Tri-board discusses diversity & inclusion

Tri-board meeting. Rockingham Select board, Village Trustees of Bellows Falls and Saxtons River. Photo provided.

ROCKINGHAM, Vt. – On Tuesday, Nov. 29, the Tri-board , consisting of the Town of Rockingham Selectboard, and Village Trustees of Bellows Falls and Saxtons River, discussed the Declaration of Equity & Inclusion (DEI) and Rockingham policies for harassment, anti-discrimination, and sexual harassment.

Rockingham and Bellows Falls approved the DEI in September, Saxtons River adopted its policy earlier this summer.

Municipal Manager Scott Pickup said after the DEI was approved, the town had updated language in the harassment, anti-discrimination, and sexual harassment policies. A motion to approve was recommended by Trustee James McAuliffe.

Rockingham selectboard Vice-Chair Susan Hammond asked why it was not “more gender-neutral” and suggested ‘they/them’ as opposed to ‘he’ or ‘she.’

Selectboard Chair Peter Golec read the motion and the Rockingham SelectBoard approved the policies with amendments to remove “he” and “she,” changing to “they,” and eliminating “male” and “female” to read just “employee.” The Bellows Falls Trustees approved the motion with the updated language.

Village President Deborah Wright said the letter of inclusion was the beginning, suggesting they do more. She said technical assistance was available and other towns were taking bigger steps to becoming more inclusive.

Saxtons River Chair Amy Howlett asked what other towns were doing. Wright said many had formed committees helping bring information on inclusive methods of hiring, facilitating discussions, and hiring companies like Abundant Sun to train departments and boards.

Abundant Sun, formed in 2003, takes diversity and inclusion to another level. In 2015 they moved to Burlington, Vt. They help create just, ethical, diverse, inclusive, and positive environments where people can thrive and evolve.

Wright observed that in the Rockingham Incremental Development Working Group (RIDWG) presentation, a reference to “old people” was made. She said that is ageism and a bias of our residents, and said everyone could benefit with diversity training.

Wright suggested Rockingham can do more for our indigenous, ensuring they are a part of the town plan and the area wide plan. She said, “they want to be more recognized.”

Trustee Wade Masure asked what a committee would look like and who should be involved. Wright suggested representation from all three boards, residents, members of the Abenaki community, and others with different backgrounds.

Masure asked if the support would provide guidance, training, and materials.

Wright said, “there is help, we are not reinventing the wheel.”

Rockingham SelectBoard member Cowan asked if Resource Manager Heather Hitchcock is the DEI coordinator and suggested there be one place in town hall this information could land. Pickup agreed this could be discussed.

Development Director Gary Fox said the town and Abenaki community were discussing locations for the cultural heritage center: the Waypoint Center and the TL Riley Complex.

McAuliffe said he looked at the level of economic disadvantage as a larger problem, and said, we have “generational underachievers.” He pointed out Rockingham was basically 96% white.

Wright said the municipality could look to the model of the school’s equity committee.

Howlett was “delighted to see this work is being done” and mentioned the nonprofit Greater Falls Connections, but suggested Rockingham move carefully going forward. She said sometimes municipal organizations “are blunt and ineffective” where matters of delicacy are necessary.

Trustee Jeff Dunbar questioned if a committee had to start with the town or village. Hammond suggested board members join what other organizations are already doing.

The Tri-board meets on the months there is a fifth Tuesday. The Bellows Falls Trustees meetings are on the second and fourth Tuesdays at 6 p.m., the Rockingham Selectboard on the first and third Tuesdays at 6 p.m., and the Saxtons River Trustees on the first Monday at 7 p.m. All meetings are open to the public with a Zoom option available.

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