Hazen Area Behind the Trees

The Caledonian Record? The Hardwick Gazette? Named for the military road this is the historic link between our communities, Hazen Area Behind the Trees provides alternative news and information from Craftsbury to Hardwick to Greensboro, Vermont. Check what's new, what your neighbors talk about, what's up. Drop a line with comments or items to share - hazteller@yahoo.com - COMMENTING IS NOW EASIER... REACT OR CHECK THE REACTIONS TO EACH POST.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Responding to this Blog

Toni May has posted an inquiry in response to the blog dated Friday, June 3, in which we questioned the political consistency of the conservative opposition she has been vocal in leading. May is concerned about her ability to respond to the issues raised and the space that would be allotted to such a response. For all readers, you can post comments in response to each blog by clicking on "comments." If you would like an opportunity to post directly to the blog on our main page, please email us your comments and we will make sure to post them and attribute them to you as you indicate. We will post what is submitted, and we will not edit your comments, as long as they relate to an issue of public controversy. However, we reserve the right to withhold comments that are merely personal attacks on individuals who have not voluntarily entered into public debate, or do not directly relate to an individual's stated and public perspective about or role in these debates.

Blogs are posted chronologically. If you would like to comment on a specific item, and have it posted where that item occurs, you must click on the comment bottom at the end of our post. If you would like your comments posted in chronological order on the main page of the blog, please submit them to hazteller@yahoo.com.

We have received several inquiries about what is happening with the school budget in Walden. If you have concerns about the debate and would like to let us know about them, or would like to share your perspectives with your neighbors, please send them along.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Board Postpones Action on Mackville Camp Construction

We returned from vacation just in time for the Hardwick Zoning Board consideration of a proposal for extensive new construction to expand camping and RV parking at the Idle Hours Campground in Mackville. This proposal, submitted by Mr and Mrs. Larry Beaudry, who recently purchased the facility, has raised a number of concerns for area residents, none of which could be addressed by the new owners at the Tuesday night meeting.

Though a dozen residents came to participate in the meeting and express their concerns about the proposal and the future of Mackville, the Board determined Tuesday that because the Beaudrys had failed to submit a detailed site plan that would clearly indicate the nature and size of construction and improvements on the property, no one could accurately discuss the impact of their expansion plans on Mackville. Residents and board members were nearly unanimous in their opinion - the plan provided by the Beaudrys with their zoning application was a rough drawing of the site at best. It failed to accurately indicate property lines, so neighbors could not determine how the new facilities would impact them. In fact, the plans were not drawn to scale, so distances and the size of new construction and improvements could not be determined by neighbors or zoning officials.

Despite the incomplete application submitted by the Beaudrys, the Board did accept testimony on the proposal generally, as many people had clearly come to express their concerns. Generally, neighbors were eager to see the fine print, and one expressed concerns about the tanks used at the camp for sewage disposal.

Idle Hours Campground is well off Route 14, snuggled deep in Mackville, an area of Hardwick noted for its ponds and lakes, mountain scenery, lush forests, and large properties with older farmhouses along quiet country roads. Idle Hours is one of a few small campgrounds in the area. The Beaudrys purchased the camp recently and, according to their filing with the town, they plan to expand RV and camping facilities, as well as operate a store for camp patrons and a meeting place for bible studies, weddings, and other activities. Operating as a private business, the Beaudrys promise a family-friendly, Christian atmosphere for their campers.

The Board officially postponed consideration of the application so that the Beaudrys could submit the required plans.

Monday, July 04, 2005

On Vacation

From far away, we've heard that there's much activity back home... from petitions in Hardwick to school budgets rejected in Walden, from the lack of public restrooms in Greensboro - especially during the parade - to political musical chairs at the state level. The voters andpoliticians appear to be restless. If you'd like to offer insights, news, or express your opinion, give us an electronic jingle.

As we celebrate the Fourth far from home, we wish all of our neighbors and readers a happy celebration. Vermonters, we pride ourselves on our independence, from the years of the First Vermont Republic until today. No matter our political stripes, we seemed to have learned to get along much better than the rest of the country. We can grumble about all our problems and controversies, revive our partisan divisions, get back to political fights later. Today, we can celebrate what makes us all Vermonters.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Self Policing

If consistency is the hob gobblin of small minds, then the unofficial "opposition" in Hardwick has nothing to worry about. Consistency is not their concern.

