DVR it! 056VT on Channel 7 hosts NCDN!

056VTJust a quick note to announce the date and time for the new Channel 7 show, 056VT, hosted by Andrea Melville.  On Monday evening Andrea hosted the live show to discuss the Northfield Community Development Network.  George Goodrich and the crew at Trans-Video brought in a bunch of equipment to record the show and run it again later this week.  If you’re a Trans-Video subsciber, watch for Andrea every Monday night at 7pm.

This week’s show featuring NCDN will air on Thurday morning.  You may be busy, so set your DVR to record Channel 7, April 7th at 10 am!

The details:

  • What:  056VT hosted by Andrea Melville
  • Date:  This Thursday,  April 7th.
  • Time:  10am
  • Place:  Channel 7

If you don’t have a DVR or dont’ subscribe to Trans-Video, you canclick on the Nate’s Updates SoundCloud audio link below.  But I promise you the video is much better, so set your DVR fo Channel 7.  When?  Thursday morning at 10am!

Northfield’s Lost Decade-and-a-Half

Northfield was mostly at the bottom of the wave from 2000-2015. Moving forward, here’s the good news: there’s always a cresting wave on the horizon.

Waves of participation and positive growth come and go in every community.   As I’ve met with several long-term leaders in the community to discuss economic & community development over the last few months, there’s been a common warning that goes something like this:

“Our organization thrived for many years, but after a while, members became less active.  Years would pass, and then we’d see a new group of people who would bring a new level of energy to our work.”

In my observation, Northfield was mostly at the bottom of the wave from 2000-2015.  I’ll give some specific examples below but before that, here’s the general context:  Different organizations have waxed and waned over this decade and a half, and there have been some success stories along the way.  But there were enough failures to suggest an overall decline.

Moving forward, here’s the good news:  there’s always a cresting wave on the horizon.  Northfield has always been a town screaming with potential.  When a critical mass of residents and voters get behind specific projects, we’ve seen amazing upswings and huge positive outcomes.

Some examples:  In the late 1990s a group of parents and supporters raised millions  of dollars for new construction and the revitalization of outdated facilities.  Many of these projects have become sustainable gems of our community, including the following:

  • A new school with expanded facilities for all students K-12.  A new, privately-funded hardwood floating-floor system basketball court.  An enviable,  state of the art theater and auditorium.
  • A revitalized Municipal Park, with a new Olympic-sized swimming pool, a new playground and a rebuilt sports field.
  • An expanded Brown Public Library with a new Community Room.
  • A completely restored building to house the Northfield Historical Society collections.

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Credits:  Leslie Striebe, NMHS, Go!Northfield, Nate Freeman

The American economy was prosperous, our youth population was growing and an indomitable spirit of public service in Northfield was at a peak.  The wave of public participation was at a crest.

Some of the good work continued into the lost decade and a half.   The Gray Building Coalition was formed in 2002, and by April 2004 had raised $789,540 toward its $1.5 million Capital Campaign to restore the iconic building overlooking Northfield’s downtown.

Despite the incredible success of the Gray Building Coalition, Northfield was on its way to decline at the beginning of the new millennium.   Local attitudes began to change.  From 2000 to 2005, Northfield struggled to pass the school budget.  Frankly, this was an amazingly rapid turn of events.  How could a school with such huge new investments become the target of negative attitudes so quickly?  The wave crashed so hard, in 2005 it took 5 votes to finally pass a budget in September.  The school had to borrow money to fund operations from July 1st into the beginning of the fall semester.

In the mid-2000s, there was also a movement to further divide the Town and Village, which were already separate entities, as the two governing agencies — the Selectboard and the Village Trustees — began a very contentious struggle against each other.  The negative attitudes in local government culminated in 2011 when the Selectobard fired the Town Manager while the Village Trustees retained her services.  There was an utter dysfunction in local government which created a negative reputation for Northfield throughout the entire state of municipal professionals.  Heated debates over town highway taxes, the Northfield Electric Department and a host of other non-issues wasted a lot of energy which could have been put to more productive work.  This chapter didn’t come to a close until July 2014 when the two boards became one under a Town-Village merger.

