Mr. McAllister’s bumpy ride

I have to apologize to the good people of Vermont on behalf of Franklin County, for having sent Norm McAllister to sit with the big boys and girls in the Senate this year.

Mr. McAllister is clearly setting his sights on the curmudgeon-in-chief position at the Statehouse, because in a singularly ill-advised debut proposal, he has chosen to target bicyclists and tourists for a revenue shakedown.

He proposes a $20. annual registration fee for all those who wish to bicycle in the state of Vermont, whether they live here or not.

Mr. McAllister thinks those free-wheeling Canadians ought to pony-up for more than just goods and services while they are here!

The Freshman Senator is so put out by the enormous amount of money the state invests in wider lanes and bicycle paths that he is declaring pay-back time.

Nevermind that more bicycles translate to less automobiles, which means less wear-and-tear to conventional roadway infrastructure, less pollution and less demand on parking facilities; nevermind that bicycle tourism is one of the things that sustains an important Vermont industry even in years when the snow conditions disappoint.  

“I think they’ve had a free-ride for quite a while and it’s time that they need to be part of this,”

So, while other places are trying to find ways to encourage more people to abandon their cars for bicycle travel, Vermont…AKA, the greenest state in America…is supposed to take the road less travelled 😉 and, in effect, penalize cyclists for their eco-friendly mode of transport?

Does Mr. McAllister realize that some cities even provide fleets of bicycles that people may borrow for free?

You have to understand that Mr. McAllister numbers among his constituents some pretty pedestrian-and-cycle unfriendly communities.  

The Selectboard of the Town of St. Albans (not to be confused with the City of St. Albans, where I live) is so fundamentally hostile to basic sidewalk maintenance (nevermind bicycle lanes!) that they have, for years, resisted the elected Planning Commission’s efforts to create a Town plan that would include such frivolous pedestrian amenities.

In fact, that same five-man Selectboard is now attempting a fundamental power grab that would permanently eliminate any opposition from the Planning Commission.  They have proposed a Town charter on the March ballot which, if adopted by voters, will eliminate the elected Planning Commission altogether and replace it with one conveniently appointed by the Selectboard.

And even though the proposed charter would include provision for both a local sales tax and the opportunity to impeach elected officials; there is, for instance, no inclination by the power block to expand the elected Selectboard or to introduce a ward system whereby the different areas of the town and their very different socio-economic demographics would be equally represented at the table.

Past elections have routinely returned the same reactionary slate to power time and time again.  Less than five-hundred people, or only about 12% of the population, have chosen these guys by their votes.  Poor voter turn-out would seem to be to blame for the stagnant situation in the Town.  

This is largely due to the fact that, with new housing development representing much of the population, the Town has become a bedroom community for people whose working lives play-out in other towns and even other counties.  It will be years before that bedroom community becomes sufficiently invested in what goes on politically close to home to actually make a difference in local elections.

Since the Town has the largest population in the county, similar dynamics of disengagement were largely responsible for sending Mr. McAllister to the Senate this year.

About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.

9 thoughts on “Mr. McAllister’s bumpy ride

  1. Cyclists that live here own houses, property and cars. We pay fuel taxes (when we use our cars), and we pay property and income taxes. As well as registration fees and taxes on our vehicles.

    It’s been debunked that the gas tax is exclusive to fixing our roads (most of the fixing money for local roads comes from property taxes and the general fund), and that the roads that do see gas tax $$ are likely the roads that cyclists and pedestrians do not use.

    This is essentially unenforceable. Most folks have bikes in the garage or shed. Kids bikes? Or just ‘racing’ bikes? Should we add a levy to my Fatbike (designed for snow and soft surfaces) because it gets a poor miles to calories rating? Or would I get a special ‘big bike’ write down like the SUV / light truck nonsense that was pushed through under Bush? Who is going to stand on a street corner and enforce the homeless folks?

    And yes, since most cyclists have automobiles, any time you pass a bike or two or three, remember that there might be less wear and tear because of it, and you might find a parking space because of it. And it’s likely that a cyclist supports their local shop.

    If there were a tick box on my tax return to donate an extra 20$ or $40 to a dedicated bike and pedestrian infrastructure fund (like the loon line), I would do that, much as I supported the efforts in BTV for a dedicated bike path maintenance line item in our parks and rec budget.  

  2. … those damn bicycles chew up the roads so bad. Much worse than the overweight big rigs that are quickly rutting the new pavement on I-89.

    No wait, it makes no sense at all. Carry on!

  3. The Selectboard of the Town of St. Albans … have, for years, resisted the elected Planning Commission’s efforts to create a Town plan that would include such frivolous pedestrian amenities.

