TownStAlbansSelectboardMembers

Town of St. Albans selectboard members include Erin Creley (top left), Chair Brendan Deso (top right), Jonathan Giroux (bottom left) and Vice Chair Jessica Frost (bottom right). Selectboard member Bryan DesLauriers is not pictured due to a lack of a photo.

ST. ALBANS TOWN — To encourage inclusion in its government and community, the Town of St. Albans is examining the possibility of hiring a consultant who specializes in fairness and diversity. 

The town selectboard is exploring ways to be more inclusive after community members proposed the organization of a town Belonging, Equity and Inclusion (BEI) Committee in October. 

Talks since have run into an impasse primarily due to a lack of resources.

“While an important topic, it’s either going to require you guys [selectboard] to put more resources into [hiring a consultant] or delay other projects in the community,” Corey Parent, the town’s director of operations, said during the selectboard’s Nov. 15 meeting. 

The lack of town resources for the inclusion initiative first came to the forefront in late October. At the time, selectboard Chair Brendan Deso said if a BEI committee was instituted, the town staff’s limited time would require the Police Advisory Committee to cut its meeting schedule in at least half to balance the BEI’s needs.

Members of the Police Advisory Committee balked at the idea. Dr. Jen Williamson, chair of the committee, said the newly-formed police committee has yet to cover much ground, and cutting it now would hamper it even more.

Franklin County Sheriff Roger Langevin echoed the sentiment Monday night.

“Whatever we do, I want to make sure that we’re not cutting into the Police Advisory [Committee],” Langevin said.

As another option, the town selectboard discussed working with the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, an inclusion consulting firm, during its Monday night meeting. 

Selectboard Vice Chair Jessica Frost said she met with executive director Curtiss Reed Jr. about a year ago to discuss the ins-and-outs of how a long-term inclusion plan could play out in the town.

If the selectboard decided to use Reed’s company, she said the board would craft the town’s mission and vision statement, and then let the community take over.

Reed declined to comment.

“They set the standards that are supposed to benefit the entire community, and the community really drives the work,” Frost said. 

Again, resources could hamper the initiative. The town currently has $5,000 in its engineering consultant budget line that could be used to hire Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity

As a comparison, Parent pointed out that the Town of Bennington hired Reed at a cost of $21,700. If the town decided to send out requests for proposals for similar consultants, he estimated they would fall between $15,000 and $25,000.

Other options on the table include using current town resources to find avenues where inclusion could be encouraged, which selectboard member Bryan DesLauriers suggested.

“There are some things maybe we can do right now with the things that we have,” DesLauriers said. “And before we can design a specific solution, we need to identify the problems with specificity.” 

The Town of Franklin, he said, adopted a declaration of inclusion which condemns discrimination. The Town of St. Albans could do something similar. 

Another idea could be limiting the scope of work done by an outside consultant, selectboard member Erin Creley said. 

Frost said she plans on meeting with Reed to discuss potentialities Friday morning. 

“I think we need a certain set of knowledge or a way of being able to look at the data in a meaningful way,” Creley said. “Having a committee or having a consultant help us understand that to be able to then move forward, I think it’s going to be helpful.” 

 

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