Perhaps Toni May is just too prolific. Writing a letter to the editor every week for the Hardwick Gazette can get intellectually, emotionally, and politically tiresome (not to mention reading them). Blogging is difficult enough, but at least a blog includes easy electronic access to all the previous posts , and as expressions of opinion, ideas, controversies, and news, this blog is more concerned with learning and working "outside the box" than it is with a dogmatic position. But leading a political movement, motivating and swaying voters, requires a "political" leader to keep his or her story straight. As the self appointed leader of the "opposition" to the current majority on the Select Board, and to Town Manager Dan Hill, Toni May has a great responsibility.

First, May should review her previous letters before she writes anew. Last week she again condemned the Select Board for moving forward with the Cell Tower Study - to find the best location in terms of service and community concerns for any tower. So far, so consistent. But her argument was that the Board had already approved the Bridgman Hill communications tower (for pagers and not cell phones). Well, May must need to be reminded that she opposed the way that tower proposal was amended to meet local zoning laws, and so opposed the final Zoning Board decision to allow a tower at the site. According to everything May has written, the Board's decision did not go far enough. So why now praise that decision as the final and definitive answer to the provision of cell phone service in Hardwick? Who knows!

Second, May wrote to the Gazette this week to distance herself from the proposed petition that would nullify the police contract with Greensboro. She does support the other petition to require the Australian ballot for all town expenditures. Is the "opposition" coming apart? Has the self appointed spokesperson/leader lost her movement?

As U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist should have learned recently, a political leader often has to follow as much as cajole and push. If you wrap yourself up with an extreme, with one side of a polarized debate, you create a giant space in the middle for your more moderate allies and your opponents to actually work together. You also run the risk of inspiring others to take you at your word. Leadership sometimes requires clear and strong statements. Sometimes it requires negotiation and compromise. As long as you keep to your basic principle. But Frist and May seem to forget their principles. They are neither consistent nor clear, and so they are unable to negotiate. Cut cut cut, as long as we're cutting programs that prevent poverty and illiteracy. But don't cut the police subsidy for Greensboro? Vote vote vote, as long as we are asked to vote "no" on programs that build stronger communities, but not to vote on reform of the police department?

Why does Toni May "not" support the petition to curtail police services and eliminate the contract with Greensboro? Who knows. She does not say. But it is clear, as this blog has stated previously, that there is resentment in Hardwick over the subsidy for police services to wealthy Greensboro, and their is a growing discussion about what kind of policing we actually need in Hardwick. A leader - of the opposition or the majority - would listen to this discussion and respond to it, seek to work through the community's concerns, holding to their principles, and find a compromise.

Then again, perhaps May is surpisingly consistent. Her Bridgman Hill communications tower was the perfect site to expand cell phone service to the wealthy residents of Greensboro, and she does not support cutting Hardwick's subsidy for police services for those same well-to-do summer people.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Full Bloom

Our communities continue to benefit from the rich soil that nurtures our unique businesses and farms. Grab this week's Seven Days, and you will find a wonderful article about a NEK landmark, Vermont Daylilies in Greensboro, and the couple that keeps it going with love and good practices, Hardwick's John Hunt and Kathy Unser.

John and Kathy have been good neighbors and respected local business people, putting their time and effort into growing - not just many of the 50,000 varieties of daylilies, but also growing a sense of place for the community and offering a model for how to run a business in rural Vermont. With the Hunts, and Perennial Pleasures, Hazendale Farm, Surfing Veggie Farm, and Riverside Farm, to name just a few, we are working the soil to build community and a sustainable economy that offers opportunity, sustenance, and joy. These are the reasons most of us stay here or came here.

Read the full article at:

http://www.sevendaysvt.com/features/2005/seize_the_daylily/

Bringin Down the House?

A brief note on Vermont's health care debate...

It seems the first and most effective proposal for health care reform has been brought low by a narrowing of the public debate. With the Senate Democrats adopting a moderate proposal that fails to truly extend quality and affordable health care to all - instead heaping new burdens on small employers and doing little to address the underlying inefficiencies and inequalities - the House seems to have been rendered mute. Attention now focuses on the differences between the plans offered by the Senate and our Republican Governor. Most of that discussion is on the source of needed revenues - a burdensome tax on small employers who already cannot afford to provide health care, or a burdensome tax on health care premiums that will end up making already poorly crafted policies even more unaffordable.