And in 2015, things really went south.  Five businesses including Comfort Colors closed up or left town.  A home was destroyed by arson with death resulting.  Some idiot decided to blow off his hand with a pipe bomb.  And Northfield experienced yet another local governemnt controversy, drawing out dozens of residents in protest against the Selectboard for moving to fire Chief Jim Dziobek.

What the heck happened?

The entire period wasn’t wasted, of course.  From 2006 onward, Northfield’s schools began to improve and at this time has been awarded Top 10 in Vermont status and a Silver ranking by US News and World Report.  Norwich University grew substantially, expanding new dorm facilities and developing its campus at a rapid rate.

But there was a lasting and bitter negative tone that forced our community to work on conflict resolution vs. community development.  This attitude played out in local government and frustrated even the most dedicated residents, employees, and volunteers.  The greatest local government success wasn’t really even a success if we think about  outcomes.  The grand idea of a “One Northfield” merger of Village and Town  was simply a testament to how terrible things had gotten.

But if we look back to the late 1990s, we can remind ourselves how much this town can accomplish when it puts its mind to it.  Our lost decade-and-a-half has given us time to learn how to *not* do things.  

And we should also take a moment to consider whether or not the way things were done to achieve success 20 years ago are models we should use today.  By this I mean to say, we may need to think about community and economic development as intertwined activities.  When I think about the waves of participation, public service and eventual decline, I notice two trends:

  • When waves of participation are on the rise, Northfield invests in non-profit properties as the primary method for community development.  (Like many communities, we have a love for building-related projects.)
  • When waves of participation decline, Northfield focuses its attention to property taxes and targets the budgets which sustain community development projects we so recently championed.

What does this tell us?  Well, most of all, it suggests we’ll need to think about increasing our tax base as a community development initiative as the next wave of participation and growth begins to rise.  We need to balance private sector and public sector interests to lessen swift, dramatic and ironic changes in local attitudes when a handful of hard-working volunteers get tired and move on to other things.

We’ll take a look at this irony a bit more in a “Part 2” of this topic since today’s post is getting a bit long.  For the time being, here are the main points for our follow-up:

  1.  When things are good, community development doesn’t fully consider the expansion of our tax base and economic development.
  2. When things are bad, we cut budgets in ways that diminish community development and further contracts our capacity for economic development.

The easiest way to make college affordable

The short story:  If you want to make college more affordable for your family, attend the College Information meeting in the Middle/High School cafeteria Monday night (April 4th) at 6:30 pm.  There will be admissions counselors from six Vermont colleges.  Click here for details.

Here’s *why* you should click the link to learn more:

If you you have children in the 9th to 12th grades, you’re probably thinking what I’m thinking.  My girls are now 14 and 15, which means I’m beginning to wonder how I’m going to get them through college without becoming  burdened with debt for the rest of my life — or theirs.

As you probably know, college is expensive.  In Vermont, tuition runs from $10,000 to over $50,000, even for in-state students.  So what if you could save one year’s tution?  What if your high school student could earn one year’s worth of credit, then take only 3 years’ to earn a 4-year degree?  Who wouldn’t want to save $10 to $50K?

The easiest way to make college affordable is to let students earn college credits while still in high school.  This is possible due to the Flexible Pathways program passed in 2013 and implemented in the 2014/15 school year.

Flexible PathwaysThere are four components to the Flexible Pathways program:  Dual Enrollment; Early College; Personalized Learning Plans (PLP) and; Work-Based Learning.

The Dual Enrollment opportunity allows Juniors and Seniors to take up to two  college courses prior to graduation.  Through the Early College program. high school Seniors may take a full year of college-level courses.  These courses come at no cost to the students or families.  Since funding is provided by the state, the local school budget isn’t affected, either.

