Editorial: Town meeting reflections

RIPTON’S CHOICE: A LESSON IN CIVIC ENGAGEMENT

The decision by Addison Central Supervisory Union district voters to allow Ripton to withdraw from the district is a lesson in civic engagement, studious work and diligence on the part of proponents, and trusting the process — even if that process presented high hurdles to surmount.

In the end, after a two-year effort by Ripton residents to “save their school,” district voters decided they had the right to determine their own school’s future; that it was not the district’s role to take that decision from them. Seen in another light district voters, by overwhelming numbers in the other six district town, believed Ripton voters recognized the tough road that lay ahead and were fully up to the challenge to do right by their students.

With that vote behind them, it would be almost inconceivable that the state board of education — the last step in the process laid out in the district’s charter and with Act 146 — would not give Ripton the green light to organize an independent school district and, moreover, help them in that process. That is, certainly, the expectation.

What’s truly heartening about this vote is the congenial display of mutual respect shown by all parties. It’s no secret that the vast majority of ACSU board members have long been against Ripton’s withdrawal. Nor is it a secret that Ripton residents have long felt as though the district was taking rights from them by not being more supportive.

In truth, both sides played their roles responsibly. Ripton residents worked hard to make a solid case their town would be better off keeping their school open — as a school to educate their children and as a community with the school at its center. The district school board responded by arguing that the academic advantages of larger schools and the economic advantages of scale presented better options for Ripton taxpayers and Ripton students.

Both were legitimate arguments that Ripton and district residents had to weigh.

The difficult part for Ripton residents was to trust that district voters — not the district board — would stand firmly by their side. It was the voters, after all, who had the power.

That speaks volumes about the vitality of our democracy in Vermont — and about the nature of Vermonters. It is the stuff that makes tears flow, and that’s no exaggeration if you’ve been fighting passionately for something so close to your heart for so long. Listen to Ripton mom Erin Robinson after she learned of the district vote: “We did it! The tears are flowing. Two years of agonizing dedication to #keepRESalive has paid off. As a mother, I am forever grateful to those who voted yes to allow my children a future at their community school.”

Echoed Ripton resident Millard Cox: “We will not forget the people of the ACSD and what they have done for us. Our faith in democracy, self-determination and Vermont values has been restored.”

On the other side of the coin, school district representatives were equally cordial and supportive.

“Our smallest community’s voice was heard and honored,” said ACSD board Chair Mary Cullinane “And while we may not always agree with each other, we can be civil in our discourse and respect the positions of others.” Added ACSD Supt. Peter Burrows: “Yesterday’s vote provides further evidence of our communities supporting each other… we will continue to share information (with Ripton) and work together to make this a positive transition for the entire ACSD community.”

Such mutual respect is enormously important as Ripton steps onto the path ahead — a path, appropriately, that is the one less taken.

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CANNABIS SALES JUMPSTART EDUCATION EFFORT

The approval of retail cannabis sales in four area towns — Brandon, Middlebury, Salisbury and Vergennes — should jumpstart what will be a necessary tour-de-force of regulatory and educational measures to counter the drug’s potential negative outcomes. That is not a contradiction to those, including this writer, who have supported the measure.

Rather, it is a recognition that cannabis use needs to be regulated within the same framework as alcohol sales, and its potential abuse needs to be taken seriously. We recognize that the criminalization of the drug was a complete fiasco over the past 60 years, and that proper regulation will be a more appropriate and effective way to control use of the drug.

When selling the drug in retail settings, it’s obvious that appropriate age restrictions must be in place and enforced, licenses to sell must be assured and places of business monitored, personal and public behavior must be understood and community requirements upheld. Most importantly, negative impacts to one’s health should be taught at an early age and reinforced throughout public school years and into adulthood.

Just as we teach the ills of alcohol abuse and smoking cigarettes, as communities and the state, we now have the opportunity to forthrightly address the ills — and any benefits — of cannabis use. How we provide that education and establish those required regulations will be the work of the state over the next 18 months, and of the two dozen or so towns who are early adopters.

Locally, the area agency best equipped to help tackle that challenge, at least initially and to help set the stage for area education, is the United Way of Addison County. For the past several years, members of that organization have been leaders in educational campaigns surrounding alcohol and drug use and the abuse that can too often lead to desperation and decline.

And while individual communities will establish their own zoning rules for cannabis outlets and cannabis-related manufacturers, it would seem most productive to form a single area-wide committee — between the four mentioned communities — to discuss and formulate best practices. We have years of experience from other states to learn from, and 14 to18 months to establish a framework here before the first retail shops open. No time to waste.

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THANKS TO ALL CANDIDATES

Finally, we offer a note of thanks to voters for participating (sometimes in near record numbers) at this year’s Town Meeting and, particularly, a tip of our hat to those residents who contribute their time and energy to being members of a town or school board, or community official, and for those who campaigned for those positions but might have lost this round. To all of you, your efforts are what keep our communities responsive to citizens’ voices, and that’s what makes our democracy work. We salute the roles you play with utmost gratitude.

Angelo Lynn

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Addison County Independent