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Is civility dead in our community?

After attending the March 28 Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) Board meeting, the outrage some felt that a current board member was being singled out and bullied struck me as horrendously hypocritical and I believe that outrage is sorely misplaced.

Let’s put the chairperson’s actions at the last meeting in context. I would like to remind everyone that this is not the first time that this board member has chosen to talk to others instead of bringing their concerns to the board itself.

Regarding the Open Meeting Law complaint last year, we heard not a word of concern from this board member for six months. We even had a nice, productive retreat where we all felt that things were in a good place and we were ready to move on. Unfortunately, this was not to be as shortly after that event we were blindsided by the front page headline of a local paper that said the vice chair believes there was an Open Meeting Law violation.

Now, what started this last go-around? Let me quote the following summation from the state auditor in regard to a complaint filed by a Fayston resident:

“You clearly disagree with many decisions of the HUUSD. I understand that matters of education policy and school operations sometimes engender passionate debate. This is healthy if conducted in a civil manner through established channels. But in making these allegations, you offered virtually no supporting evidence and relied instead on conjecture. Exaggerated and unfounded claims alleging incompetence, deceit and criminal acts is neither civil nor constructive.”

So now we have a board member who, either willingly or unwittingly, contributed to their attempt to calumniate the staff in both the press and to the top levels of state government. The said board member was called out to by the chairperson for violating the board’s code of ethics as well as the voted and agreed upon norms. This is now the second time the board member has done this and some people behave as if it is he who is being treated unfairly.

As I said to the board and I am now saying this to all of the communities, you have two senior employees and the entire admin team being publicly accused of deceit and criminal acts and some are more concerned about the treatment of the board member whom actually contributed to these aspersions being cast?

For the record, at the last board meeting on April 11, the board member apologized and I commend this board member for doing so. But this letter is not so much about those situations. I used those examples to put this situation into context.

Here is what this is really about:

Our superintendent, financial director and others on the admin team have their professional reputation on the line.

That is where the outrage should be.

These are our employees. Good employers stand up for them not only as a matter of principle but because good employers stand up for common decency. Good employers stand up for what is right, even when it’s not politically expedient. Good employers stand up for their employees against garbage accusations masquerading as opinion pieces made by two people with their own self-serving agenda.

How is this OK? Have we lost our sense of civility and community? Is this the type of behavior we want to model for our kids? I thought we teach our kids to stand up for what is right. We stand up to bullies who purposefully spread lies to cause damage and harm to others and call them out because it is the right thing to do. I should not have to explain why, but, as we have seen play out on the national stage, if you repeat a lie long enough and loud enough people might start to believe it.

How many more devoted, talented professionals do we have to lose before we deem it OK to stand up to those who use intimidation tactics and lies that sow division and mistrust? How would each of you feel if you were the target of these defamatory accusations? If anyone believes this behavior is acceptable then no wonder Amy Rex resigned. If we lose any more dedicated, professional staff, and you wonder why, all you have to do is ask yourselves this:

Would you want to work for you?

Jim Casey, former HUUSD Board member from Waterbury, now Moretown resident.

The Valley Reporter - serving Vermont's Mad River Valley since 1971