If your kids are like mine, you may have heard your student grumbling about their Personalized Learning Plans. plp-process-cycleVermont requires every student, grades 7 to 12, to answer such questions as, “What are my goals for life after high school?  What do I need to do to achieve my goas?  How do I know that I’m meeting steps to help me achieve my goals?”  Creating a PLP isn’t easy because, after all, how many teenagers think about their life’s grand purpose without serious prodding?

On the other hand, PLPs are extemely important because the planning process is essential to a lifetime of success.  And frankly, there are a lot of college students who might benefit from mandatory career planning.  I can tell you from first-hand experience, as a 20 year-old English Literature student at UVM, I had no idea how I was going to apply my love for, um, poetry, to a real-world career.  The point I’m trying to make here is simple:  if you want to make college more affordable, ask your student’s guidance counselor (Michelle Acaftuck for high school and  Jerry Cassels for middle school) how you can participate in writing her/his PLP.

The fourth component to Flexible Pathways is Work-Based Learning.  This is best described at the link, but for convenience I’ll quote part of the description here.

Work-based learning experiences are activities that involve actual work experience or that connect classroom learning to employment and careers. These opportunities particularly help students make the connection between academic principles and real world applications. For many, understanding ‘Why do I need to know this?’ provides motivation for more learning.

In addition to being an essential component of good teaching and learning, work-based learning is also critical to developing Vermont’s future workforce.

There are caps and limitations to the Flexible Pathways program, but if you’re child is planning on college you should attend the meeting Monday night  at 6:30pm to learn more about this and other opportunities which can lessen the cost burden of college.

College Informational Panel

April 4th @ 6:30PM in the Middle/High School Cafeteria.  Parents and students in Grades 9 – 11 are invited to attend.

There will be a panel discussion with admission counselors from the following colleges:

  • University of Vermont
  • Saint Michael’s College
  • Vermont Technical College
  • Lyndon State College
  • Community College of Vermont
  • Norwich University and VSAC.

Topics will include:

  • Dual enrollment,
  • Applying to College,
  • Writing the college essay,
  • SAT/ACT test options,
  • Choosing a College & Major,
  • Financial Aid and Scholarships.

This is an excellent opportunity to speak with experts in the field and gain valuable current information to help guide your student for the future.  We look forward to seeing you there.  For more information or specific questions contact Michelle Aftuck, School Counselor at aftuckm@wssu.org

Seriosly, attend the meeting next Monday, April 4th at 6:30 pm, in the cafeteria.  Whether she likes it or not, my 9th grader will be there.

photo-girl-laughing
Someone’s daughter working on PLP.

 

 

 

Front Porch Forum & Open Meeting Law

At the last Selectboard meeting, my colleague, Matt Gadbois, asked whether the use of Front Porch Forum violates Open Meeting Law (OML).  He referenced my post about the Town Forest, and the maple tapping contract approved by the Selectboard prior to my term as a member.

Since the contract was considered a “done deal” by the board and no longer a matter of public business, my view is that there was no violation of OML.  It would be like posting a commentary on a decision made anytime in the past — two weeks, a month, a year, or several years.  My commentary was an expression of transparency regarding an issue that the Board had approved and no longer considered a matter of business.

By Matt’s question is worth asking, reminding us of the gray area surrounding the use of email and social media.  The question is whether or not a public business discussion involves a majority of the Board.  The answer isn’t simple.  There are a lot of, “It depends…” type of responses from legal experts.

Northfield’s own Joe McLean is such an expert.  Joe grew up in Northfield and now lives and works as a municipal attorney at Stitzel Page & Fletcher in Burlington.  I came across a video clip posted on Facebook April 15, 2015, from an education seminar hosted by and for the benefit of the Shelburne Selectboard while researching the question.

