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Boardman writes: "[Ugly] describes the often-covert, year-long struggle by minions of the private banking industry in 2013 to strangle the nascent idea of a Public Bank for Vermont in its cradle."

City Hall, Montpelier Vermont. (photo: John Phelan)
City Hall, Montpelier Vermont. (photo: John Phelan)


Do Bank of America and Wells Fargo Run Vermont's Capitol City?

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News

29 December 13

 

“To repeat myself ad nauseum, I still don't see how our city's chief economic development officer can hold and promote views that are fundamentally anti-capitalist in nature.”
– March 19, 2013, email from the Montpelier mayor to the city manager

hen a city employee promotes a point of view that happens to center on an aspect of populist economics that seeks to serve the public good, and the democratically-elected mayor of that city has an opposing ideology that he’d rather not debate openly, why would anyone expect the resolution of this conflict to be anything but ugly?

That describes the often-covert, year-long struggle by minions of the private banking industry in 2013 to strangle the nascent idea of a Public Bank for Vermont in its cradle before the public might begin to admire it and help it grow.

In this preliminary outline of the circumstances that appear to have culminated in a process so blatantly unfair as to be laughable if it were in a movie, the three main actors all worked for the City of Montpelier:

John Hollar, the mayor of Vermont’s capitol, Montpelier (population about 8,000), is an attorney in the Montpelier office of Downs Rachlin Martin, one of the state’s more prominent law firms, for which he is a registered lobbyist with some thirty years of lobbying experience. His clients include Bank of America and Wells Fargo. In March 2012, he ran unopposed and was elected in a citywide vote as mayor of Montpelier, a part-time position paying $4,000 a year.

William J. “Rusty” Fraser has been Montpelier’s city manager since 1995, longer than any city manager before him. He has cultivated a reputation for political and ideological neutrality. He has also cultivated his music since he was about 10 years old and in recent years has performed with his band Rusty Romance, playing “roots’n’roll” around the Montpelier region. The band now appears to be moribund.

Gwendolyn Hallsmith published “The Key to Sustainable Cities: Meeting Human Needs, Transforming Community Systems” in September 2003. She was serving as executive director of Global Community Initiatives, a small 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, when she went to work for the City of Montpelier as the Director of Planning and Community Development. Her hiring letter of October 11, 2006, makes specific allowance for her activity with Global Community Initiatives, which she founded, and other organizations, as well as her attendance at related conferences at city expense.

Vermont’s reputation for having a green streak was justified

In 2001, the Montpelier City Council endorsed the Earth Charter, which defines itself as “a universal expression of ethical principles to foster sustainable development.” Montpelier was the first state capitol to endorse principles that might appear anti-capitalist in nature, as expressed in the Earth Charter preamble:

“We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.”

In this context, the city’s hiring of Gwendolyn Hallsmith made complete philosophical sense. Starting in 2007, the planning director oversaw the development of the 247-page Montpelier Master Plan using Earth Charter principles to guide “enVision Montpelier, a community driven, longrange planning initiative.” The City Council adopted the plan in September 2010, with a 30-100 Year Vision Statement that said in part:

“Our vision is to excel as a creative and sustainable community. More specifically, we seek to safeguard the natural environment and enhance our small-town setting. We aspire to strengthen community ties and expand civic participation. We aim to encourage learning and cultivate good jobs.”

For awhile Montpelier’s government followed its own plan

Even though the City Council was changing, with two new members including Mayor Hollar elected in 2012, the governing body seemed to maintain principled continuity. In December 2012 the city again paid the planning director to attend and speak at a New Economy conference, which she helped organize as a co-sponsor through Global Community Initiatives. Also co-sponsored by the Public Banking Institute and the Donella Meadows Institute, the conference promoted itself by announcing its potentially anti-capitalist nature:

“We all want vibrant, resilient economies that support our communities, but it’s becoming clear that our current economic system can’t deliver all that…. and profits are shared very unevenly. There are alternatives. Our economies can be better, healthier, and stronger. They can be more sustainable, more fair, and more local.” [emphasis added]

The conference keynote speaker was Los Angeles attorney Ellen Brown, chairman and president of the Public Banking Institute, formed in January 2011 “to further the understanding, explore the possibilities, and facilitate the implementation of public banking at all levels – local, regional, state, and national.”

Mayor Hollar opened the conference with a three-minute welcome speech, using talking points Hallsmith had prepared for him. The mayor touted the city’s Master Plan as a guide to developing a creative local economy, and he noted recent initiatives including a wood-burning power plant, a time bank exchange, and the effort to make Montpelier bicycle and pedestrian friendly. He concluded saying, “Thank you to Gwen [Hallsmith] for all your work on behalf of the city.”

Introducing the mayor, the planning director had just said, “I’ve been working hard over the last six years to make Montpelier a model of a resilient local economy … trying to set an example for other communities.”

By the end of 2012, public banking legislation had been introduced in at least 16 state legislatures, but Vermont was not among them. As of November 2013, banking lobbyists continued to be successful in keeping the Vermont Legislature from even forming a study committee on public banking.

