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 making 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:  Development of the Green Mountain Family Practice health care facility
  • 2015:  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 or had any influence then.  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 should help make decisions instead of fighting them.

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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 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 was 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.

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.

We recently learned that Northfield has been awarded this 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.

Now it’s your turn.  Run 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


Candidates at Good Measure Brewing!

In follow up to the excellent Candidates Night a few nights ago, there will be a Mix & Mingle at Good Measure on Wednesday!  This may be your final opportunity to talk about Northfield’s future with Selectboard candidates and local leaders, so come on down and enjoy a local brew and appetizers!

  • What:  Mix & Mingle with Candidates!
  • Date:  Wednesday, March 1st
  • Time:  5pm – 7pm
  • Place:  Good Measure Brewing
  • Features:  People, Fun, Beer, Appetizers!

Save the Date!  Just click the appropriate link below!

iCalendar  •  Google Calendar  •  Outlook  •  Outlook Online  •  Yahoo! Calendar

Paving on the Horizon!

I had a productive phone conversation with Jon Kaplan from the Bike & Pedestrian program yesterday.  We talked about upcoming grants to build sidewalks and enhance street-side safety.  From an economic development perspective, pedestrian- and bike-friendly streets are essential features which help attract new residents and small businesses.

But before I get to that great news, here’s something you might really enjoy:  Routes 12 & 12A south of Northfield are scheduled to be paved in the near future!

Jon sent me a link to the VTrans site which shows the State’s paving and road maintenance schedules.  The picture above is a screenshot from  As you can see, segments of Routes 12 and 12A are identified as in “very poor condition” and, fortunately, are in the construction scheduling pipeline.  Let’s chalk that up as an item for in the Good News Department!

bike-and-pedS0, back to my conversation with Jon Kaplan.  The subject was about grant funding for sidewalks, crosswalks, and other bike & pedestrian safety projects.

$3 million in federal grant funding is available for major projects, generally in the $300,000 or greater range.  Last year, there was about $6 million in requests, so obviously there’s plenty of competition from other communities who want to improve their local byways.  However, Northfield has done a lot of planning recently, so we’re in a better-than-average position to win if we submit a proposal.

The other opportunity is a Small Projects grant funded by the State.  $300,000 is available with average grant sizes in the $10,000 to $30,000 range.  Turns out, not many communities have applied for funds from this program recently.  The award amount can help build crosswalks with curbing, provide signage, install bicycle parking racks, or other smaller scale enhancements for public safety.

The application window opens near the end of April or mid-May.  Decisions are announced in September.  Falls from North

What do you think?  If you think sidewalks, crosswalks, or bike paths are a good idea, post the project you’d prioritize in the comment section below?  What small project rises above other small projects?  What kind of big project would you like to see?  Share your thoughts!





Calling Entrepreneurs: JM Kaplan Fund

Just a quick note today to share the announcement of a new application round for the JM Fund Innovation Prize.  It’s a fantastic opportunity that will bring you to a start up incubator in Manhattan, with all sorts of support.  And funding!

My 2015 application for a renewable-energy smart grid project made it to the second round, and from there I was recommended to apply for the then-newly-formed BeeSpace incubator, also in NYC.  I made it to the final round there.  Although I didn’t’ win the award, I now enjoy the benefits of good professional relationships with people who would support me in future projects.

While I don’t intend on applying in the future, I would like to recommend young, social-innovation minded entrepreneurs to take a shot.  The application process requires a lot of work, but even if you don’t win you gain a significant amount of knowledge, and potentially, excellent contacts in the funding community.

Check out the information and links below.  And take a chance.  Go for it!  This is the kind of application which assures that failure is a form of success.  And if you’re successful, you’re on your way!

Today, The J.M. Kaplan Fund, a New York-based family foundation, is pleased to announce the launch of the 2017 edition of The J.M.K. Innovation Prize. As in 2015, the Prize’s inaugural year, up to ten Prizes will be awarded in 2017 to support early stage ideas addressing our country’s most pressing social and environmental issues.

Prize recipients will each receive up to three years of support at $50,000 per year, as well as a $25,000 “bank” of funds available for technical assistance or targeted project expenses, making a total award of $175,000. Specifically, the Prize seeks to support social innovation in the fields of the environment, heritage conservation and social justice.


We support social entrepreneurs across the United States who are spearheading game-changing solutions to our society’s most urgent challenges.

The J.M.K. Innovation Prize is an exciting initiative of The J.M. Kaplan Fund, a New York-based family foundation.  In 2017 up to ten Prizes will be awarded to those – nonprofits and mission-driven for-profits – tackling our country’s most pressing needs through social innovation.  The Prize will provide up to three years of support at $50,000 per year, as well as a $25,000 “bank” of funds available for technical assistance or targeted project expenses, making a total award of $175,000.  Specifically, the Prize seeks to support innovation in the fields of the environment, heritage conservation and social justice.  The Prize is particularly designed for early stage ideas being piloted or prototyped by dynamic visionaries.

