I could not take it any more and I could not figure any other way to address it. I tried, I looked, I sought out advice, then checked in with my moral compass and was reminded of a little thing on face book of all things. Kesha Ram, one of Vermont’s youngest (perhaps brightest )legislators from the Burlington area, she lists a reminder on her info page:
The Seven Blunders of the World
(A list that Mahatma Gandhi gave to his grandson, Arun, on their final day together, just before Gandhi was assassinated)
Wealth without work
Pleasure without conscience
Knowledge without character
Commerce without morality
Science without humanity
Worship without sacrifice
Politics without principle
Now my words.
Silence in the face of injustice allows for the injustice to grow and to continue. Truth, no matter how difficult to hear or how ugly remains true. Dialog and action will stop injustice. So when I attended the board meeting of the Lamoille Solid Waste Management District as a board supervisor, I had an obligation to operate openly and honestly and also to challenge unjust actions.
The very first day I was officially on, an employee came to me and disclosed that there has been and was fearful of continued sexual harassment by her boss and by some of the members of the board. She had reported it 4 years ago to the chair of the board and nothing was done. The harassment had continued. She was fearful that nothing was going to change. I brought it to the board and in executive session, I relayed the issue and thought that the board would take steps to resolve the issue.
What I found instead was a board, whose majority didn’t get it. I was harasses over the next several meetings with crude sexual jokes being told, disparaging remarks and innuendo. I spoke directly to the offender each time and said the comments were inappropriate and offensive. Twice I did this. Twice it was ignored. Third time I sent a letter and submitted that letter for the record.
Shortly after, not only against me but also the employee who brought up the claim up became the subject of a story in the Stowe Reporter. I was called a horse’s ass, a little lady who thought she is the savior of all women and the employee was identified and disparaged. I addressed our Chair and asked what actions the board would take. A sanction was offered, but not for actions against me, but actions against the employee. They are covered by law, supervisors on boards are not employees and do not fall under the protection of the law. I asked the Chair how he was going to deal with the harassment I was being subjected to. He did nothing. His plan was that perhaps if nothing was done, if silence and time was used, if things settled down, perhaps, just perhaps the issue would go away. Apathy. I continued to serve.
Last week another claim came before the board and I had a hope that the Chair would have the backbone to finally address the issues of discrimination and patterns of harassment that has been imbedded in the culture of the board. Instead the Chair dodged the issue and sided with the bad actors. ” if I were Chip and Dave, I would be pissed too” was a statement made in an effort to settle hot tempters. In trying to calm things down by siding and showing sympathy for the people who committed the bad acts, he led the board away from the issue. He was asked what the claim was about and his response was that it was about money. He then drew this analogy with a a qualifier. ” I have been in academia for 35 years and when ever you give an F you can expect some Hispanic Women to file a sexual discrimination claim.“.
Translation: This new claim is because the employee, who has not earned compensation, but is asking for it, will try and get it by filing a sexual discrimination claim. Therefore boys, lets focus on how we are going to handle the claim by focusing on the loss of compensation, not the issue of sexual discrimination.
I will not be quiet. Silence is a tool used to continue the bad acts. By being on the board and acting a member of one body, I would be contributing to the perpetuation of discrimination. Because of the history and longstanding attitudes of certain members, for me to stand up in the meeting and speak the truth, in an attempt to create dialog, would not have worked.
We were at the point where there was a burning cross in my front yard, and to go to the cross and try to put it out with a bucket of water, would have had me lynched.
I called the Chair, Victor Ehly the next day, at his college office. I spoke of my disappointment and specifically questioned him about his comments. He admitted to me that he was wrong and the comments were inappropriate and offensive. He said he would not do it again. But he fell short with a complete solution. It is not good enough to say “sorry, I won’t do it again”. There needs to be a plan of action to open up the dialog about the culture. People need to examine and reflect upon their actions, then make changes in behavior. I asked Victor what his plan was, to think about it and to get back to me with a specific plan for a change in action. He never contacted me. His action was to let things settle down and to hopefully ignore the issues again. Perhaps, he thought, If I don’t do anything it will go away.
Well, It will not go away. I will not allow it to remain silent and secret. My only recourse was to speak the truth openly and to do so by resigning and requesting that the town which I represent end their relationship with the district by pulling out. I went before my town select board on Monday night and spoke the truth. Openly and on record. Now the town must decide if it will continue to engage with the district and the community will be watching. I will continue to work with my town in this time of transition and evaluation of options.
It will be hard for the board of supervisors at the District to continue their tactics and culture of discrimination and retaliation now that the secret is no longer. They will have to act openly and with transparency. Kesha Ram put some words up on her face book page. Those words reminded me of the importance to principle. There were no directions on how to specifically handle the issue, just the basic guidelines given from a very wise man. Thank you Kesha.