House Democrats and Vermont progressives (lower case "p") need to refocus the debate and seize the ground they have lost. They need to push the Democrats statewide and in the Senate to debate on quality, sidelining the Governor from the discussion and moving beyond the question of revenues to the issue of benefits.

One way to shift the debate is to address last week's call for malpractice reform. In order to move comprehensive reform forward, elected officials must bring onboard doctors and health care providers. One way to accomplish this is to review malpractice laws as an integrated aspect of any long term reform of the health care system. Our goal should not be simply to expand coverage (universal), but to restructure the system to improve the quality of health care and reduce the expected increases in health care costs. Malpractice reform is a part of this effort.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Abolition?

Is it time to consider abolishing the Hardwick Police Department?

As we continue the examination of regional policing, we should at the same time examine what the department actually accomplishes for our communities, and alternative crime prevention programs that might better serve residents.

Anyone who even glances at the police report in the Hardwick Gazette knows that the bulk of our policing resources go to giving out speeding tickets. And if you’ve been the victim of a burglary, you also know there is very little the department can do. You file a complaint, and if you have insurance, you get a check. As a result, the only criminals ever caught are the nefarious speed demons.

Of course, officers are also trained in responding to domestic violence calls. This is probably the most useful, and dangerous, service they perform. Without a local department, victims of domestic violence could wait two hours for the state police to respond.

But are there other, more effective crime prevention strategies? The answer is a strong yes, and even when other options might not currently exist, that doesn’t prevent us for developing our own solutions.

First we have to consider some of the root causes of crime:

Poverty and financial insecurity.
Drug and alcohol abuse.
Few job and educational opportunities.
Histories of family violence.
Even a lack of programs for youth.

We are better prepared to deal with some of these issues than most big cities. Our area schools and communities provide a number of programs so that our children have productive and meaningful, as well as fun, activities. AWARE has developed some important innovations in domestic violence prevention.

And yet we can do more.

So what would Hardwick look like without a police department?

We would be able to invest the money we save into expanded crime prevention programs:

First, provide assistance to families in need for home maintenance and repairs. Require landlords who own buildings along main street or rental housing to adequately maintain their property. Studies have shown that people with pride in their homes and communities are invested in the future. Communities that repair and improve dilapidated buildings and maintain property see a reduction in crime.

Expand after school programs and opportunities throughout the village. Give our kids something to do, places to gather and play. Stimulate their minds and make sure that they are exercising their bodies. Expand programs of educational enrichment and encourage all children to think early about college or career training and prepare. With the money saved from policing, we might even be able to provide assistance to families in need so that local kids can continue their education after high school.

Develop mandatory local drug and domestic violence prevention programs in the schools. We can do more to reduce crime and violence by educating our children. Good programs actually work. By reducing drug use, we can reduce drug related crimes like burglary and drunk driving. By teaching young women what to do in violent relationships and teaching young men to respect women, we can end the cycle of violence.

Develop truly innovative programs to respond to domestic violence. These are dangerous situations, and need an immediate response from well-trained personnel. By working with experts such as AWARE, it seems obvious that Hardwick could develop a response system that will become the envy of rural communities. Since we rely on trained volunteers for many emergency services, one possibility would be to expand their training or develop a team of deputized volunteers who would be available to respond, provide assistance to victims, and intercede until state police arrive.

Develop real community-based crime prevention. Instead of a police department, we need a constable. When was the last time an local officer came to your door and asked if you’ve had any problems in the last year? When was the last time you even thought about talking with an officer? A constable with the responsibility to introduce himself or herself to all residents, to work with our kids and teach them about the law, to coordinate drug, alcohol, and violence prevention programs, to facilitate assistance to families in need – such a person would do more to prevent crime and make our community a better place than our current officers and squad cars. The constable could coordinate our “first response” volunteers for situations of domestic violence, work with troubled residents at risk, and secure state, federal, and private resources for crime prevention and community development.