    This may be a small nit to pick, but Planning Commission members are appointed, not elected, as you wrote. From the Vermont statute on the appointment of members to a Planning Commission:

    Section 4323. Appointment, term and vacancy; rules

    (a) Members of a planning commission shall be appointed and any vacancy filled by the legislative body of a municipality.

    Title 24, Section 4325 elucidates the powers and duties bestowed upon Planning Commissions. Simply put, this section of the statute essentially authorizes Planning Commissions to act in an advisory capacity for the town, or municipality’s legislative body on planning and land development.

    While it may be true that members of the Town of St. Albans Select Board have resisted the town’s Planning Commission efforts, the only “recourse” for members of Planning Commissions who feel aggrieved by such a lack of support for the Commission’s ideas is to run for election to the legislative body.

  4. The Town currently has an elected Planning Commission.

    In the City, the Planning Commission is appointed by the City Council.  But in the Town, Planning Commission members serve at the discretion of voters.

    I don’t have a problem with the appointed Planning Commission in the City because the City Council members are each elected by a separate ward within the City, making them, as a body, more broadly representative of the interests of all the different constituencies in the City.

  5. was because the elected Planning Commissioners thought it would be a constructive exercise whatever the ultimate findings proved to be.  

    The Selectboard would have never consented to such a dialogue; and despite a direct mandate from the voters to cooperate with the study committee (it was a ballot question last March) the Selectboard essentially refused to do so.

  6. You’re absolutely right. My error.

    From the exact same section of the statute that I quoted above:

    (c) As an alternative to appointment under subsection (a) of this section, municipalities may choose to elect planning commissioners for terms of one to four years. The proposal to elect and the length of terms to be filled shall be determined pursuant to a duly warned article at an annual or special meeting of the municipality. If a municipality chooses to elect planning commissioners:

    My apologies.

    I was coming at this from the frame of reference that I know, which is that our municipal uses the appointment process. Had I read the statute in its entirety, I would have seen that elections are possible. I’ve learned something new! Yeah! Thanks, Sue.

    However, elected vs. non-elected may also be a distinction without a difference, as the appointment method doesn’t change the implementation authority of Planning Commissions. The elected members of the legislative body still have the right to refuse to act according to the wishes of the members of a Planning Commission whether they’re appointed or elected. If the views of the Planning Commission, or its members, are as popular as you believe they are, the members of the Planning Commission who views are being thwarted by the Select Board still have but one remedy to see them implemented. And that’s to run for a seat on the Select Board.

  7. However, five people, elected at large, should never be in absolute authority over the entire Town, which has a traditional downtown, two growth centers designated at opposite ends of the Town, a farmstead population and one of the fastest growing populations of new settlers.  It also has the well-heeled lakefront and hill dwellers, and some of the poorer folks beneath the railway tracks just beyond the City limits.  

    A small coterie of like-minded anti-service men-of-means and power families dominate the five Selectboard positions.  Their sole objective is to maintain the status quo without raising property taxes a penny.  So their answer is more big-box stores, no connecting sidewalks; and maybe to clear-cut the Town Forest.  

    It’s also to maintain the traditional paranoid relationship with the City that their ancestors began.

    I’ll tell you, those public access rebroadcasts of Town Selectboard meetings are real eye-openers.  

  8. The change you seek happens one Selectboard member at a time. This is precisely how it has worked in the 10 years I’ve been living and participating in the political process in my community. Our communities have some strong political similarities; however, we achieved our goal of a majority shift at our last town meeting day. Paradoxically, our task this coming Tuesday is to defend the new majority while we continue to make progress in a community that is (at times) quite averse to change. It’s certainly worth the effort. Good luck to you.

  9. Certainly, the City has seen a very positive shift in the political culture recently; and as more of the new settlers gradually become engaged in the process down in the Town, no doubt things will change there, too.

    One highly qualified former Planning Commissioner did finally tire of tilting with the Selectboard over many years.  He ran for the Selectboard against one of the power people and was narrowly defeated after one of the dirtiest, ugliest, most controversial campaigns in recent Town history.  It was such a thoroughly discouraging and unpleasant experience that that former PC member hasn’t run again.  

    I’m thinking, though, that Chairman Cheryl Teague, who has just announced her resignation from the Planning Commission, might take a year to gear up for what will undoubtedly be a nasty campaign and then (hopefully) run for the Selectboard.  She would be an incredible Selectboard member; and her election to that body could signal the start of real progress in the political culture, and in the Town’s relationship to the City.

    I strongly suspect that the expectation that Cheryl will run and win, is behind Mr. Nihan’s desire for an impeachment provision in the new charter.

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