Obviously, I don’t want to violate OML, so I’ve taken it upon myself to climb up the learning curve.  Most of my research has been through resources available at the Vermont League of Cities and Towns.  But I think it was pretty cool to find my childhood neighbor from Freeman Rd/Homewilde Lane in the video.  A full-length video of the educational seminar is here — I’m sure you’ll click right over to watch it, right?  : )

I’m looking forward to hearing a legal response from Matt’s question.  Part of my role on the Selectboard is to communicate and help make local government more transparent. If one member of the Board offers commentary in a virtual form, does it mean there’s an unannounced public meeting if the other Board members can read (but do not comment on) the post?

For the sake of transparency, I hope not.   It would be ironic if the law which intends to provide government transparency actually prevents me from sharing news about current events before the Board.

Back to Matt raising the question, I have to say I’ve quickly grown to appreciate his respect for adherence to the rules of discussion.  On a side note, I also appreciate David Maxwell‘s steady hand, professionalism, and leadership on the Board.

On the back-end of this site, I’ll have to block my colleagues from commenting on NatesUpdates in order to prevent a violation of OML.  I’ll also have to block them on Facebook and Twitter.  So if I say a good word about them, I hope a non-elected official passes along the sentiment.

 

Heroin Bust by Northfield’s Finest

It’s easy to read about the heroin epidemic in Vermont and across America without imagining it would ever come close to home.  But in February 2014,  John Cruickshank made the announcement in a headline article in the Northfield News:  Heroin Comes to Northfield.

Since then, it seems the reaction has been muted, with heroin discussed in local forums primarily in reference to the legalization of marijuana.  The idea of heroin in Northfield remains in context to the state and national trend.

But heroin is here and we need to address the problem.  It’s a health issue, a public safety issue and a criminal issue.  There’s no easy answer.  In my view, heroin needs to be addressed through all branches of government, as well as the institutions of police enforcement, healthcare facilities and our schools.

Today, I’m pleased to share the news that Corporal Christopher Quesnel of the Northfield Police Department seized 1000 bags of heroin in response to a Be On the Lookout (BOL) call from the Vermont State Police dispatch.

A vehicle operator was reported as driving erratically North on I-89.  Cpl. Quesnel stopped the driver just north of Exit 5 and, well, you can read what happened from his report.  (To read the full report, click here:  1000 Bags: Report of Corporal Christopher Quesnel.)

renee guy_press release.pdf

Northfield Police Sergeant Brian Hoar assisted with the arrest, securing Guy’s vehicle until the search warrant was obtained.  31.5 grams of heroin, packaged with a dealer’s logo,  was seized.  Guy is now in custody with bail set at $15,000.

Northfield Police Chief Jim Dziobek later said that the arrest did more than take 1000 bags of heroin off the street.  The logo, a black ink skull and crossbones labeled “Strong Medicine”, can be used to identify the dealer.  This information is more valuable than heroin.  Working with the Vermont State Police and the State’s Attorney, Northfield’s finest are helping identify the heroin supply chain for law enforcement througout the region.

Kudos to the Cpl. Christopher Quesnel and the Northfield Police Department for their success.  Keep up the good work!

5 Bindles of Heroin

Town Contract with Turkey Hill Maple

Here’s an update on “Sweet Deal?  Maple Producer to Tap Town Forest” regarding a 20-acre mistake on the part of Turkey Hill Maple, and the contract the company requested from the Town of Northfield for use of the Town Forest.

It appears that a 5-year contract has  been awarded to Turkey Hill Maple.  I’ve posted a copy of the full agreement here: Turkey Hill Maple contract

I have more concerns about this than I did earlier.  And it’s not about trees or maple syrup.  I’m wondering whether or not the Town followed an adequate process and whether or not we are seeing best practices in how the Selectboard makes decisions.

Here are some red flags I’m seeing.

