can.  The Trees & Roads issue is important to you.  I get it.  There’s an answer.  Be Like Lilllian!  Run for office.  Be a decider.  You get it, right?  (If you don’t have Netflix, here’s a taste of Lillian.)

Back to the current issue:  Trees & Roads.

I want to thank everyone who’s participated in the public discussion, particularly those who took time to show up at Select Board meetings.  As you may recall, I wrote about the issue last June (here and here).  There’s no need to rehash last year’s debate since the issue has taken a different turn.

The question now on the table is about a request to engage in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the State to create a roadside vegetation inventory.  At least, that’s what I thought we were talking about….

Communication Breakdown?

But it sounds like the MOU wasn’t fully explained — or that it’s now being described in a different, much more specific way.   Susan Stillinger, in a recent Front Porch Forum post, writes:

Northfield was offered the chance to be one of ten communities in the Lake Champlain Basin to receive a Rural Road Vegetation Management Assessment as part of the US Forest Service’s Resilient Right-of-Way Project.

This is the first I’ve heard of such details.  Thanks for the update, Susan — seriously, thank you.

The Resilient Right-of-Way Project sounds great — but there has been no reference to it in any communication I’ve received as a member of the Select Board.  All I’ve seen is a MOU which was presented to the Board sometime in April.  It wasn’t described in connection with a particular program.  It was described as “experts who are willing to give us their time.”  Or something like that.

My understanding is that some folks in town talked to people they knew in Montpelier, who together came up with an idea to conduct a roadside vegetation inventory.  It was described as an exciting pilot project.  Perhaps the idea hadn’t yet coalesced into a Resilient RoW Project at that time — but if it had, it wasn’t described in detail.

It still sounds great.  But there seems to be a communication breakdown.  I feel a little out of the loop.  As a member of the Board, I lack detailed information about what’s being proposed on a grassroots level, and I’m not entirely sure who the players are.  And it’s not because I haven’t been paying attention.

[Correction:  The document was presented and discussed at an April Select Board meeting with no vote or action taken.  I advocated for the agreement but failed to convince my colleagues to move forward with it.]

Cart Before the Horse Process

Frankly, it’s embarrassing to know that Northfield probably looks dysfunctional to our State agency partners in Montpelier.  The idea was formulated on a grassroots level, brought to the State, and then rejected by the local Select Board.  A better process might have been for the grassroots effort to *start* with the Select Board — then go to the State.

Why didn’t anyone approach the Board before bringing it to the State?  My guess is that the organizer(s) may have felt like the idea would fail before it got started.  Indeed, that’s probably what would have happened.  I would have likely supported the idea and my colleagues would have likely seen things differently.  That’s just how democracy works.

But by going around the Select Board, another needless fire is starting to rage.  And this time our partners in Montpelier are watching.  They’re not going to be impressed with Northfield, that’s for sure.  We’ve wasted their time.  And this time, I have to say, it’s not the Select Board’s fault.  As a member of the Board who supports the cause, I honestly feel a little side-struck.  Out of the loop.  Exasperated.

What’s Happening Now

So here’s the good news.  The Town Manager recently applied for a Better Back Roads grant.  Here’s an excerpt from the Town Manager’s report from April 22nd.

I have applied for a VAOT Better Back Roads Grant to perform a road erosion assessment of gravel and paved roads and site assessments to help identify and  fix road erosion issues near surface water areas.  The purpose of applying for the grant is to prepare for and address the ACT 64 municipal storm-water permit process.  The Town has a good chance of obtaining the grant as the State is being pushed by the Feds to clean the waters of Vermont under the Clean Waters Act.    If awarded, the funding will assist the Town in identifying and addressing areas of potential erosion along water ways –  a main issue raised by residents.

At the last Select Board meeting (May 23rd) the Town Manager reported that Northfield has been awarded the Better Back Roads grant.  Here’s the follow-up.

The Town has received an $8,000 Better Back Roads grant to perform an inventory of road related erosion and /culvert problem areas.   The timing of this award is important as it will help the Town prepare for the required Municipal Roads General permit process that municipalities will face in 2018.  In addition, it will serve useful in the Town’s on-going  tree removal process as it will document and delineate sensitives areas along roadways.

The bottom line to the question regarding the Select Board’s decision to not pursue the Resilient Right-of-Way Project:

I can’t speak for other members of the Board who may have had other reasons to not follow the grassroots’ lead.  But for me, the bottom line is that we’re now moving forward.  The Better Back Roads grant will focus on erosion control and help our Town Forester make recommendations on roadside tree removal.

The irony here is that the Town Manager took the lead and is working hard to put out the fire on the Trees & Roads issue.  Usually it’s the public who steps up to put out the fire.  If you see Jeff Schulz, feel free to ask him about the process and maybe say, “Hey, thanks!”

What’s Next?

Now it’s your turn.  Start gathering signatures for a petition to — Run for office.  Northfield needs to stop electing a Board only to protest against it.  The problem is systemic.  It’s just one issue after the next.  There are lots of reasons to *not* run for Select Board — but there’s no reason to expect change if we keep doing the same thing over and over and over again.  It’s not difficult to imagine Northfield’s future controversies.  In fact, here’s my prediction:

  • 2018:  Conflict between the Select Board and the Northfield Conservation Commission regarding the Town Plan.  This one is completely predictable.
  • 2019:  Angst over the mass retirement of executive level officers at Norwich University, followed by a last minute rush to try to finally develop consistent, positive relations with the Town’s largest employer after spending decades talking about it.
  • 2020:  Still wondering why Northfield’s economy remains stagnant even though the simple solution would have been to hire an Economic Development Director in 2017.    Please note — this is what I’ll be recommending this year.

Final Thought

Did I mention something about running for office?

Moving Forward. What’s the Plan?

Lynn and Julie at Good MeasureCongratulations

A sincere congratulations to Julie Goodrich and Lynn Doney on their election and re-election to the Selectboard on Town Meeting Day.  I’m looking forward to working with Julie and Lynn over the next two years.

Moving Forward

So, what’s next?  While I won’t be setting the agenda, my thought is that the Board would do well to take a look at the Town Plan as a guide as we think about our vision for the future.  The Plan covers quite a few specific ideas which are forgotten over time.  However, Northfield’s Town Plan provides important recommendations for public spending and economic development, two of the most important issues in our community at this time.  This is why we need to review the Plan

What’s the Plan?

Northfield Town PlanThe Town Plan speaks for all of us.  It was created through a process which involved broad public input. A series of public meetings were advertised and open to everyone.  No voice was excluded or ignored.  Participation was excellent.  The Plan represents consensus in our vision for Northfield moving forward. 

There have been times in public discussion when the Plan has been dismissed as “a guide” rather than a serious tool for planning and action.  My point isn’t to get into negativity — it’s simply to point out that we have a great resource we shouldn’t dismiss out of hand.

You can download and read the Plan here:  NORTHFIELD_TOWN_PLAN_2014


%d bloggers like this: