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After voters speak, then what?

Town officials work to implement Town Meeting decisions on plastic bags, Compassionate Cities

BRATTLEBORO—In response to decisions made by voters and Town Meeting representatives on a plastic bag ban, a Compassionate Cities initiative, and recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Town Manager Peter Elwell issued an update on the progress made by municipal staff on each item.

At the April 4 regular Selectboard meeting, Elwell said, “two of them carry responsibilities,” and town officials “have to do the work necessary” to explore the town’s options.

On Town Meeting day, voters overwhelmingly approved an article asking the Selectboard to enact an ordinance “that no retail establishment shall provide a single-use carry out plastic bag to a customer at the check stand, cash register, point of sale, or other point of departure for the purpose of transporting food or merchandise out of the establishment.”

Since then, Elwell’s staff has collected ordinances and information from other municipalities with a similar plastic bag ban, “but none of those communities is in Vermont,” Elwell noted in his memorandum on the subject. He told the Board he is working on a report that will include a study of “other places’ successes and challenges with the ban.”

Town Attorney Bob Fisher is working with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns on the matter, Elwell said.

“There’s a whole spectrum of options,” he said, including a total ban or a partial ban. Once the Selectboard decides what kind of ordinance it wants, “Bob can write it up,” said Elwell, to ensure it’s “a more defensible ordinance” and not “something that’ll get us into trouble."

In his memorandum, Elwell noted, “this is a complicated matter and will take some time.” He said he hopes to bring more information for the Selectboard to review in May, but, “it may be June before we are ready for a more complete and informed discussion."

During the March 7 elections, voters approved of declaring Brattleboro a member of the Compassionate Cities movement. According to the program’s website, “The Charter for Compassion is a document that transcends religious, ideological, and national differences. Supported by leading thinkers from many traditions, the Charter calls on us to activate the Golden Rule around the world."

Elwell noted in his memorandum, and said at the Selectboard meeting, that any reasonable person will support this.

“We’re not as far along on this as with the bag ban,” Elwell said. “What makes this more complicated is there’s a program to subscribe to,” and it requires responsibilities of the town, he said, so he and his staff are looking into the details.

“I see a spectrum,” Elwell said, and the Selectboard will decide “where the town should land” on it. On one side, the town is fully engaged in the related programs, and on the other side, the town declares its support, said Elwell, noting the town’s resources are an important factor in deciding.

“I’m confident we’ll land in the spirit of the voters’ decision,” Elwell said.

He told Selectboard members he expects to bring more information to the May Board meetings.

On March 25, Town Meeting representatives approved an article asking the Selectboard to declare the second Monday of October of each year as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” in the town of Brattleboro.

“It passed unanimously at [Representative] Town Meeting,” Selectboard Clerk Tim Wessel noted.

Of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Elwell wrote in his memorandum, “This one is easy.” He will get a document from Town Attorney Bob Fisher with the proper legal language and bring it to the April 18 Selectboard meeting.

Selectboard member David Schoales said he wants “bigger community participation,” and made a suggestion that schoolchildren should write essays on the significance of the day.

Selectboard member John Allen, who served on the Board last year when the article’s language was drafted, said he supported sending the decision to Town Meeting, “because we could get the town’s consensus."

“I’m glad we did it that way,” Allen said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #403 (Wednesday, April 12, 2017).

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