After a petition demanding Waterbury Select Board chair Chris Viens’ resignation was signed by over 400 people, Viens stepped down from his role as Waterbury Select Board chair. The announcement came during a Waterbury Select Board Zoom meeting on Monday night, November 2. “I will not step down from my position as a select board member,” said Viens in a personal statement, clarifying that although he will no longer run meetings as board chair, he will keep his elected position. “I have had overwhelming support and been told don’t give up, don’t give in and don’t step down.” While the board did not discuss who will take over as chair going forward, vice chair Mark Frier ran the meeting that night.
As for why Viens resigned: He said the petition called for it. The petition was largely concerned with Viens’ remarks, including his suggestion that the Vermont State Police segregate its police force in order to alleviate racial tension between police officers and civilians. One petition signer, Jake Minter, stated that “Mr. Viens shows explicitly white supremacist leanings and biases he refuses to address.”
Viens on the other hand believes the petition signers have a bullying problem that they need to address. “Any other time, even only a few years ago I probably could have made these same mistakes and people, especially people from this community, would have understood or would have simply asked me, is that what you really meant to say?” said Viens. Speaking about himself and his wife, Viens added: “Neither of us ever thought some of our neighbors would ever become the kind of bullies you see in other places, but I guess we should have.”
Regarding his own racist comments, Viens reminded community members that, as a high school dropout and self-proclaimed redneck, he has a proclivity towards rhetorical blunders. “I can’t read very good, clearly don’t express myself well, spelling is not perfect and sometimes my handwriting is rough,” he said. “Don’t just think us people who talk like rednecks are always against you, we just have our own way of talking too.”
Worried that he might receive even more backlash for using the term “redneck,” Viens added: “And for those who will be quick to judge my words again, the word redneck used here means working-class person from a rural area and it means nothing else! No one is going to twist my words again.”
Caught in the jaws of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, Viens had a message for the BLM activists who started and signed the petition against him: “Every person matters, no matter who they are,” said Viens. “There is no need to carry signs, hold rallies, paint things, hang banners, preach to or fight with your neighbors if you just simply practice being a good person to everyone again no matter who they are.”
Going forward, Viens said he is eager to keep helping and serve the people of Waterbury and Vermont. “I really do care about the people of this town and state and think if I stick my neck out I can do some good for those who don’t seem to have a voice now.”