A mobile home hits the road

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This house trailer was abandoned in Irasburg at the intersection of the West Glover Road and Burton Hill sometime early Monday morning.  On its journey from Glover it lost its tires, but ventured on, tearing up the gravel road.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

This house trailer was abandoned in Irasburg at the intersection of the West Glover Road and Burton Hill sometime early Monday morning. On its journey from Glover it lost its tires, but ventured on, tearing up the gravel road. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle June 3, 2015

by Tena Starr 

IRASBURG — Town officials here were flummoxed Monday morning by the appearance of a house trailer at the intersection of the West Glover Road and Burton Hill. Not beside the road — in the road.

Someone had hauled the big yellow trailer there overnight and left it leaning against a telephone pole. That someone had also left quite a mess behind him. The trailer had been dragged for several miles without tires and had badly damaged the gravel road.

The house trailer started its journey in Glover Sunday night, and with tires. It came north on Route 16….To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

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contact Tena Starr at tenas@bartonchronicle.com

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Newport Jewelers has first burglary in 34 years

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Newport Jewelers in Newport was burglarized early Monday morning, the first time that’s happened in the 34 years that Lincoln and Jo-Ann Brooks have owned the store.    Photo by Joseph Gresser

Newport Jewelers in Newport was burglarized early Monday morning, the first time that’s happened in the 34 years that Lincoln and Jo-Ann Brooks have owned the store. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle June 3, 2015

by Tena Starr

NEWPORT — For the first time in the 34 years that Newport Jewelers has been in business, it’s been burglarized, said Lincoln Brooks, who owns the store with his wife, Jo-Ann.

At 4 a.m. on Monday, someone broke into the store, broke two jewelry cases, and “snatched and ran,” Mr. Brooks said.

He said that, as of Tuesday, they had not yet done an inventory so were not sure exactly what was missing, though he believes it could have been considerably worse.

A press release from the Newport Police Department says police responded to the alarm at 4:08 a.m. When they arrived, they found a broken window, and two display cases were broken “and items strewn about.”

The Main Street burglary was certainly brazen, Mr. Brooks said….To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

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Ray charged with first-degree murder

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Orleans County Deputy Sheriff Phil Brooks with Jeffrey M. Ray of Brownington, who pled innocent in Superior Court Monday to first degree murder.  Mr. Ray, who is being held without bail, is accused of shooting another Brownington man, Rick Vreeland, Monday morning.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Orleans County Deputy Sheriff Phil Brooks with Jeffrey M. Ray of Brownington, who pled innocent in Superior Court Monday to first degree murder. Mr. Ray, who is being held without bail, is accused of shooting another Brownington man, Rick Vreeland, Monday morning. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle May 27, 2015

by Tena Starr  

NEWPORT — Jeffrey M. Ray, 51, of Brownington pled innocent here Tuesday to first degree murder and was held without bail.

Mr. Ray is accused of shooting and killing Rick Vreeland, 53, his former wife’s husband, on Monday.

Mr. Ray appeared in the Criminal Division of Orleans Superior Court looking the worse for wear. He was hospitalized on Monday as a result of a struggle with his son, who said he tried to take the gun away from Mr. Ray, his father, after Mr. Ray shot Mr. Vreeland, the boy’s stepfather, a police affidavit says.

The shooting apparently wasn’t a big surprise to those who knew the two men. Police affidavits indicate they had been at odds for years. Mr. Ray had repeatedly….To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

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Peters still holds CDL at 95

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Bill Peters' children recently gave him a plaque, honoring him for possibly being the oldest man in Vermont who still holds a CDL.  He's 95, and was a longtime road commissioner in Albany.   Photo by Tena Starr

Bill Peters’ children recently gave him a plaque, honoring him for possibly being the oldest man in Vermont who still holds a CDL. He’s 95, and was a longtime road commissioner in Albany. Photo by Tena Starr

copyright the Chronicle May 27, 2015

by Tena Starr  

NORTH HYDE PARK — Former Albany Road Commissioner Bill Peters could well be the oldest man in Vermont who still holds a CDL. That’s a commercial driver’s license, which, among other things, allows a person to drive the big trucks that maintain town roads.