 Legality.  The Town should have taken a step back to ask whether there are legal questions about the commercial use of public resources prior to voting in favor of a contract.  It turns out, there may be legal issues which, if challenged, could cost the Town legal expenses and potentially render the contract null and void.

Conflict of Interest.  A selectboard member cited a personal relationship with an employee of Turkey Hill Maple as a basis for his support of the decision to negotiate a contract with the company.  This is the definition of an “indirect personal interest” as described in the Selectboard Handbook, page 21:

“A conflict may be present when a local official acts on a matter in which the member’s judgment may be affected because of a family or personal relationship, or membership in some organization, and a desire to help that person or organization further its own interests.”

Input from the community.  A commercial contract in which one company benefits from a public resource should involve some input from the community.  As you may have noticed in the comments section in my first post on this subject, use of the Town Forest is a matter of interest and there are diverse views which should have been considered.

Role of the Advisory Committee.  The Town Forest is one of the primary advisory areas for the Northfield Conservation Committee.  The NCC wasn’t informed about the pending contract until after the Feb 28th Selectboard vote.  Upon learning about the proposal, the NCC submitted a Tree Tapping Memo for the March 9th Selectboard meeting, concluding:  “Should the town want to look into opening the forest to this kind of activity in the future, a policy should first be put in place to ensure the forest resources are treated responsibly and in a manner that the town’s residents wholeheartedly support.”

These are my thoughts.  As you may recall from my first post, my initial question was, “How would you feel if someone set up sugaring operations on 20 acres of your property by mistake — then asked you to sign a contract?”

But there’s a bigger problem here.

For me, the issue isn’t about whether trees should be tapped in the Town Forest or not. What I’m seeing here is a systemic problem in how we as a Town govern ourselves and make decisions.  There have been controversies and mistakes in the past which were completely preventable if the Board had followed a process using best practices in governance.

More simply put, we need to “Do it Once and Do it Right.”

How does the board do it once and do it right?  Well, my first recommendation is that all board members annually attend professional development opportunities provided by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT), but I’ll save that for another post.  In the meantime, here are some basic recommendations.

Before the Selectboard makes a decision, it needs to ask a couple of questions, like:

  • Is this what the people of Northfield want?
  • Do we have the authority to make this decision?  Do we need to look at state policy?
  • How have other communities approached this issue?
  • What are some legal issues we haven’t thought of?  Are there any land mines we might step on?
  • Does any board member present a conflict of interest?

I’m sure I’ll learn quite a bit over the next 3 years and I certainly don’t’ feel as if I have all the answers on the subject of local governance.  I just think we can do better.

How do you feel about all this? 

Are you satisfied with how the deal was struck with Turkey Hill Maple?  Do you think the process is adequate, or do you want to see more?  What do you think could have been done better?   Leave a comment!

As for the specifics regarding the Town Forest and the Turkey Hill Maple contract — if you’re upset, then you need to speak up.  Not just to me — to the entire Selectboard.

You can send your thoughts to:  selectboard@northfield.vt.us

 

The Northfield Community Development Network

If you’re learning about NCDN for the first time, Welcome! For those who attended the meeting in January, you may wonder what’s been going on since then.
The answer is, quite a bit! While we promised monthly meetings, our Weekly Workgroup decided to wait just a bit so we can deliver a solid platform and tangible examples of NCDN’s initial direction.