How many personal attacks does it take to add up to “ad nauseum”

It’s not clear precisely when Mayor Hollar started ragging on his planning director for her “views that are fundamentally anti-capitalist in nature,” but by March 19, 2013, by his own email account, the mayor had been repeating himself ad nauseum at least to the city manager. That particular email outburst was apparently prompted by an email he had received about an hour earlier from Lucie Garand, a fellow attorney at Downs Rachlin Martin.

Garand was reporting to him and other lawyers in the firm about legislative testimony earlier that day dealing with pending public banking legislation and the threat public banking could pose to the firm’s private banking clients. A Demos report in February had argued that “large out-of-state banks are failing Vermont small businesses.” Even though the Senate committees on finance and appropriations reported the bill favorably, it died quietly April 30, on a parliamentary move by Democratic senator John Campbell, and never came to a vote.

Whatever the mayor may have expected on March 19 that the city manager would do about the planning director, the city manager appears not to have done it. On April 10, while chairing a City Council public meeting with startling ineptitude (so startling it might appear to have been deliberate), Mayor Hollar allowed a disgruntled member of the Planning Commission (John Bloch) to vent at length, including thinly veiled personal attacks on the planning director (although apparently not for her anti-capitalist views). Bloch’s uncontrolled vitriol prompted at least one member of the public to complain at length (four pages, single-spaced) to the mayor directly, with copies to the council and the city manager. [The video of this meeting is no longer available on the city website.]

Three days after the April 10 meeting, Mayor Hollar sent a four-line apology to the planning director, with copies to the council and the city manager. The mayor said, in part:

“I want to apologize for not intervening and cutting off John Bloch's rambling criticism of you and the Planning Department…. and you should have been given an opportunity to respond in any event.”

What happens when city officials try shutting down free speech?

The day after the meeting, Planning Director Hallsmith had filed a complaint form with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), seeking their help in defending her First Amendment rights. The city manager had by then showed her the mayor’s “anti-capitalist” email, with its clear intent to coerce the city manager into quieting Hallsmith. She summed up her situation this way to the ACLU:

“On two separate occasions now, my supervisor – the city manager ­– has expressed his concern about my outside speaking and writing, and last week, on April 4th, he told me that serious changes are being considered for my job responsibilities because members of the City Council think that the ideas in my books and outside writing are not consistent with what the city should be doing….

“Last night the City Council met to discuss one of the changes to my job responsibilities and reiterated their belief that the role I have been playing in community and economic development is not appropriate, due in part to my interest in the public side of it, as opposed to the private sector side. While no action has been taken yet, the atmosphere at work has become very intimidating, and I feel as if I’m being punished for the writing and speaking I have done when it doesn’t match the ideological bent of a few City Councilors.”

Hallsmith did not claim that city officials were creating a hostile workplace by their actions, but she describes workplace conditions that would support such an allegation. Nor did she complain that she was under pressure, in effect, to violate the law as expressed by the city’s duly-adopted Master Plan, which some city officials wanted to ignore, although that, too, appears to be the case.

“I am hoping that it can be resolved without a huge public scandal,” Hallsmith wrote the ACLU. “I am not looking to make headlines – but I feel my rights are being compromised and my job is in jeopardy. I work hard for the city, and I do not like being treated this way.”

Her request of the ACLU was simple and moderate: “I think it would probably be sufficient to send a letter to the city manager advising him of the questionable legality of his actions.” In a letter to Hallsmith almost six weeks later, the ACLU declined to meet with her or offer her any help whatsoever.

The mayor was on notice in April of potential city illegalities

Responding to the mayor’s apology the same day, Hallsmith thanked Mayor Hollar for his “belated regrets” while criticizing his failure to maintain order and civility by reining in obstreperous city officials who were making unfounded personal attacks. She went on to point out what Attorney Hollar surely knew: that it was her duty to follow the Master Plan and the state law that gave it authority. [She did not mention that one of the contentious zoning issues involved property in which the mayor had a personal interest.] She outlined the larger city government problem bluntly:

“In both Planning Commission and City Council meetings, there appears to be very little understanding that the zoning needs to be in compliance with the other city policies. When I’ve brought it up in City Council, [councilor] Tom Golonka accused me of ‘throwing the Master Plan in our face.’ [Planning commissioner and attorney] Eileen Simpson was quoted in the paper questioning the need to change the zoning in the first place. At the City Council the other night, Tom Golonka said again that ‘policy changes’ needed to be vetted with City Council first. When the City Council adopted the Master Plan and received Growth Center designation, you established the policies the zoning needs to implement.” [emphasis added]

To resolve this collective impasse, the planning director suggested to the mayor “that we schedule a joint meeting of the City Council and the Planning Commission where we do a workshop on state land use law, the master plan and zoning adoption and amendment processes, and the substance of our current policies … to insure that a few people can’t change the overall city policy direction without due process.”

There is no available record of the mayor or others responding to the planning director’s response to his personal apology (she sent copies to the same list he had copied his apology to). No workshop has been held in the interim and, as of late 2013, the city government is no less dysfunctional and peppered with conflicts of interest than it was in the spring.