Mr. Peters’ children recently presented their father with a plaque that says: “Congratulations on being the oldest person we could find that still has a CDL and medical card in the state of Vermont. Turned 95 on March 31, 2015. We are proud of you.”

The plaque was the idea of Mr. Peters’ son Donald.

He said he was out shoveling snow in March and thought, what do you get a man who’s 95?….To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

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Book review: Writer exhumes surprising stories from Brighton

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WEB IP bookcopyright the Chronicle May 27, 2015

Island Pond Reflections, by S.J. Campbell. Paperback. 130 pages. Self-published. $19.99.

Reviewed by Tena Starr  

Island Pond Reflections isn’t a scholarly history of Brighton, which has also been known rather charmingly as Gilead, Random, and the less romantic Lot 31.

Instead, Sharon Campbell says in the book’s introduction that she’s written a collection of “true stories and tales long forgotten.”

The stories come from books and newspaper articles and date back centuries.

“They provide a tantalizing glimpse into the lives of the people who lived here and describe the developments that shaped their environment,” Ms. Campbell writes. “Through the centuries Island Pond grew big enough to accommodate a whole host of characters. Their trials and tribulations were deemed worthy of being reported by newspapers in cities as far away as Boston, Seattle, London, and Montreal.”

Ms. Campbell says that Brighton, and Island Pond, the village within the town, was, at one time, quite a diverse place, populated by Italian stonemasons, Syrian storekeepers, and Lebanese Christians escaping religious or political persecution….To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

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Barton Motors to be sold at auction

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The former Barton Motor Company property.  Photo by Tena Starr

The former Barton Motor Company property. Photo by Tena Starr

copyright the Chronicle May 13, 2015

by Tena Starr

BARTON — The Barton Motor Company, for many years a thriving Ford dealership, will go up for foreclosure auction on June 15.

Court papers say that Winston Harper, who once owned the company with his brother Woody Harper, is owed $434,802 in principle and interest. They also say that there are six federal tax liens on the property, amounting to a little over $103,000.

Woody Harper died in February, 15 years after he and his brother parted ways as co-owners of the company.

Winston Harper said their father bought the dealership and garage in 1958….To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

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The risks of renting

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Rose Warner found this pile of trash outside a trailer she and her husband, Vernon, rented in July.  They said they were paid only $300 rent over the course of several months, learned by accident that their tenant had left, and found the place a wreck.  Photo by Tena Starr

Rose Warner found this pile of trash outside a trailer she and her husband, Vernon, rented in July. They said they were paid only $300 rent over the course of several months, learned by accident that their tenant had left, and found the place a wreck. Photos by Tena Starr

copyright the Chronicle April 15, 2015

by Tena Starr

In July of 2014, Vernon and Rose Warner rented a trailer in Lowell to a man and his son. They say they received $300 at the time, and nothing since. The monthly rent was $550.

Now, the tenant is gone, which the Warners discovered by accident.

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When a rock festival takes over a small town…

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WEB shape of the skycopyright the Chronicle April 1, 2015

Shape of the Sky, by Shelagh Connor Shapiro. 242 pages. Paperback. Published by Wind Ridge Books. $15.95.

Reviewed by Tena Starr  

The Northeast Kingdom and rock festivals have a historic relationship, so Shelagh Connor Shapiro’s lovely novel, Shape of the Sky, is not as far-fetched as one might think.

In this book, Resolute, Vermont, population 613, decides to host a big rock and roll concert in order to raise money. Although a fictional town, Resolute is obviously set in Orleans County. It’s small, rural, poor, and populated by characters.

At Town Meeting, the local music teacher mentions that he’s asked Vermont’s most famous native rock band if they’re interested in holding a concert in town.

