Society & Culture

Racial justice, climate change advocates leave Hartford selectboard

by Aaron Warner

The town of Hartford is seeing some shake-ups in local government.  The select board has five openings that will be filled in the upcoming March 2nd Town Meeting election.  Board members Alan Johnson, Dennis Brown, and Alicia Barrow all stepped down in recent days.  In an interview with the current board chair Dan Fraser of Dan and Whit’s fame in neighboring Norwich, I was able to ask him the current state of the board and other happenings in town. 

Johnson, a board member of four years with a passion for climate related matters who also opposed the bond for the local pool, stepped down due to personal reasons. 

Brown, the lone conservative voice on the board, and a lifetime Hartford resident who is well respected both in town and among the board, resigned for what  Fraser understands are issues related to the group dynamics. He is seeking re-election in March.  As of the writing of this news report he was not available for comment. 

Alicia Barrow has stepped down, saying in a letter to the editor that “I no longer feel safe nor welcome in a place I have called home for 15 years.” Ms. Barrow, an African-American, said “My life has been threatened and my children have been adversely affected by it.” (See link for news report, details.)

Fraser says nonetheless she enjoyed her time on the board, much of it spent learning the ropes. It gave her the chance to support her concern to see the Juneteenth commemorative day be added to the town calendar.  Of note, Vermont was the 26th state to recognize the freeing of the slaves in 1865. 

 Fraser looks to remain on as the chair and is up for re-election as well.  Having taken over the chair from current member and Extinction Rebellion activist Simon Dennis, he filled the unenviable position of managing a board during the pandemic that has plagued the United States, including being a major disruptor to Vermont which has largely been the safest state in the US for all of 2020.   Fraser mentioned several other challenges facing the town namely the loss of the Chief of Police Phil Kasten who was liked by many for his efforts to reform a beleaguered office, the resignation of Town Manager Brannon Godfrey, the stepping down of the town Treasurer as well as the town’s Assessor, and the added challenge of Zoom meetings.  

Major issues circulating in town this past year include the Hartford as a sanctuary town initiative, which was passed handily by the town.  When asked how the town viewed this issue given it might allow illegal immigrants and potential felons to stay here under the radar, Fraser explained the primary concern was to avoid racial profiling.  Discussions with police went on for a year, and legal counsel was given pro bono by Peter Teachout of Vermont Law School, who addressed concerns the new policy would violate federal reciprocity laws. 

Handling of the pandemic was likewise a hot topic and the town moved lockstep with most of the CDC guidelines which were implemented at the state level.  Hartford donned several “mask up Hartford” signs in local neighborhoods with a large banner adorning the fencing around the town hall located across from the local grocery co-op. 

The search for a new town manager, Fraser reports, was a success after multiple interviews and searches that netted a new officer hailing from the golden state of California. Tracy Yarlott-Davis will be taking the reins and is expected to start some time in mid-February.  She too has yet to be reached for comments. 

An online post by this reporter on a Hartford town focused social media page saw a few responses expressing concerns over potential board violations of building on state and federal property without permits.  Calls to review town meetings have been requested and will be followed up on by this reporter.  Another resident is concerned Hartford residents are not being informed of the state commission plans to use income tax dollars to fund the state run education system. 

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