The slow kabuki of Gwen Hallsmith’s kangaroo court proceeded

On April 15, according to Hallsmith, an angry city manager, accompanied by his assistant, berated Hallsmith for writing to the mayor directly, even though it was in response to an email directly from the mayor and the city manager was on the copy list of the exchange. Hallsmith reports that the city manager ordered her “not to speak or write about New Economy issues,” which includes public banking, and warned her that the mayor was still “angry about the December 7 conference” at which he had spoken.

Through the summer and into the fall, Hallsmith continued to speak and write about the issues she cared about, without immediate consequence.

On April 23, Jed Guertin, a Montpelier resident and former state employee, who likes to keep track of city government issues (he’s watched the broadcast or attended most of the Planning Commission meetings in 2013), wrote a letter to Mayor Hollar, the Council and the manager about the April 10 Council meeting. Guertin was disturbed by several facets of the meeting, including the mayor’s failure to control personal invective. There is no available response from anyone to Guertin’s letter, which independently confirms the governmental failures the planning director had described. At Guertin’s request, the City posted his April 23 letter with the December 20 city manager’s report.

At its June 24 meeting, the Planning Commission made clear its intention to ignore the City’s ethics policy when discussing properties in which members had some interest.

In July, Vermonters for a New Economy, one of Hallsmith’s projects, initiated a “State Bank Town Meeting Campaign,” designed get Vermonters at a town meeting on March 4, 2014, to support this resolution:

“We call on the State Legislature to create a Public Bank for Vermont that enhances the work of the Vermont Economic Development Authority, the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation, the Vermont Housing Finance Agency, the Municipal Bond Bank, and Vermont chartered community banks and credit unions by accepting deposits from the state and municipal governments and making loan programs available for students, homeowners, municipalities and enterprises to make Vermont economically stable, self-reliant, and successful.”

State turf defenders squeal, Mayor Hollar seeks Hallsmith’s head

The executive director of one of the targeted state agencies – the Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA) – got hold of an earlier version of the resolution that called for consolidating, not just enhancing the agencies. VHFA’s Sarah Carpenter took the wrong version of the resolution and raised an alarm with a “high importance” email to a short list of people that included Attorney Jennifer Hollar, the wife of the Montpelier mayor. Forwarding the email to his city manager, Mayor Hollar added his own volcanic response (here in its entirety) in his own “high importance” email:

“I would like to know 1) how Gwen manages to run her non-profit and pursue this initiative while maintaining her obligation to the City; and 2) how this campaign is consistent with the City’s economic development policies and her job

description. Why in the world would the city want to take a position in support of consolidating the agencies below (and antagonizing some of the ‘most senior economic development officials in the state’)? More importantly, this is something the council has never discussed. Gwen obviously can pursue interests on her own time, but as the City’s chief economic development officer, her position on these issue can’t be distinguished from her official position with the City.

“Between this and the planning commission fiasco, this really can’t continue. I’m not sure I see the point in my meeting with her to outline these concerns. I’ve raised them before with you, I assume they’ve been communicated to her, and

nothing has changed.” [emphasis added]

The mayor admits the City Council has never discussed public banking, much less determined a City policy on public banking. The planning director cannot possibly be speaking out against a policy that does not exist. The point is that she has been told not to speak at all and, while working to keep his fingerprints off the apparent plot to decapitate this anti-capitalist, the mayor manages to make it clear that he’s had more than enough!

This has long been a traditional response of power to truth, illustrated similarly in the 12th century, when an angry King Henry II took umbrage at the integrity of Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury. “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” the King complained to his underlings, and soon the archbishop was murdered in the cathedral. Montpelier in the 21st century may not be so grand, but a willing city manager and a kangaroo court would soon accomplish a similar if less bloody end.

Who needs evidence when you’re just following orders?

On September 27, a week after hearing from the mayor, and without any official action by the City Council or any further documentation to justify his decision (other than the mayor’s angry email demanding ideological purity), the city manager made this series of unsupported, ex cathedra assertions:

1) You have lost the confidence and support of the City Council.

2) You have lost the confidence and support of the Planning Commission.

3) I have lost trust in your ability to communicate effectively when carrying out your official duties.

4) Your extensive non-profit corporation Work and other non-city Work continues to raise questions about your commitment to the city and your allocation of time.

5) Despite multiple conversations that we have had, you continue to be involved with and/or take public positions on political matters that may not reflect city policy and may, in fact, be in direct opposition to the city’s economic development goals. This has diluted your credibility as a city official.

To make these arbitrary assertions even less credible, the city manager prefaced them by saying: “I acknowledge that there are multiple sides to all of this and that this warrants a more complete discussion and review.”

The city manager went on to place the planning director under the supervision of his assistant (who had been on the job about six months and had no special expertise in planning or economic development). He also ordered the planning director to prepare zoning regulations as the Planning Commission requested, without regard as to the legality of the commission’s request. And he put a limited but vague gag order in writing: “You will refrain from involvement in external political issues such as public banking which may impact your effectiveness as a Montpelier City official.” [emphasis added]

Without referring to the mayor directly, the city manager offered this final, ambiguous understatement: “l sincerely regret that circumstances exist which require me to take these actions.”

