Editor’s note: The Ethan Allen Institute, founded in 1993, is a public policy research and education organization in Vermont focused on free-market solutions. Like its storied namesake, the institutional character of the Ethan Allen Institute is highly principled and informed, mission-oriented, and not shy of conflict when necessary to pursue its worthy goals. This week, press reports have described December’s transition in leadership from Meg Hansen to Myers Mermel. Yesterday, VDC received statements from both Hansen and Mermel. They appear below.
Meg Hansen: “During my interview in late 2021, I presented a five-year strategic vision and action plan to significantly expand EAI’s annual budget, staff, operational capabilities, followers, and influence. Under my leadership as president, we began a comprehensive process to rebuild the organizational infrastructure by implementing a) reliable and innovative technologies, and b) data-driven and outcome-focused internal systems. For example, we developed a new data center and online government accountability tool called VT Votes to provide easily accessible and carefully researched information about important bills and legislators’ voting histories.
“We also created a formal grants program that would allow EAI to build new national coalitions, grow funding sources, and engage with charitable foundations and other grant-making institutions by demonstrating how our policy research, watchdog reporting, and public education campaigns serve middle-class and blue-collar families and workers in Vermont. This systemic restructuring aimed to build a powerful knowledge-sharing network and lay a lasting foundation for expanding EAI’s engaged audiences and sphere of influence. Effective think tank leadership combines policy prowess with vital skills in communications, fundraising, networking, and human resource management.
“Change is difficult and dramatic change all the more so. It can be excruciating when one’s identity is entwined with the status quo. I thank EAI’s staff and Board of Directors (current and former) who worked together in pursuit of these transformational changes.
“This week, the Vermont media reported the events that were recently orchestrated, including Mark Myers Mermel’s threats to ruin my reputation unless I handed my job to him. I must set the record straight about my tenure and the circumstances that led to its end. EAI’s varied stakeholders, particularly those who donated last year, deserve transparency.
“Given the multi-generational age difference I share with the founder’s wife, it is natural that she had reservations about my priorities and plan to rebuild the institute’s structural, media, and technological capabilities. When the Board did not elect her candidate for EAI president in 2021, it paved the way for initial stormy months. I hoped that my competence and character would make up for the lack of professional chemistry. I was encouraged when we reached a respectful agreement by the summer.
“The founder’s wife brought Mermel on the Board in the fall, without the usual vetting process, in an alleged development role. Five weeks later, Mermel declared himself as the new president in a repugnant email to me. He exaggerated the number and nature of the votes that he had secretly collected, and deliberately misrepresented my relationship with the Chairman and other Board members. It led to a grave internal crisis that I hoped we would resolve. Despite Mermel’s history of threatening and disturbing behavior and calls from various Board members for his disqualification from seeking the president’s position, he was not expelled.
“I refused to be coerced into resigning by Mermel and a formal vote was arranged. All EAI Board members (except the founder’s wife and the candidate who lost in 2022) expressed encouragement, gratitude, and respect for the progress we made in 2022. While some voted for me, the others explained that they would have to either abstain from voting or vote for Mermel to honor their 40-year relationship with the founder’s wife. I understand their need to cast loyalty votes.
“I do not understand the attempts to justify the unprofessional affair by assassinating my character. Notwithstanding the amplified rancor and turmoil over the last forty-five days (that caused an exodus of talent from EAI), I am grateful for the many valuable relationships forged, collaborative efforts furthered, and tests of character that I faced during my time leading the Ethan Allen Institute. I leave with the certainty that public opinion is shaped not by sitting down to write abstract white papers, but by standing up with integrity amidst real-life adversity.”
Myers Mermel: “The response from the Ethan Allen Institute is as follows: ‘The Board of Directors of the Ethan Allen Institute at its recent annual meeting held its customary election of officers. There was a change of leadership, and Myers Mermel was elected President. We thank Meg Hansen for her service and wish her well. The Institute does not comment further on personnel matters.'”