The truism that you are only as good as the people leading you is being played out in St. Albans Town with selectboard chair Brendan Deso playing the lead. Gone is the weight of past litigation with the City of St. Albans over sewer and water issues. Gone is the negativity that comes with entrenched attitudes. Gone is notion that there is strength in isolation.
In an interview with the Messenger last week, Mr. Deso elaborated on what he termed a “paradigm shift” in the town’s attitude toward the future and toward projects that held public benefit. Things like sidewalks. Bike paths. Recreation. A new town garage. A place for a new town hall. And collaborating with the City of St. Albans, strengthening the relationships that already exist with both sharing public works, police and fire, recreation and their schools. There is the potential of working together to form an economic development initiative with the city, marketing the “greater St. Albans area” as one.
Mr. Deso described the changed attitude: “You’ve got people buying into things that they would never have bought into. We’ve got the ability to actually put concrete sidewalks into the ground where we didn’t last year. We have a board that’s more willing to meet in the middle…and a board that’s more approachable in the eyes of City Hall…You’ve got city and town management collaborating in ways they didn’t before.”
This follow the cliche that success begets success. The town wants [and needs] to share in the progress being experienced in the city. And it follows that as the city improves, the town also benefits; it’s the town that has the land, the two Interstate exits, the industrial base and the stronger demographics.
The prospect of referring to both the city and town as “greater St. Albans” has immense appeal and strength. That’s something understood by Mr. Deso and there is little question it’s something favored by city and town voters.
It was also a sign of improved possibilities that St. Albans City Mayor Tim Smith earlier in the year made a point of meeting with Mr. Deso, all with the intent of paving over the past with offers of cooperation and opportunity.
To most — those in the town and the city — it’s never made much sense to see the two municipalities labor through their differences with no end in sight, seemingly preferring their separateness to what could be achieved together. The city is the hole in doughnut with the town being the ring around it, and almost no one can say where the city ends and the town begins. The inefficiency of doing things separately has corralled the potential of both the city and town for decades.
It was the change in the city’s leadership that precipitated the metamorphosis in the city’s center; and it’s this year’s change in the town selectboard that provides a continuance of that progress.
It’s also useful to remember that we saw a hint of that promise in the town once before, with Bernie Boudreau, who served as chairman of the Town Selectboard. He stepped down and the town’s march forward came to a stop.
As Mr. Deso, and newly elected board member Jessica Frost are showing, it matters who leads. And with those leaders the message also matters. Now, the focus is on what the town can do, not what it can’t. As Mr. Deso said, the issues have been studied to death, it’s time for the town to move forward. In so doing, both the city and town will find countless little intersections where their cooperation will exploit the possibilities. This potential is our new focus.
The key — to both the city and town — is to draw new people into the process, people who are interested in moving things forward, people who are are not adverse to manageable risks, and people who understand that the vitality of a community is what keeps it alive and attractive to others.
That’s the sort of leadership that moves a community forward. In fact, it’s the only thing that does.
By Emerson Lynn