Town of Hartford struggles with identity politics

by Aaron Warner

Left to right: Kim Souza, Dan Fraser, Mike Hoyt, Rocket 

The Town of Hartford Select Board has adopted a new committee aimed at addressing the highly controversial aims of social justice, namely assessing the town for its racial and marginalized persons scorecard.  

The Town of Hartford Committee on Racial Equity and Inclusion (HCOREI) had their bi-monthly meeting last night at the town building.  Members of the committee and community are also welcome to attend by Zoom, which is where I was able to observe the meeting.  

In attendance were current Chairperson Sara Campbell along with student liaison Molly Arburst, town clerk Pat Autilio, Executive Director of the Upper Valley Aquatic Center Joe Major, HCOREI member Miriam Wood, town Select Board Members Kim Souza, Lannie Collins and Ally Tufenkjian.  Along with myself there were several others participating via Zoom.  

Much of the meeting was spent with back and forth between members expressing their frustration with the lack of forward movement for filling committee positions, all volunteer, as well as the role of Equity Coordinator which is funded for fiscal year 2023, though lacking an approved applicant.  

Committee chair Sara Campbell expressed her concerns with the town board members Souza, Collins and Tufinkjian who serve alongside four others not in attendance.  The conversation seemed to spiral out of control as grievances and suggestions circled around lack of accountability and those interested in moving things forward not feeling heard by the town board.  This was consistent with what came up at the town board meeting the night before where lack of communication, slow response times by town employees to citizen complaints, and transparency and accountability were all mentioned by frustrated sounding attendees.  

Lannie Collins seated, Ally Tufinkjen on screen 

After several minutes of back and forth between Campbell and Collins, UVAC director Joe Major, in an emotionally elevated tone, called the slow-walking of the committee by the board “ridiculous” given the available funds, as the attendees sat quietly.  Shortly thereafter another exchange between Collins and Campbell ended in Campbell expressing emotional exhaustion stating “I can’t” as she left the meeting before the midway point.  On her way out another participant on Zoom named Michelle offered words of encouragement to the departing Campbell.  The group selected another member to chair in her absence and the meeting continued. 

Tensions in both the HCOREI committee and Town Select Board seem to reflect the larger political tensions we’ve been dealing with in our country as polarizing worldviews seem to be at the heart of the matter.  Select Board members Tufinkjian and Souza ran on social justice platforms along with mutli-term board member Dan Fraser and Mary Erdei who align left of center.  Moderate Mike Hoyt chairs the board with members Rocket and Collins occupying conserving the chartered goals of the town, namely to manage the infrastructure, fill town jobs with competent professionals, and handle the logistical and municipal duties expected by the tax payers. 

At the Tuesday evening Board meeting during the public comment portion I asked what was the motivation behind the drive to adopt the highly controversial, and now hotly litigated, D.E.I. social justice initiative.  

Hartford being a microcosm of Vermont politics tends to get the political equivalent of the lake effect for adopting policies.  Usually within several months of states like California, Oregon or Washington adopting legislation, such as legalized marijuana or assisted suicide, Vermont will follow.  Having come from Oregon and keeping abreast of the rising crime, degradation and political upheaval on the west coast, I asked if the town was aware of the lawsuits now in California regarding D.E.I. administrators in court for violating people’s first amendment rights.  Neither Souza, Fraser nor the other members were.  

Throughout the Board meeting the express concerns from town members are not as it relates to the mission of D.E.I. and both Rocket and Collins seem to represent their constituents, including town employees, who see focus on such malleable social issues as diversity, equity and inclusion as eating up valuable town resources as we struggle to fund road repairs, maintain equipment, and recover as a community from the ravages of the pandemic which saw Hartford essentially come to a halt as a community.  

The school board is likewise focusing on re-filling the position of D.E.I. coordinator yet the questions from parents and taxpayers remain: What are the kids learning? Are they up to appropriate reading, math and core competency levels?  Is the town producing competent students who can fill the next generation of workers, or is this sudden focus on social justice issues robbing the future to pay for the perceived sins of the past.  

Certainly those whose heart strings are attuned to the plight of the marginalized are trying to meet a perceived need, but the larger question remains, is that the role of government?  Hartford has always been a welcoming town with abundant resources to meet the mental health, food, heating and housing concerns and of its population.   Locally famous Listen Centers, the Haven, HCRS and many more are routinely funded by taxpayers to provide services to those dealing with social struggles.  

The new social struggle is one of identity politics which seems built more on a movement looking for a cause based on a national narrative aimed at attacking the historically generous and hospitable America and it’s many small towns like Hartford. However the town of Hartford appears to be mired in a struggle to simply return to being the well run and hospitable town that welcomed these people in the first place. 

The author is a VDC columnist and Upper Valley regional reporter. He lives in Hartford, VT where he owns two award-winning small businesses. He is a graduate of Leadership Upper Valley class of 2010.

6 replies »

  1. “The new social struggle is one of identity politics which seems built more on a movement looking for a cause …”

    Oh, you are so on point with this statement. These boards will ultimately fail simply because the members cannot define their mission to those of us dweebs that do not understand the need. Same with the Climate Council and most of the stupid study committees that make major recommendations that are lost in the archives.

    Has anyone really examined what is meant by “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion” ? Seems to me that the first 2 terms are somewhat exclusive of each other. If you want REAL diversity, you will never achieve EQUITY. This observation is based current commonly accepted definitions, not the made-up ones of the lying lefties.

  2. Considering what happened to Anheuser Busch, their attempt to light up the ESG score board didn’t pan out so well. They lost billions, investors and business partners are furious, and the CEO (a former CIA agent) is frantic to stop the bleeding. Shall we play more stupid games and win stupid prizes? The power of the wallet has spoken and perhaps the government needs to feel the same pain. Starve them of their fuel (our money) and the circus tent will fold up and leave town.

  3. This is being imposed from above. Most people in this country oppose it.
    Lenin, Trotsky, and other Bolsheviks were openly contemptuous of democracy.

    • Yet amongst all the prior failures, they continue to believe they will prevail – persistent, yes – wise, no

  4. I feel that most of the so-called socialists in government are only called that because they self-identify as that. Hard for someone like Ram-Hinsdale, one of Vermont’s wealthy elite, to really be serious about socialism (let alone communism) unless they are willing to gift all of their property to their tenants and liquidate their wealth throughout the community.

    In Vermont, it would have been funny if the 99-Percenters/Occupy movement would have camped out on wealthy elitist Democrat property. Not only funny, but it would have been an accurate portrayal of the Party.

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