Download The J.M.K. Innovation Prize one-pager.

For three generations, The J.M. Kaplan Fund has provided catalytic funding for projects in their early stages of development.  Whether a pilot project, a new organization, or a nascent initiative, work supported by the Fund has involved a certain level of measured risk that ultimately led to large-scale, transformative results.  The J.M.K. Innovation Prize furthers this legacy by providing funding to visionary social entrepreneurs throughout the United States who are championing emerging social innovations.

The J.M.K. Innovation Prize was launched in 2015 and currently runs on a biennial schedule.  You can learn about the 2015 class of awardees here.

The emergent field of social innovation has become a recognized area in philanthropy.  The demand for funding of this type, however, has increased so rapidly that many worthwhile ideas fail to find backing from established funders.  The J.M.K. Innovation Prize aims to fill a gap in this marketplace, not only by providing critical capital to the social innovation field, but also by taking risks on projects that may be seen by others as underdeveloped or too small.

jm-kaplan-fund-winnerAnother difference is that The J.M.K. Innovation Prize builds on the Fund’s longstanding areas of grantmaking interest while remaining flexible enough for fresh and unexpected thinking.  This year, prize recipients will ideally present innovative concepts that fall within, in-between or in a matter related to the Fund’s three funding categories:

  • The Environment – Reducing the pace and impacts of climate change.
  • Heritage Conservation – Conserving America’s greatest monuments and places.
  • Social Justice – Supporting decarceration and humane immigrant integration.

The J.M.K. Innovation Prize will be awarded to projects or ideas that: represent a game-changing answer to a clearly identified need; are innovative within, in-between or in a manner related to the Fund’s three funding areas; demonstrate the potential to develop an actionable pilot or prototype with Prize funding; and hold out the promise to benefit multiple individuals, communities or sectors through a clearly articulated theory of change.

Some cutting-edge social innovation can be more impactful using market solutions, but may require philanthropic seed capital.  Unlike the 2015 edition of the Prize, then, mission-driven for-profit organizations are also eligible to apply for the 2017 Prize.  In this case, funding would be in the form of philanthropic grants; the Fund would not take an equity stake in these companies.

Interested individuals or teams may apply for The J.M.K. Innovation Prize from January 25 through April 28, 2017.  A short application will be accessible at starting on January 25.  A sub-set of applicants will be invited to submit a second, longer application for the Prize in late spring.  A review of these second round applications will take place throughout the summer, with finalists being flown to New York City in the fall to present their ideas to the trustees of The J.M. Kaplan Fund.  The Prize’s awardees will be publicly announced in November 2017.

Awardees are eligible to receive $50,000 per year for three years, as well as a $25,000 “bank” of funds available for technical assistance or targeted project expenses.  Accordingly, the award amount will total up to $175,000 per Prize recipient over the three-year period.  These funds are intended to allow recipients to focus their attention on their social impact idea.  Awardees will also receive ongoing, dedicated support from The J.M. Kaplan Fund, including organizational development opportunities at in-person convenings.

Sign up to learn more about The J.M.K. Innovation Prize by submitting your contact details in the lower right-hand side of this webpage.

For additional information, please contact:

You can also follow us on Twitter: @TheJMKaplanFund

Menu for NCDN meeting!

The Woods will be catering the NCDN meeting Thursday night.  Buffet starts at 5:30.  $15/plate.  Click here to order your meal!
Location:  Brown Public Library Community Room.
Time:  5:30
The Menu  
Coconut Curry Lentil Soup
Chicken Pot Pie Stew
Roasted Root Veg with Wilted Greens

Thursday: Guest Speaker Kahwa Douoguih on Telecommuting & Moving to Northfield

NCDN is hosting its 1st Annual meeting Thursday, January 26th, at the Brown Public Library Community Room. The meeting is open to the public. It will be warned as a meeting of the Selectboard should Members attend and are asked to discuss town business.

One year ago, more than three dozen people made a decision to form a non-profit organization to stem the loss of local businesses and move forward with economic growth. Thanks to all of you who were there and thanks to all of you who have supported NCDN with your ideas, feedback, and moral support. We hope you can attend this important meeting!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Where?              Community Room @ Brown Public Library
What Day?        This Thursday, January 26th
What Time?     5:30 mixer; 6pm meeting

1. NCDN accomplishments in 2016
2. “A New Look for Northfield” brand results
3. 2017 plans
4. Guest Speaker: Kawha Douogih
5. What NCDN needs for long-term successkahwa

About our Speaker

Kahwa Douoguih’s earliest fond memories are about the summers she spent in her family home on Rabbit Hollow Road. In 2016 she decided to make this home her permanent residence and moved to Northfield from Denver, CO. Kahwa is a technology entrepreneur who loves to build things, whether businesses or trails.