Predictably, some favor the idea, and some don’t. Yes, thousands of fans would boost the economy, if only for a weekend. And, yes, it’s likely to be messy. Yes, farmers could rent out campsites, and local businesses would benefit from the traffic.

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Wanted: foster homes

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Deb Richards (left) and Suzanne Shibley at the Newport District Office of Family Services.  The area is badly in need of foster homes.   Photo by Tena Starr

Deb Richards (left) and Suzanne Shibley at the Newport District Office of Family Services. The area is badly in need of foster homes. Photo by Tena Starr

copyright the Chronicle March 11, 2015

by Tena Starr  

NEWPORT — Erica Page always thought she was meant to be a foster parent. After years of unsuccessfully trying to have children of their own, she finally told her husband, Shaun Sykes, “Enough is enough. Let’s become parents in a different way.”

In May, Ms. Page and Mr. Sykes got their first placement, a boy, who is now four. They also have a four-month-old girl in their home.

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How to bring Town Meeting back to life

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WEB town meeting bookcopyright the Chronicle March 11, 2015

All Those In Favor, Rediscovering the Secrets of Town Meeting and Community, by Susan Clark and Frank Bryan. Paperback. 87 pages. Published by Ravenmark, Montpelier, Vermont.

Reviewed by Tena Starr

Frank Bryan is likely Vermont’s staunchest champion of Town Meeting. He studied it for 30 years, and in this book, a tenth-anniversary update of the 2005 original, he and co-author Susan Clark add analysis of another 12 years.

Their research indicates that Town Meeting is in some trouble — no surprise — but they’re by no means announcing its demise. Instead, they suggest a number of ways to shoot a bit of adrenalin into Vermont’s system of direct democracy.

Primarily, they are opposed to moving toward Australian ballot, which they argue, is, indeed, a death sentence for Town Meetings. And they provide evidence that fiddling with the time, or the day, does not necessarily increase attendance. In many cases, moving from a Tuesday daytime meeting to a weekend or evening meeting has decreased participation because, as the authors point out, while many people don’t want to lose a workday to attend Town Meeting, even more don’t want to give up leisure time.

The primary reasons for decreased attendance are the size of a town and the issues on the Warning, the authors say. The bigger a town gets, the smaller the percentage of attendance. And if a Town Meeting Warning has little of consequence on it — few issues that affect or captivate voters — they’re more likely to stay away.

“While it is doubtful that there was ever a golden era of Town Meeting when nearly everyone turned out every year, attendance was much higher in the early days than today,” the book says. “Even well into the twentieth century it was much higher than it is now. Given the difficulties of life (from hugely longer workdays and work weeks, to much poorer transportation systems, to remarkably greater potential for sickness and poor health generally) one is struck by how complete Town Meeting democracy was in the past.

“Those who believe that people are much busier today than they were in the past (and that includes most commentators on modern life) have an incomplete understanding of history. What we really mean when we say we are busier today is that we have different priorities.

“Consider the little town of Craftsbury in the Northeast Kingdom as it was in 1840. So difficult was transportation over and through its rocky hillsides, it took 12 separate school districts to educate the children. The majority of the people farmed. They kept 333 horses, 1,718 cattle, 3,166 sheep, and 658 swine. They produced 47,906 pounds of potatoes and 14,398 bushels of oats along with 5,705 bushels of other crops, 3,171 tons of hay and 35,412 pounds of sugar. Meanwhile, they ran two gristmills, a hulling mill, two carding machine operations, ten sawmills, two fulling mills, three carriage makers, and one oil mill.

“Fewer than 1,200 women, men, and children accomplished all this. If you’ve ever worked on a small farm, or in the woods, you know that these people not only worked hard, they worked smart. Their lives were fully as complex and demanding, perhaps even more complex and demanding as ours today.

“If they can do it, we can do it, too.”

The Northeast Kingdom isn’t much plagued by the biggest hindrance to Town Meeting attendance — population. Only Newport and St. Johnsbury are big enough to reach the tipping point where attendance, or lack of, can be attributed to size, according to the authors’ formula.