Handwriting on the wall? Let everyone read it.

In early October, Planning Director Hallsmith went on vacation, much of which she spent organizing Vermonters for a New Economy events. She also had what she described as “an off-the-record conversation with people at the Times Argus [a Montpelier newspaper] about Mayor Hollar’s email of September 20th, which impugned my integrity and my personal reputation.” The city manager got wind of this meeting and started sending Hallsmith somewhat frantic emails that did little to clear the air, as he accused Hallsmith of being the problem: “You have created the difficulty by disclosing confidential matters to the press.”

The first news story ran October 23 in the Times Argus, and other stories followed in Vermont media. According to the Times Argus, the city manager said Hallsmith was “in no danger of losing her job over this.”

In the VTDigger story, “Public Banking Campaign Sparks Controversy at Montpelier City Hall,” both the mayor and the city manager continued to misrepresent the town meeting resolution Hallsmith was actually promoting.

On October 24, in the wake of the first news stories, Hallsmith attended a contentious Planning Commission meeting at which she was a target. Despite what the city manager had written, the Planning Commission did not hold a vote or otherwise collectively express confidence in Hallsmith. On the contrary, attorney Kim Cheney (who has his own zoning conflict of interest and chairs the commission) wrote Hallsmith a conciliatory email after the meeting, saying in part: “We need your expertise to write a new law with new concepts.”

A week later the City Council issued a formal statement on the controversy that included this fundamentally dishonest assertion: “Aside from raising legitimate questions with the city manager about conflicts between the planning director’s outside advocacy and her job responsibilities to the City, the mayor has had no role whatsoever in this personnel matter.” The statement did not go on to mention that silencing Hallsmith would be a service to Mayor Hollar’s big bank clients.

Maintaining a collective fiction may require heads to roll

On November 6, the city manager removed the planning director from her job, putting Hallsmith on paid administrative leave. The next day he published a slick, self-serving, and dishonest version of events that included the falsehood: “The allegations against Mayor John Hollar are simply not true.” Mayor Hollar’s role is complicated and devious, to be sure, but it’s hard to believe that without his conniving, Gwen Hallsmith wouldn’t still have her job. In any event, the mayor’s “detached disinterest” is the new reality that city officials are repeating ad nauseum. Anything else, like an email all but demanding change, would appear to be a violation of Title X, Section 9 (Non-interference by the City Council) of the Montpelier City Charter.

On November 25, the city manager and the city attorney met with Hallsmith and her attorney, who objected at length to the City’s procedures on the grounds that they were unfair and violated state law. The next day the city manager fired Hallsmith. The city manager had provided a rambling memo alleging Hallsmith’s supposed misdeeds, but there was no serious effort to analyze essentially trivial complaints to show how they rose to the level of a firing offense under the City’s personnel policy.

That policy allows Hallsmith to seek a grievance hearing, which she did. Under the policy, the hearing officer at the grievance hearing would be the city manager, who would also be the main witness for the prosecution.

Hallsmith’s lawyer objected to this strongly in a letter to the city manager: “You cannot possibly sit as factfinder in a case where you, yourself, will be a witness, subject to cross-examination and be called upon to judge the testimony of witnesses which is adverse to your own.”

The City solved this problem by having the city manager’s assistant, Jessie Baker, serve as the hearing officer at the hearing where her boss was the only prosecution witness. The assistant’s name was also on the official “Procedures for Hallsmith Grievance Hearing” held December 20.

The rules might have derived from the jurisprudence of Alice in Wonderland.

Hallsmith would be allowed to be represented by counsel, but counsel wouldn’t be allowed to question the City’s witness. She chose to save money and not question the witness herself. The rules of evidence would not apply and the hearing officer could rely on hearsay at her whim. Despite Hallsmith’s request for an open hearing, the City closed the hearing to the public.

City officials have maintained that the “termination decision” was made properly. In a relatively non-responsive reply to an inquiry, the city manager wrote: “The hearing was held under the process established in the city's personnel plan which was adopted by the City Council pursuant to the authority established in the City Charter…. The pre-termination hearing [on November 25] and right to judicial review provide full due process as recognized by the courts. The grievance hearing is additional non-mandatory process pursuant to the personnel plan.”

The grievance hearing on December 20 lasted about five hours and a decision was reportedly promised within ten days.

Meanwhile, the city manager’s weekly report of December 13 had already noted:

“The Planning Commission met in open meeting on Monday, December 9, 2013. The Manager and Assistant Manager both attended to address their agenda item of Commission staffing during the transition with the planning director position. The Commission voted unanimously to hire a consultant to work specifically with the Commission on the rewrite of the zoning ordinance. The city manager’s Office will facilitate bringing on this consultant.”

In the event that the assistant city manager decides the grievance hearing in favor of the city manager, Hallsmith has indicated that he will take her case to the Vermont Superior Court.

Back in April, when Jed Guertin objected to the rancorous April 10 Council meeting, he says he had no idea Hallsmith’s head was on the block. Nevertheless he wrote then: “If there is a real issue with staff, please deal with it appropriately. I’ve seen what firing good staff, because of a political power play, can do to a community here in Vermont. It was not pretty and cost this one community over twenty years of disharmony.”

