Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Vergennes government currently under construction

These past few weeks have been what some may call a “s*** show” for Vergennes. We’ve even made the national news on a couple of occasions as the citizens attempts to form a citizen review board (CRB) were met with resistance from the people in power, or more accurately, the people left in power.
A quorum of resignations later, we are left standing on the hope of momentum created by our citizen engagement as of late, the engagement starting with our BLM protests together on the park, followed up with the creation of the exploratory committee to see if we needed a CRB (don’t even get me started on the idea that we needed to explore if our police department should be subject to citizen oversight), followed by an outcry of distrust after an orchestrated public shaming of our now resigned former mayor, a vocal advocate of the oversight.
Through all this one thing is clear. Resistance to change has a stranglehold on our little city right now — a knee in the neck if you will. Our advantage, unlike the late George Floyd, is we have witnesses willing to step in and create a different outcome — and we’re mostly white, so people may actually take the time to listen to us — unlike our fellow intelligent, well spoken, and objective, Vergennes citizen, who is not white, and was interrupted during a recent public Zoom meeting by the ‘Patrol’ account. That account, belonging to our police force, stated, “Why are they still letting him speak?!”… followed by a “whoops”…
Yeah, that’s where we’re at. This little city of civic-minded people that have helped each other through some hard years when, as some people love to remind everyone, there were couches on the corners and crime was high (a reference to a time 30 years ago). 
Those same people would give full credit to our police department for turning the city around. I disagree. You cannot win a game strictly with defense. Did the police help? Absolutely. Are they the sole heroes? Not even close. Our city became what it is, because of a million individual acts by citizens who cared. 
There were, absolutely, key people at key moments who stepped up to help us move forward. Gerianne Smart comes to mind immediately, (and there were many more of you, but I’ll use Gerianne as the example today). Gerianne doesn’t and never has, to my knowledge, held a badge. I don’t even think she had a title outside of her (many) volunteer roles in this city, including being the president of an all-volunteer group, The Friends of the Vergennes Opera House. She wasn’t police appointed, and she didn’t act out of resistance to change. She was change. She embraced, embodied, and declared change our new way of life for Vergennes, having all but stood on a hilltop with a bullhorn and shouting such. 
She and community members like her were the true catalysts of change in Vergennes. They moved our city forward during and despite the turmoil of city police over the previous decades. This beautiful army of volunteers played offensively, moving us ever closer towards the goal line, and in the process, making us all winners. Our current and active citizens have spoken up and want change. They understand it is how we thrive as a community. I’ve said it before, in the context of support for our citizen review board but it bears repeating:
“Change is a part of life. At its most fundamental example, either species adapt and change, or they die.” We are subject to these laws of nature and so is our beloved little city. We must change and grow constantly and this is one change asked for by a group of very thoughtful people that serves to only improve relations with our police force and provide a bridge to the rest of the community in a show of full transparency and a commitment to truly serving the people. Make no mistake, for those who resist change at every turn, you are ensuring the demise of Vergennes. Citing historic precedence, or the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” argument, in the face of a new environment is like saying we should be building more homes on the shorelines because that’s what we’ve always done, ignoring the impending rising waters.
I’m in the construction industry. When you build a new home or even do a remodel, the first thing you do after solid designing and planning, is you make a big mess. You tear up perfectly good soil, you dig deep into the earth, you drill, you forcefully make room for the new. With remodeling it’s even a bit worse because you tear into that which you’re currently living in. The destruction is necessary before the construction. It’s the only way through.
Our beloved Vergennes is simply “under construction” (isn’t our current main street repaving project timing on point?). Maybe it’s time to put up the signs, throw on our hardhats, stop resisting change, arguing over whether we need it or not, and get on with building a Brave New Vergennes.
In solidarity for our Little City’s Big Future,
Rebecca Rey
Vergennes

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