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.



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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.