* * * * *

[Author’s disclosure: Almost the first I heard of this story was an email looking for participants in a demonstration at City Hall the day of the grievance hearing. The idea was to hold a kangaroo court on the steps of the building. I volunteered to be the judge, since clearly someone needed to explain the need for verdict first, trial after, as well as the compelling interest of the city to enforce obedience to the thought demands of the mayor. As it turned out, the demonstrators were too unorganized to demonstrate, and the forces against anti-capitalist heresy remain in control in the Capitol City, whose motto is “A Little Capital Goes a Long Way.”]



William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

 

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-2 # Walter J Smith 2013-12-29 15:26
Hmmm. One can only wonder if there are some not-yet-obvious connections between these shady deals and Senator Bernie Sanders's religious devotions to the F-35 boondoggle.
 
 
+6 # WBoardman 2013-12-29 17:45
Always a possibility, of course,
but the benefitting property holders
in Burlington and Montpelier
are different people,
who may or may not know each other,
using different opportunities for self-serving.
 
 
0 # Mrcead 2013-12-30 04:48
The common denominator may not necessarily be a "who" but likely an ideal with expressed characteristics .
 
 
+3 # Doubter 2013-12-31 11:36
"the democratically- elected mayor of that city has an opposing ideology"
The only "ideology" I see here is: "Everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) belongs to its "rightful" owners; the banksters, of course.
 
 
+21 # PGreen 2013-12-29 18:21
I'd like to be a fly on the wall in the ACLU when a discussion came up about Hallsmith. (If it did.) I'd like to know why they refused to look at her case. Was there any attempt to get an explanation from the ACLU about their decision to ignore her?

That Hallsmith can be accused of conflict of interest while city officials ignore the banking clients of the mayor shows clearly that only certain ideological perspectives (and venues) are acceptable in the MtP regional government. This situation calls for outside intervention from someone without a corporate bias.
 
 
+33 # Peter_van_Schaick 2013-12-29 22:38
If "this situation calls for outside intervention from someone without a corporate bias," how about some folks from Montpelier stepping up to run against Mayor Hollar and the open Council seats in the upcoming election? (I can't because I live outside town.)

As for Mr. Boardman's piece, it's an utterly brilliant, apt summary of a complicated chronology. I doff my cap and bow in respect.
 
 
-9 # drshafer 2013-12-30 01:11
Excellent article but vitiated by sloppy spelling: "capitol" should be "capital"; "ad nauseum" should be "ad nauseam"; "for awhile" should be "for a while" -- how about some proofreading??? ??
 
 
+9 # Mrcead 2013-12-30 04:49
D- for going off topic.
 
 
+7 # Doubter 2013-12-31 11:40
If one has a smidgen of fair spelling and grammar, one can't help but be distracted by sloppy writing.
Besides, everything you write is public record and part of your legacy.
Sloppy writing reduces the sources credibility, unless you are dealing with a known ignoramus.
I always read and spell check what I've written and correct obvious mistakes. I specially try to notice if the meaning is clear on first reading.
Actually, I didn't even notice the 'mistakes.'
 
 
+2 # Mrcead 2014-01-01 02:50
Understood but the advent of the online grammar police spawned the birth of the online context police. Pull the emergency brake for inaccurate facts, questionable point of views and outright lies, not for bad spelling.
 
 
+3 # Altepeter 2013-12-30 08:39
Hey, I just trying to grasp the story's meaning without even considering those incidentals.
 
 
+7 # WBoardman 2013-12-30 14:04
capitol/capital usage apparently has some ambiguity,
which I needed for the last line of the piece.

"ad nauseum" is spelled as in the original usage
by Mayor Hollar.

"for awhile" could also be corrected to simply "awhile"

as for deshafer's usage of "vitiated,"
that's rhetorical excess suggesting that three quibbles
might have some substantive impact.

Excellent usage, however, of "excellent" ;-)))
 
 
+24 # keenon the truth 2013-12-30 02:01
@drshafer
Excellent article, so compelling, indeed, that I wasn't disturbed by any vagaries of spelling. Let's not be petty.
 
 
+1 # drshafer 2013-12-30 13:24
It was precisely because this is such a well-researched and well-written article that I was troubled by the errors, especially the confusion of "capitol" and "capital" in the title.
 
 
+9 # pottermark 2013-12-30 06:35
Well done, Bill. Very disturbing story. What exactly are "the contentious zoning issues involv[ing] property in which the mayor had a personal interest"?
Mark Shapiro
 
 
+6 # WBoardman 2013-12-30 14:14
The subplot of the Hallsmith lynching
is a sub-brouhaha involving the Planning Commission,
which seems to want to adopt zoning for its members'
personal benefit, and others, or so I'm told.

Although I've seen some support for this view,
I'm not up to speed on the details yet.

The Mayor allegedly lives in a ritzier part of town
and is somewhat desperate not to have poor people
living too close (as in Sabin's Pasture developed
with affordable housing).

One question is whether he thinks any public housing
is a view that is fundamentally anti-capitalist in nature.
 