But Town Meeting is affected everywhere by loss of local control. Issues, and whether voters have control over them or not, are at the heart of attendance in small towns, the authors assert. And Vermonters have had increasingly little say in much of what matters to them most.

For instance, under the current school funding system, cutting a local school budget does not necessarily translate into a tax decrease.

“The most reliable predictor of Town Meeting attendance, besides population size, is what’s on the Warning,” the book says. “Examples abound, but let’s visit one meeting in the Northeast Kingdom town of Holland after a particularly bad winter had deteriorated the town’s roads. Imagine this meeting’s discussion about whether to switch from an appointed road commissioner to an elected one. Combine this discussion with the fact that a challenger was running against a key select board member on this issue. The result: The attendance normally predicted for a town this size was exceeded by 100 percent.”

This book goes so far as to say that an item should be included on the Warning each year specifically to grab people’s attention. It suggests something like an item saying alcohol be banned within town limits. While that’s a bit of a stretch, the point is made.

Town Meetings are important not just because they give people a chance to practice hands-on governance, but also because of the community they provide, the authors say. And in neither case does moving toward Australian ballot help, they argue.

“In a well intentioned effort to include more people in decision making, an increasing number of Vermont towns are destroying their town meetings in the process.

“The Australian ballot is quick, easy, private, unaccountable, and most important, simple. It is also deadly.

“In a way, the Australian ballot is worse than deadly because it doesn’t kill Town Meeting quickly. And the execution is dishonest. We are told it will save Town Meeting, while the reality is that it poisons it and lets it die slowly….

“It leaves a town with neither a legislature nor a Town Meeting. In doing so it compromises the actions of the select board or school board, which must anticipate how the community will react to an issue and then submit this best guess to a winner-take-all decision.”

Also, the authors say, flexibility is forfeited because the ability to make amendments is lost. School boards may watch an entire budget go down because a compromise on one issue isn’t possible. Projects that could have been saved with a bit of tinkering are rejected because tinkering wasn’t an option.

“Using the Australian ballot instead of a Town Meeting is like creating an ice sculpture by taking one great swing at a block of ice with a sledgehammer instead of carefully applying a chisel with care over time,” the book says.

And informational meetings don’t fill the void because Vermonters don’t just want to talk about things, they want to do something about them, the authors say.

“The golden key to participation is to give citizens real power and real decisions to make,” the book says.

“Unlike the polling booth, Town Meetings can be exciting, interesting, and fun. They bring politics to life. Here laughter is often heard. Here we meet neighbors we haven’t seen for ages. Here we learn that Bill Stone over on the North Road is having trouble in mud season, too. Here we discover that the town library is offering a new program for our kids. Here, most of all, we get to see ourselves in the full light of real democracy.”

To improve Town Meeting, the authors suggest the following:

Highlight the issues. Select boards should creatively publicize certain items so people are aware of what’s happening. Develop a relationship with the local newspaper editor, they say, and ask for help getting the word out about major issues.

Arrange for childcare. “Happily one of the most important methods proven to increase Town Meeting attendance is also relatively simple: provide childcare during the meeting. Statistics show that this can improve attendance measurably, especially among women.” Generally, a local organization such as the Girl Scouts or the parent teacher association provides the childcare and benefits from any donations parents might like to offer.

If possible, skip microphones since they increase people’s anxiety about speaking in public.

Eat. The best-attended Town Meetings include food.

Build the agenda carefully. If a meeting drags on, people will leave, particularly after a meal, so if the most important items are voted on at the end of the meeting, fewer people will vote.

Include elements of celebration.

Susan Clark is a community facilitator and Frank Bryan is a University of Vermont political science professor emeritus.

The book is available at local bookstores or from www.vtinstituteforgovt.org for $9.95 plus $2.50 for shipping. To inquire about municipal or nonprofit pricing, or bulk orders, contact the Vermont Institute for Government at (802) 223-5824, or sclark@sover.net.

contact Tena Starr at tenas@bartonchronicle.com

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