Maybe residents feel more comfortable with an established police force. Even if that is the case, we are not prevented from examining all the options we might be able to pursue, from regional policing to transforming what we mean by law enfocement. Is it time to abolish the Hardwick Police Department? Maybe not. But it is time to consider its abolition and what crime prevention programs we could build in its place.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Far Away, So Close

"People don't move here for convenience," said Wood, who is bracing herself for construction of the tower to begin any day now. "They move here so they can hear a pin drop."

"You have to look at who it's going to benefit," Barsa said. "It will benefit everyone in town. There's a pain and there's a gain."

From The New York Times, "First Come Cell Towers, Then Babel", May 1, 2005

You might recognize the sentiment but not the names. That’s because Barsa and Wood live in Mendham Township, New Jersey, and not Vermont. But the citizens there have been bitterly divided over a proposal to locate a cell phone tower on Barsa’s property adjacent to the Wood’s home.

Those brief quotes are from the May Day edition of the New York Times, where writer Katie Hafner reports on two strikingly different small town disputes over the location of cell phone towers. These disputes resonate with the debates we’ve had, here and across the state, between neighbors who want to embrace the conveniences of the modern world and those who prefer to preserve those things about the NEK that keep us here in the first place. And the different resolution of these local conflicts between neighbors offers important lessons for our town governments and residents.

In Mendham, opponents of the cell phone tower were defeated. After blocking the proposal, which had been developed and advocated by Verizon as well as other carriers, Mendham town officials were forced to defend their local zoning decision in state courts, all the way to the New Jersey Supreme Court. Based on a relatively obscure federal law, the courts said that Mendham Township had no authority to prohibit the construction of a cell phone tower based on local zoning regulations.

According to Hafner in the Times, federal telecommunications laws allows cell phone providers to take local officials to state or federal court if local decisions end up blocking cell phone service. The law also prohibits local governments from invoking their authority to protect the public health and bar cell phone towers that some consider dangerous. Powerful Washington DC lawyers who are expert in the telecommunications law have made their services available to cell phone providers in many of the more than 500 local disputes over tower location. Wood herself has spent nearly $30,000 to keep a tower from being built 200 feet from her front door.

Of course, Hardwick has yet to be challenged by a bevy of powerful cell phone providers. Our dispute results from the work of two Vermonters – one who wants to develop the infrastructure for cell phones by getting authority to locate towers and finding service providers later, and the other a land owner he will pay to lease the location.

In a similar vein, the Times reported on Granger, Indiana, where a resident wanted to build his own cell phone tower and find the service providers later. Opponents of the tower easily won that battle with town officials, and no Washington power brokers entered into the fray.

What can we learn? In many ways, Hardwick town officials struck a thoughtful compromise before we are forced into a subordinate bargaining position with powerful industries who have used their influence in the Republican Congress to get laws that preempt local rights. The premature application for approval – premature because no cell phone provider is ready to enter into the Hardwick market – started a debate and discussion that has forced the town to look at the issue and into the future. With a possible professional study on the table, designed to find the best possible tower locations that maximize service and minimize impacts on residents, when the big guns ride into town, we will already have the ammunition we need to work with them and encourage a solution.

Like Granger, we have won a battle. But if we do not continue the discussion, and move forward ourselves, we will likely find ourselves in the same position as Mendham Township. Maybe Verizon and other providers will want the same site Hardwick has already considered (and approved for a smaller tower). Maybe they’ll have selected another. But sometime, they will come into our town and find a site that best suits them. If we’ve already done the work, they will be more willing to negotiate with us and arrive at a solution that benefits more of us (more than just those who show up at a Select Board meeting to bully town officials).

Given the nature of federal law, and the powerful influence of industry among Washington regulators, we cannot prevent them from coming. What we can do is minimize the disruption that they cause.

Nevertheless, Hardwick has one thing going for it. Unlike Mendham Township, Hardwick is not a small town of million dollar homes. It is a town of primarily working people, year round residents, artisans and nearby farmers. Hardwick is not wealthy, nor populous, so the town itself does not provide a strong market for cell phone providers. They might wait years before they see Hardwick on their cell phone maps. But there are nearby communities, like Greensboro, with million dollar homes and wealthy urbanites who summer or retire along the lake. Many of them might miss their cell phone service as they drive over Bridgman Hill to shop at Buffalo Mountain. They would be an attractive market for providers, one that might just get some attention much sooner – if they haven’t already.