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Lesson in civics

Lesson in civics

The latest controversy at City Hall is a good civics lesson, and what better time to learn it than the Fourth of July? Whether or not you agree with the Boy Scoutsí bigoted, discriminatory stance on homosexuals should be set aside for a moment, while we consider how cities should behave under the circumstances.

There has been a lot of blame being passed around, but the real culprits are a mayor and a City Council who do not appear to have even a rudimentary grasp of the policymaking process. When you accept the mantle of a local elected official, you need to be willing to set aside your private opinions on every subject, from Boy Scout leaders to public banks, and allow the legally mandated policymaking process to do its work.

Public officials are not supposed to shoot from the hip, as Thierry Guerlain did when he raised the issue of the Boy Scouts national policy in the context of a vendor permit application. Does the vendor permit policy (there is one, in fact) require the City Council to consider the national policies of all the organizations that apply? (It does not.) Has the City Council ever done that before? Why werenít the Boy Scouts questioned on this issue last year? The year before?

Policies require that the City Council follow due process, post public discussions, and allow all sides to be heard. The mere fact that they tabled this hot button issue to the next meeting does not in itself constitute a properly warned policy discussion on whether applicants for vendor permits provide assurance that their company or organization has adequate civil rights policies on the books. If itís going to apply to the Boy Scouts, it needs to apply to everyone.

Policies that apply to whole cities need the whole city involved in the discussion, individual council membersí opinions and sensibilities notwithstanding. This applies to the vendor permits, the master plan, the zoning, the personnel policies, all the legally adopted policies of the city government. When the process for policymaking is ignored, we sacrifice our essential democratic rights to the narrow ambitions of a few badly informed individuals. Thatís not what my ancestors fought and died for after July 4, 1776. What about yours?

Gwendolyn Hallsmith

Montpelier


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