A pox on both your houses

Following several years of costly court battles and acrimonious exchanges between the Town and City of St. Albans over water and sewer allocations, in the truest sense of the phrase, there is no winner.

Rather like the parent of two spoiled children might despairingly rule that “nobody gets ice cream,” Judge Dennis Pearson of Vermont Superior Court has declared the disputed wastewater agreement null and void.

“Now go to your rooms and think about what you did.”

(Happily, I can link you to the excellent front page story by Michelle Monroe of the Messenger that gives all of the gory details.)

In the tradition of country feuds like the Hatfields and McCoys, officials of the City and Town of St. Albans have been trying to get the best of each other for decades, but can’t even offer a credible explanation of what started the whole thing.

Since both municipalities are afflicted with galloping cronyism and opacity of process, it is doubtful that mystery will ever be adequately cleared up other than to say that the big dairying families that control the Town have a deep-seated suspicion of the big commerce and finance families who control the City; and vice-versa.  

As some intermarriage has occurred in the century since the two parted ways, there’s an overlay of some complexity obscuring simple loyalties and leaving most of us relative newcomers completely in the dark.

Introduce to this  smoldering distrust the need to work closely in order to obtain and manage the most essential element for survival and development: water rights; and you’ve got yourself a situation that will serve nobody’s best interests except those of the lawyers.

Anyone who has followed details of the evidence presented over the past few years could have predicted the outcome; but we are grateful to the Judge for having summarized the situation so succinctly.

“…they (the Town and the City) are no further…toward achieving the necessary working arrangement(s) on this and other issues…which any reasonably dispassionate outside observer can…see must, and…could, be resolved if only all of the emotional and historical baggage was checked at the door.”

He goes on to say,

“For better or worse, the town and city are now functionally a single economic zone of interlocking and symbiotic interests…”

The judge has determined that, as the wording of the agreement regarding water and sewer allocations was so vague as to readily lead to disputes, that agreement never had any validity to begin with.

There is plenty of blame for everyone in this two-town tantrum, but City Manager Dominic Cloud must bear much of the blame, for it was he who stepped in at the last moment back in 2009 to revise the agreement with the language that now forms the basis for the dispute.  

Characteristically, as we later learned, Manager Cloud seems to have acted impulsively to head-off a breakdown that was threatening the timely signing of the agreement.

I say “characteristically'” because the machinations by the City Manager to jump-start a couple of his pet TIF projects have betrayed a similar impulse to act a little too quickly, exposing the City to additional costs that might otherwise have been avoided.

The amateurs who run the City and the Town share some of the blame for not seeking better advice before entering into the meaningless agreement.  But Dominic Cloud is a professional, having done service with the League of Towns and Cities.  Presumably, that’s why he gets the big bucks.

How’s this going to look on that resume?

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.

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