 
+18 # peterjnickitas 2013-12-30 07:21
See the history of the Bank of North Dakota's creation in 1919 for parallels. In 1919, the Non-Partisan League fought a prdedecessor of Wells Fargo, Northwestern National Bank,and won. The stakes were high then; the Non-Partisan League established a state grain elevator, a state industrial commission, and the bank to break the grip of Minneapolis business entities which had made North Dakota an economic colony of Minnesota.

One former president of the Bank of ND is US Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND). He is the best example of an unexpected, but powerful advocate of a public bank.
 
 
+6 # fredboy 2013-12-30 09:22
Of course they do.
Some bankers I know refer to politicians as "pocket change."
 
 
+11 # intheEPZ 2013-12-30 11:22
Hmmm. DownsRachlinMar tin. The same mercenaries that represent Entergy Nuclear VT Yankee in its lawsuits against the state and its duly adopted laws. Carpet baggers. Run 'em out!
 
 
+1 # WolfTotem 2013-12-30 16:55
Sounds like a cross between CLOCHEMERLE - New England style and Arthur Miller's THE CRUCIBLE.

Between satirical farce and something more sinister: the good old New England witch-hunt.

The French book's pure small-town farce, but add new-style Puritans (all except steeplecrown hats) and the lady can count herself lucky she's living now and not in old Salem, where they'd doubtless have hanged her for witchcraft...

(I couldn't find much about CLOCHEMERLE on Internet, but here's a clue to it:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Clochemerle-Gabriel-Chevallier/dp/0099453886)
 
 
+10 # Working Class 2013-12-31 16:47
Suggestion - Organize. Find a handful of likeminded citizens and layout your ground game. Find a friendly Politian who will let your group use their "walking list" for Montpelier. Or buy your own walking list if you can afford it. A walking list shows who the registered voters are and where they live. Put together a one page statement condemning this injustice and one supporting the idea of a public bank (the public banking institute may help with this). Then go door to door over a weekend in Montpelier talking to the registered voters. Explain what it is you are supporting/cond emning and ask the registered voters to sign a petition directed to the city council supporting your position. First target the districts of those elected office holders who seem to be causing the most trouble then hit the other districts. I have used this approach in a town approximately the size of Montpelier in the State of Washington. We were able to win the day both times. When you present the petition to the City Council ask them if they are going to follow the wishes of those they swore to represent? It will scare the shit out of the establishment. They only get away with injustices because no one calls them out. Hit them where they live and the rats will run for cover. Once again - Organize. Its the only way meaningful change ever happens.
 
 
0 # True Vermonter 2014-03-02 16:27
I know Hallsmith well and share many of her values and those on this discussion thread. She was fired for good reasons that go way beyond the banking issue. She has left a trail of casualties in her wake due to her personal demons and egocentric approach. It is remarkable how skewed the perspective can be from those on the outside who have never seen how someone operates up close. Her values are great, but she does not play well with others. It's that simple.
 
 
0 # True Vermonter 2014-03-02 16:37
She is quite smart, and successfully framed the issue in a way that has her as the hero fighting the big bad banks. That's just an extension of her delusional thinking in which she is the perpetual victim when in fact she continually fails to take responsibility for her own behavior. I challenge you each to engage in critical thinking to consider whether you know what has actually happened here in Montpelier, or whether you go along with this story because it fits in with the larger narrative and beliefs about how the world works. Just because the overall pattern holds true doesn't mean this is what's happening here. Hallsmith has created toxicity in many of her relationships. I say this from first hand observation, and from having known people in many of her circles with the same experience. I don't know how closely Mr. Boardman has seen her operate.
 
 
0 # WBoardman 2014-03-03 11:00
Would a realTrue Vermonter offer only anonymity and personal attacks?

Your post is long on accusation, short on facts.
One suspects, perhaps, you have a personal ax to grind.

My own experience with Gwen Hallsmith is extremely
limited. I met her once while doing this story. I have
emailed with her extensively.

Certain facts are irrefutable and remain unmitigated.
Here are two I find important:

1. The mayor was pressuring the city manager to
hassle Hallsmith from some time in early 2013, or
perhaps earlier. By mid-March, as the mayor emailed,
he'd been after the manager "ad nauseum" [sic]. His and
the manager's behavior is fundamentally deceitful.

2. The hearing in December was a farce in almost
every respect -- it made no effort to be a credible
judicial process, but it was an effective lynching.

Even if every bit of your asserted character assassination
is true (which I doubt), the mayor's behavior was corrupt,
and the city's behavior was corrupt -- and in both instances
the corruption was freely chosen. Hallsmith has made other allegations of corruption that have not been proven -- or
investigated as far as I know. They may or may not be correct, but they fit a pattern that is already obvious.

Until you can answer to issues like these, until you can move beyond ad hominem attacks, until you can offer actual evidence (of anything), until you are willing to come out of hiding,
your comments lack credibility.
 
 
0 # True Vermonter 2014-03-03 14:47
It's a small town so yes, I choose to remain anonymous.

