Select Board Thanked for Justice Action

by Doug McClure

HARDWICK–The July 16 Hardwick Select Board meeting finished with some residents thanking the select board for its commitment to taking racial justice beyond just words. The board received paving bids and awarded one for its summer work. The board addressed the case of four-fifths of Hardwick Electric Commissioners up for re-appointment at once, at first in public interviews with two prospective candidates and later in executive session.

Hardwick’s initiative supporting equity is named the “Town of Hardwick Equity for All Resolution,” and it seeks to address injustice based on “race, ethnicity, gender identity or expression of sexual orientation, immigration status, religious or political affiliation.” People were on hand to bear witness to the challenge the board and the town had set for itself. Despite a packed slate, the select board made sure to hear their voices.

A part of that resolution is forming a committee to tackle the problems. Board member Lucian Avery had worked off of the recreation committee’s organizing documents he found online but a resident pointed out this committee isn’t deciding on a “swing set.” Rose Friedman of East Hardwick led the discussion about the committee, which she referred to as “a door that really needed to be opened.” She addressed the issue head-on.

“I’m a little stopped in my tracks. My concern is that the resolution was written and passed without any voice of color in the room. Given the fact we live in a predominately white area, it’s extremely challenging.”

Friedman suggested reaching out to the Vermont Coalition for Ethnic Studies and Social Equity in an advisory capacity because, as evidenced by the all-white attendees in the room, the task before the select board was daunting.

Board member Ceilidh Galloway-Kane thanked Friedman for “talking about actions behind resolutions” and said the resolution “doesn’t do what we’re saying it’s going to do if it’s all white people [deciding]. I look to the community to really take ownership over this, and there’s a lot of work to be done to figure out a way to make this intentional and graceful.”

A resident who spoke next described her son as tri-racial and said    “he’s terrified to live in this town.” That person wanted immediate steps and saw the “moment” as requiring “an emergency measure.” They suggested that the consider a potential committee candidate who is “not just a person of color, but is skilled with this kind of work.”

Another resident said that her adopted son, who is Black, was being “antagonized every single day” at Hazen Union School. “He knew he’d hear some racial [comments].” She said it came from teachers and administrators, as well as students. That person thanked the board for its steps and said “Hardwick is a good place to be, it’s a good place to raise your children” except for the problems at Hazen Union School.

One attendee wanted to know how the treatment of LGBTQ+ students compared with that of Black and brown students at Hazen Union. Hazen Union student Audrey Grant responded that her LGBTQ+ friends had experienced harassment that was “horrific on so many levels.” She said one student had transferred elsewhere because of the harassment. She said “the amount of harassment [LGBTQ+ students] get from their classmates … it takes a toll on a person.” Grant said “I’m very appreciative for the formation of the committee, but there’s a lot of work to do.”

Galloway-Kane implored the community to step in and contact the select board. “We’re not going to be able to do it without your support. A big part of this is really thinking about how we make every part of our community inclusive.”

At least three new names were in the mix for the four open seats on the Hardwick Electric Department (HED) Board of Commissioners. All four commissioners whose terms were up had put their names in the hat. Two of the new prospects were on hand to answer select board queries.

Michael Ambrosino said he is “new to Hardwick” and “bought a house here four years ago” after retiring from an engineering job in New York City where he managed a 40-person team. “I put my name in because I think it would be interesting to do, I’m capable, and I have great enthusiasm.”

Vince O’Connell described his backstory as meeting his wife at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center in the 1980s, buying a second home in 2000, and eventually making that a full-time home. He cited an entrepreneurial background in manufacturing and “problem-solving skills. I’m detail-oriented.”

Both men were appointed to the HED Board of Commissioners later that night, Ambrosino to a term ending June 30, 2022, and O’Connell to a term ending June 30, 2023. Current Commissioners David Mitchell and Roger Prevot were re-appointed. The board made sure no more than two appointments were up in a year going forward.

Bids for the 2020 abbreviated paving schedule were reviewed by the board. Town Manager Shaun Fielder described those bids as “apples-to-apples” based on tonnage, approximately 2,400 tons. “We’re not expecting any change or overage,” said Fielder. Road Foreman Tom Fadden said “[The bids] are all consistent, so we’re good.” The winning bid this year was from Pike Industries, a New-England-based company owned by CRH of Ireland, for $159,678.75. The board received competing bids from J. Hutchins Inc. of Richmond for $169.256.50 and Gray’s Paving & Asphalt of Coventry for $201,056.20.