But first, here’s a primer for the uninitiated:

2015 wasn’t a great year for Northfield — until December 11th when a group of 14 people, including Selectboard member Matt Gadbois, met to discuss the formation of an economic development organization at the Brown Public Library Community Room.  The initial idea was to reboot the dormant Northfield Business & Professional Association, but former president David Blythe recommended starting a new organization for legal and logistical reasons.
Momentum built, and on January 14th, the group grew to more than 30, representing a cross-section of people with a broad range of professional and business expertise.  Selectboard member David Maxwell joined Gadbois, updating folks about the Town’s Economic Development Committee.   Local business owners, Norwich Faculty and Staff, new and long-time residents came together in agreement to form a non-profit organization.  One with the authority and resources to take real action.
This is how the Northfield Community Development Network (NCDN) was conceived.
On May 19th, we will meet again for the official launch of our new organization.
With a current body of almost 40 people and a Weekly Workgroup of 6, NCDN has incorporated and is getting down to business.  Carolyn Stevens, CPA, has agreed to serve as Treasurer.   Attorney Bill Smith is guiding us through our application for tax-exempt status from his office on Depot Square.  Many thanks, Carolyn and Bill!
As a network organization, we are beginning to meet with local organizations and ask a simple question:  “What can we do to help?”  We want to help create a collaborative environment among local groups as each one does its part to help improve our community.
But networking and collaboration are just starting points.  NCDN is committed to economic growth and vitality.  We need to address housing and we need business development.  This type of work requires a budget and staff.  We’ll get there.  For now, we’re building our network and forming a base of support.
So, here’s what’s happening behind the scenes!

Road Sign Project  NCDN will be collaborating with Leslie Striebe and and Emily Wrigley of Go!Northfield on the visual design (not structural) of road signs to be placed at the North and South entrypoints along Route 12. Leslie has worked tirelessly on this project for coming on to two years.  We’re excited to work with Leslie and Emily as this project comes closer to completion, and other projects in the years to come.

Banner Project:  Sally Davidson and Wendy Rae of the Recreation Committee have proposed a road banner project and we are happy to work with them as well. Ideally, Go!Northfield’s signs and the Rec Committee’s banners should be visually compatible. This is a great example of how NCDN can help coordinate similar work by local groups and facilitate projects across the community.

Tree Planting Project:  NCDN has joined the Conservation Committee on the development of a tree planting project.  Pamela Knox of the Conservation Committee has agreed to become our Network Liaison so we have ongoing cross-communication as the Conservation Committee proceeds with its important work.  Ruth Ruttenberg, also of the Conservation Committee, will be writing a grant application to help fund the project.

Northfield Rotary Club:  Bob Doyon and Nicole DiDomenico have agreed to Network partnership and serve as NCDN liaisons.  The Rotary Club has provided years of public service and we look forward to joining their efforts.

056VT Television Show:  On March 21st, professional videographer and television show producer, Andrea Melville, is launching her new interview-format show on Channel 7.  While we don’t have a project with 056VT yet, NCDN looks forward to a working relationship with  056VT. Please join Andrea at the Community Room Monday, March 21st at 7:00 pm for her live debut performance!

Norwich University:  While we don’t have official Network Liaisons with Norwich University at this time, NCDN membership includes several faculty and staff employees in various departments.  NCDN is poised to facilitate communication and potential projects of mutual benefit for Norwich and Northfield.  We look forward to an opportunity to formalize relationships with both the university and the town as NCDN strives to improve local vitality.

Next Meeting:  The Weekly Workgroup decided to hold the next meeting when we have tangible work to share, like final logo designs, etc.  The tent  We are reaching out to the Director of Revitalizing Waterbury as a potential speaker.  RW is an official non-profit partner with the Town of Waterbury.  RW’s work has led to a substantial rebound.  Their work can inform NCDN as we move forward to improve local vitality.

Thank You’s:  NCDN would like to thank everyone for their continued support.  Special thanks to Vince and Norma at the Falls General Store for providing meeting space at the yoga studio upstairs.  Thanks also to the Norwich University Office of Communication for the same courtesy.  Finally, special thanks to our Network Liaisons and new Treasurer, Carolyn Stevens.
Now it’s time for me to ask, “What can you do to help?
Right now, we’d love to hear from you.  And we’d love it if you help spread a good word about NCDN.  So it’s simple, really.  Fill out the contact form and talk to your friends!  And let us know what you think.
— Nate Freeman, President.