I'm basing my assertions on direct knowledge of the subject matter, over the entire tenure of Hallsmith's career in Montpelier. You've met your protagonist once, and claiming expertise on the situation? So who's short on facts?

It may be that the due process was short, and if so, that's a serious issue. If this is true, then may the courts intervene appropriately. But now that Ms. Hallsmith is running for Mayor, so hysterical proclamations -- lynching, really? -- such as yours deserve correction, before our fair hamlet is left in the hands of someone who has a strong and demonstrably pattern of destructive actions towards others.
 
 
0 # True Vermonter 2014-03-03 15:12
By the way, City Manager Bill Fraser has pointed out that he has the right to terminate employees for just cause. Those calling this hearing a Kangaroo Court are suggesting that courtroom rules apply. Certainly Gwen Hallsmith was never so judicious with the various people she ramrodded past in her career.
 
 
0 # WBoardman 2014-03-03 15:08
True Vermonter continues to offer ONLY
ad hominem attacks,
unsupported by anything independently verifiable,
and cloaked in anonymity --
in other words, he (or she) offers smears
and asks us to take his/her word on faith.

That's a lot to ask,
but it's of a piece with other attacks on Hallsmith --
like the mayor leaning on the city manager for months,
this is spiteful, insubstantial, vituperative
and goes on, cloaked in secrecy, "ad nauseum" [sic]
as the mayor himself put it a year ago.

These folks should put up or shut up.
The sad thing is that they may not have to.
Even their kangaroo court hearing,
run by the city manager's assistant [talk about neutral!]
didn't accept the truth of some of the city manager's
allegations, which have yet to be heard before
an independent tribunal operating with anything
like fair rules of due process.

If it wasn't a quasi-judicial lynching, what was it?

By the time the Vermont court system gets around
to weighing actual evidence in a fair trial,
it's likely to be long past the time
justice will be of any use.

Meanwhile, those who would ignore the law
to draw the town's new zoning regs
to suit their personal priorities
can go their merry, self-serving way.

And anonymity only helps malfeasance thrive.
 
 
0 # True Vermonter 2014-03-03 18:19
Again, it's mind-boggling that this author, who himself lurks behind avatars on discussion boards -- apanther, eh? -- continues to know so much about a situation he knows so little about. You complain about ad hominen attacks while accusing our elected officials of undertaking a lynching. Anybody who has been around Montpelier for awhile has heard the stories of Ms. Hallsmith. The pattern repeats itself over and over again. Again, how dare you report on this without getting to know the key players a bit better?
 
 
0 # True Vermonter 2014-03-03 18:38
I don't come to such a critique of an individual lightly. Having seen, for many years, how this person operates, and to hear the many people who have the same exact experience -- members of commissions, boards, affiliated non-profits, city council, staff -- makes me believe that I have some actual insight into how Ms. Hallsmith operates. I also know the other players. Again, I come back to my same question to good hearted Progressives. Can you understand that not every case fits in to the narrative about the big bad bankers hurting the little person. Sometimes your protagonist actually carries some pretty unsavory baggage of her own. Mr. Boardman seems to be a insightful commentator in many matters, but in this situation, he seems to have a blind spot.
 
 
0 # WBoardman 2014-03-03 19:23
True Vermonter speaks of a blind spot.
The blind spot he/she seems to mean is
Gwen Hallsmith's character, which
True Vermonter continues to smear
while offering zero specifics.
This is a screech, not an argument,
and that's true regardless of whether True Vermonter
is correct in some way.

What True V sees as my blind spot
is actually his/her blind spot, because
my story does not rely on whether
Gwen Hallsmith is an an angel or a devil
or just another human being like True V.

Even if everything Hallsmith's detractors have said
turned our to be true, the reality is that
those detractors lynched her in a shameful manner
that any responsible citizen should abhor.
Process matters.
And when corrupt people exercise corrupt process
without serious objection
no matter who the victim is,
then you're looking at a community in trouble.

True V can't seem to see that, because he/she
seems to be obsessed with personality. Ad hominem.
 
 
-1 # True Vermonter 2014-03-03 19:50
You've framed this whole thing in a hysterical way, and continue to do so. She was justly removed, and no, these banks don't run Montpelier. I am merely pointing out that your seemingly ideologically driven narrative doesn't do justice to the facts. I assert this, knowing many of the facts, but I am not about to spill people's names over this comment section other than the one who is running a candidacy based on the smearing of those who fired her. "A man sees what he want to see, and disregards the rest," eh?
 
 
+1 # WBoardman 2014-03-03 19:14
True Vermonter doesn't understand ad hominem
attacks, and he/she won't give them up, either.

It's an ad hominem attack when all you have is insult and that's all True Vermonter has so far.

If all I said was that Montpelier is run by a lynch mob,
it would be an ad hominem attack, even if it was true.

But (see story above) I've described details of
what I've characterized as a lynching -- no due process,
hearing officer=underli ng of main witness, no
cross examination, etc. None of this has even been
rebutted, much less refuted.

True Vermonter presumably knows it's true,
that the Hallsmith termination was quite clearly
a metaphorical lynching.

And now True Vermonter is asserting that gossip,
with no factual foundation offered,
must be accepted as true because it's been
repeated over and over.

