ID-4 board chair leaves town office steering committee

MIDDLEBURY — One prominent member of the Middlebury Town Office/Recreation Facility Project Steering Committee was missing from last Tuesday’s meeting of the committee: ID-4 school board chair Ruth Hardy.
On Jan. 4, Hardy resigned from the committee, saying that her presence on the body was no longer needed. She represented ID-4, which owns the land where a new town gym originally had been proposed. But since the Middlebury selectboard voted last month to favor a site off Creek Road instead, Hardy said she was not needed on the committee.
In her letter of resignation to Middlebury selectboard Chair Dean George, Hardy also regretted the missed opportunity that this project offered for a broader public discussion on priorities in Middlebury.
The following is the text of the letter:
Dear Dean,
I am writing to resign my seat on the Middlebury Town Office/Recreation Facility Project Steering Committee. Given that the Selectboard endorsed the recommendation of the Steering Committee to proceed with plans to build a recreation facility at a UD#3 site on Creek Road, rather than at the ID#4 Recreation Park site, my participation on the committee is no longer necessary. My efforts on the Committee have been a huge time commitment, and I need now to focus my energies on school board and professional work rather than promoting a project I oppose.
I voted against the recommendation of the Creek Road site because I feel there is insufficient information to recommend one site over another, and that more analysis is needed to determine our town’s recreational and other needs before we spend tax revenue and real estate proceeds to construct a new facility. I am disappointed that the majority of the Selectboard and Steering Committee members were unwilling to engage in the type of community engagement, needs assessment, and public policy analysis that is necessary to ensure the best outcome for a public project of this scope.
I am opposed to the proposed project not because it would sell land to the College, or build a facility on school property, or exclude our library, teens and seniors. While these facets are important, my opposition to the project stems from the fact that I have seen no analysis to suggest that building a new gymnasium or town office best serves the most pressing needs of our community, nor even that such a project would serve the alleged specific recreational and administrative needs.
In the face of dwindling resources, how can we best serve our citizens’ needs and create a community worthy of the people who live here? Neither the proposed project, nor the process undertaken to push it to a vote, provides an adequate answer to this question. And it has been disheartening that much of the time the response to the question has been that we should look at the specifications of office buildings and gymnasiums, rather than at the people and their broader hopes and dreams for Middlebury.
There is a growing number of people in our town who are struggling financially, with nearly half of the children at our elementary school qualifying for free or reduced lunches. There is a growing drug problem among many of our citizens. An affordable housing shortage. Increasing transportation and environmental challenges. And cost of living implications for everyone.
We have missed a huge opportunity to have a full-fledged community discussion on the question of how best to use our public lands or the proceeds from their possible sale. We’ve missed the opportunity to take advantage of so many engaged representatives from many of our town’s institutions at the same table – our schools, library, college, teens, seniors, designers, planners, and elected representatives.
We’ve missed the opportunity to enable the newly hired experts in our community to research and plan for the best possible future of their institutions individually and collectively. Instead, as one local leader said to me, we have been “taken hostage by an ill-conceived plan.” Even so, I thank the Selectboard for giving me the opportunity to serve on the Steering Committee in service to the Mary Hogan School, its students, their families, and the broader Middlebury community.
In all my work, comments and analysis, I have always kept what I believe are the best interests of our town at the forefront.
I have been impressed by the level of commitment shown by many other committee members, town officials, and the citizens who have come to meetings to ask questions and express their opinions. Civic engagement and public service are challenging enterprises. To engage in the work well takes time, energy and a commitment to the greater good of a community. I have seen these traits in large quantities over the past several months.
Despite being invited late to the process, I have always come to the table in good faith. I have offered my ideas and expertise, and my message has been consistent and my voice has been firm, even in the face of inappropriate behavior from a select few. I have asked that we slow down, take stock in the values, goals and priorities of our community, and most of all that we put our citizens at the center of our deliberations.
Although I oppose this project in its presently-proposed form, I wish you the best in your efforts. I would welcome the opportunity to work with you again on a project and process that could better serve the values and interests of our community. In the future, I hope to see more diverse, respectful and thoughtful voices represented in our town government, and I will work to ensure the fruition of this goal for the betterment of our community.
Ruth Hardy, ID#4 School Board Chair 

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