No Road Commissioner for Guildhall?

Granby Road, in Guildhall
Granby Road, in Guildhall

Yesterday, January 28, was the statutory deadline by which all who wish to run for Town Office must submit their nominating papers, also known as “petitions.” Without meeting this deadline, your name can’t appear on the election ballot on Town Meeting Day (Tuesday, March 5)

This day is always an interesting one in Town, because it’s now we know for certain who will be running and which races are contested. As we get closer to Town Meeting, I’ll have some thoughts, questions, and even criticisms to offer about the candidates who have declared themselves.

But for now, I’m more interested in who has not declared. It’s notable that not a single person turned in a petition to run as Road Commissioner. This is especially surprising, since one can make a credible argument that Road Commissioner is right up there with Selectboard and Town Clerk as among the most crucial of municipal officials. One of the main functions of municipal government is to oversee and maintain our roads. Furthermore, an enormous chunk of the municipal budget goes toward that function.

The fact that not a single person expressed interest in the job (and it’s a paying job, too) is especially surprising in light of recent history. At last year’s Town Meeting, as many will recall, the warning contained an article proposing that the Road Commissioner position be an appointed, rather than elected one.

The question was controversial. There was considerable debate on the matter, with many arguing vehemently that it was important to keep the position an elected one so that the person in that role would be more closely accountable to the voters. And in the end, a substantial majority defeated the proposal, keeping the job elected. (By way of full disclosure, I supported making the position an appointed one, and have written elsewhere on this blog about why.)

Given that vote, and the passionate feelings that a number of citizens expressed about keeping it elected, you’d think that at least one or two people would come forward to run for the office. But no one did. What gives?

And who’s going to be in charge of our roads now?

Vegetarian Chili with Homemade Sourdough Bread: January in Guildhall, Vermont.

IMG_2287A snowy day in mid-January. The perfect time to spend a weekend day alternating between a good book in front of the woodstove and in the kitchen, concocting a lovely vegetarian chili and some scrumptious sourdough bread.

I’ve been a vegetarian for decades now. During the initial transition time to a vegetarian diet,  I learned that some things just didn’t work without meat, and I cut my losses.  But I wasn’t ready to give up on chili.  Still, I could never find vegetarian chili quite as satisfying as I had during the  carnivore period.  The chili usually resembled and tasted like a soup or  gruel, lacking density (or perhaps simply, carbohydrates.)

But a few years ago, when I was Town Clerk and looking for a vegetarian chili recipe to satisfy both meat eaters and veggies among the election day volunteers at the Town Office, I found this!

The recipe–from Martha Stewart– involves the usual array of vegetables and kidney beans,  but also features chick peas and bulghur. The bulghur is the real miracle-worker here. While simmering, it expands, thickens the chili into a stew-like consistency, and makes it utterly satisfying. Here’s the recipe:  Vegetable Chili

Last week, I got a hankering for homemade sourdough bread.   Earlier in 2012, I’d finally thrown away my sour dough starter.  After several years, even with replenishment, it was simply getting too tired for the job. But rather than buy starter from a commercial outlet, I decided to create it from scratch myself, which is a surprisingly simple enterprise. All I needed to do was throw together some honey, yeast, water, and flour, and let the mixture ferment in a closed container near a warm spot–for five days. Voila!–beautiful, pungent sourdough starter! (Note that you can even create your own starter without yeast–it just requires a longer fermentation period, in order to capture the wild yeasts in the air.)

Today was the end of the five days and I used my new starter to bake two loaves of crusty French sourdough, recipe courtesy of the great Bernard Clayton, Jr.

Resignation on the Guildhall School Board: A New Chapter

School Board Director Helen Martin has resigned, with more than a year to go in her term. At last night’s meeting, the School Superintendent delivered her letter of resignation to the other board members. Mrs. Martin did not come personally to inform her fellow Board members of this.

In my view, this resignation was long overdue, and I would have preferred that Mrs. Martin  come and face us directly.

Nevertheless, I applaud her for taking this step. I think it was the honorable thing to do.

Since her election in March 2011, I  and many others believe that Mrs. Martin has made a series of choices which sadly, squandered any potential she might once have had to be an effective board member. In August 2011, she used her majority with Board member Matt Smith in voting to tuition out Smith’s own child, despite a statute which forbid such conflict of interest votes, and despite the fact that voters had only months before said no to the tuitioning out of 5th graders.

Worse, Mrs. Martin did not appear to recognize she’d made any mistake, even after numerous citizens expressed their disappointment and outrage, by attending and speaking up at meetings, by rescinding the controversial gifted and talented article, by writing letters and petitions, and even after some citizens finally took the serious step of filing a lawsuit.

Indeed, in early 2012, in an angry outburst, she voted with Matt Smith to freeze the checkbook of the Guildhall School District, an action which arguably jeopardized the continued operation of an entire school, simply because she supported Matt Smith in his attempt to get his own child’s tuition paid.  Through those choices, for many of us, she lost  credibility, and instead became a largely polarizing figure in our community.

Many of us wondered why she did not do what clearly seemed best for the Town and School and step down, allowing the School Board to move forward with a clean slate. Again, to the very end, Mrs. Martin did not seem willing to consider that she might have made a mistake. She seemed to persist in her belief that citizen activism, including  the filing of a lawsuit was some kind of personal attack, anti-democratic maneuver or was based on some mysterious political agenda. What she failed to understand–or so it seems– was that citizens, when they believe their elected officials have acted wrongfully, use the democratic process, including the courts of law, to take action and seek redress.

So her decision, although it comes late, is the right one, and I appreciate it.

With this development, I believe we can open a new chapter in our School. When Mrs. Martin and Matt Smith used their majority on our School Board to act as they did, that was a radical change in how the Town operates. We can now reverse course. Mrs. Martin’s resignation is an important step toward rejecting the politics of special treatment and favoritism and making our government accountable  for the good of everyone, not just those who have power, a good name, or friends in high places.