That is intellectually dishonest, and bears no
relation to the true Vermont that I know.
 
 
-1 # True Vermonter 2014-03-03 22:34
It's fascinating that this writer engages in this form of projection, in which he accuses me of ad hominem attacks by attacking me, calling me intellectually dishonest, and accusing me of insult, when I have demonstrated a far better knowledge of the actual situation in Montpelier than he has. He is the one who has attacked our city leaders, accusing them of engaging in a lynching, and of leaving our city beholden to big banks. Let the knees jerk in response to this simple narrative, and let critical thinking fall by the wayside.
 
 
-1 # True Vermonter 2014-03-03 22:46
Your statement that this was, "quite clearly a metaphorical lynching," is gibberish. Yes, I understand that you used the metaphor of a lynching, and I still maintain that this is highly irresponsible and sensationalist. It's certainly not journalism. This person was fired for good reason. City officials were frustrated with her, and, had more than enough documented instances of egregious, unprofessional, and insubordinate behavior to make their case. Again, anyone with actual knowledge of the situation would recognize this. It really is shameful to spout your propaganda in such a way. Go ahead and continue to try to smear me.
 
 
-1 # True Vermonter 2014-03-03 19:43
Mr. Boardman, I appreciate that you are engaging with me. It's just because I know the players and the context so well, that I push back on you. I don't know whether Bill Fraser or others did everything by the book, but I do know that Gwen Hallsmith has been alienating people for years in a destructive way. She has mishandled professional relationships and misused and very much abused her authority. I think she was justly fired, and that it was a long time coming. I know many people who have been hurt in very tangible ways by her authoritarian approach.

Does termination of an employee by a City Manager require judicial proceedings? I'm confident that Bill Fraser was well within in his right to take this action. He and John Hollar may have overstepped a bit, their frustration with her may have spilled over in small ways, but the basic culpability lies with her. I don't have a particular axe to grind. I do care about my city and don't believe she would be good as mayor. Also, I think she has many redeeming qualities. But as mayor, no.
 
 
0 # WBoardman 2014-03-04 12:29
Election day, dispute is moot.

All the same, True Vermonter, good to hear you
allow for at least misfeasance by the mayor and
city manager. The record still seems to me to support
malfeasance, or worse.

The city council, planning commission, zoning regs
nexus looks very much like a possible cesspool
of corrupt government. We may never know.

One reason the case is in court is that there is a
statute the city manager ignored, that requires serious
due process to fire a zoning manager, which Hallsmith was.

You continue to offer only shrill ad hominem attacks
on Hallsmith, with zero specifics.
Contrast: you're so willing to cut the mayor
slack despite his blatant conflicts of interest.

NOT ALLOWING an elected official to work simultaneously
as a lobbyistr should be a no brainer for anyone who
wants clean government. It's not about the personalities,
it's just a structural invitation to corruption.

In this instance the mayor appears to have accepted
that invitation, spending a year undermining Hallsmith
"ad nauseum" [sic] in ways that were not only a violation
of her rights and irrelevant to city policy, but clearly aligned
with work he's paid to do by his big bank clients.

If Hollar was so righteous, why didn't Fraser act promptly?
Why did Hollar have to go on "ad nauseum" [sic]
before Fraser finally acted,
under what looks like extreme duress?
None of this passes the smell test.
 
 
-1 # True Vermonter 2014-03-05 11:19
Results are in for the City of Montpelier.
State Bank resolution passes 1629 to 697.
Hallsmith loses to Holler 1525 to 782.

One lesson is that the folks who know Hallsmith best, the citizens of Montpelier have heard enough to reject her as a city leader, even as they support a public bank.

You may call this shrill, but my critique is based on long and fairly direct experience with her, and is corroborated by just about everyone you talk to who has dealt with her. She is very talented as selling her own image to outsiders, but we've all seen enough. Whether you agree with her politics or not, she's proved herself to be trouble for people in countless organizational associations in town, and there was clearly plenty of reason to fire her. She was notorious for using city resources to purse her own political agenda, and it was right to call her on it. In addition, she has a pattern of lying and irrationally blaming others for her own shortcomings. These are assertions based on direct observation, and are not arrived at lightly. As for the extended time of all this, Fraser, and the previous Mayor Mary Hooper, have been criticized for years for covering for Hallsmith. Hooper finally had enough, and finally Fraser did. Hallsmith is intimidating. She's a bulldozer. Fraser worked closely with her, and she was good at bringing grant money into the city. So it was a mixed bag, and people were working closely with each other. Finally enough was enough.
 
 
0 # WBoardman 2014-09-11 15:37
True Vermonter (the anonymous oxymoron)
makes lots of generalized gossipy accusations
against Hallsmith, but offers no persuasive support
for his slurs, and provides no specifics.

Now, September 11, 2014, the Vermont Superior Court
has affirmed that, whatever else went on,
the City legally lynched Gwen Hallsmith,
depriving her of her constitutional rights.

Meanwhile, the conflicts of interest among members
of the planning commission remain unaddressed,
well over a year after Hallsmith raised them.
 

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