Saturday March 23, 2013

Don Keelan

If the rest of Vermont is anything like Arlington, when it comes to voter turnout, maybe it is time to give second homeowners the chance to vote.

Robin Wilcox, the town clerk for the Town of Arlington, reported to the press that 443 Arlington residents voted on Town Meeting Day. To put this another way, 75 percent of the town’s 1,765 eligible voters did not care enough to vote yes or no for a $1,237,562 town budget and a $6,021,379 school budget - along with three dozen or so separate items. Apathy appears to have taken root in Arlington.

Given the history of Arlington, it is hard to fathom that indifference would have any currency in a town that over its 250-year history, has been home to so many nationally recognized individuals.

The famed illustrator, Norman Rockwell, an American icon and an Arlington resident from 1938 to 1953, memorialized in his work, Town Meeting Day and its significance. I wonder what his reaction would be if he had witnessed only 5 percent of his hometown’s citizens attending the 2013 town meeting?

Rockwell’s fellow resident artist (writer) Dorothy Canfield Fisher made the uniqueness of town meeting a point in many of her books, namely "Memories of Arlington, VT" (1957). She also would have been highly disappointed at the lackluster interest displayed by today’s residents of her adopted hometown.

The spirit, of Gov. Thomas Chittenden and the Green Mountain Boys, Remember Baker and the Allen brothers, all from Arlington and its surrounds, would be mortified to see the total lack of spirit that prevails today in Arlington.

So what has transpired over the years to bring us to today and having to witness such an anemic voter participation? Is it that the registered voters just don’t care anymore as it pertains to what goes on in their town? Unfortunately, the answer is their apathy transcends not only town meeting and voting but a lot more issues impacting the town.

Take for instance the two awful "landfill properties" that have been created at Arlington’s Rt 7A northern entrance and on East Arlington Road. These residential properties have had a build up of garbage for years to the point that they are now beyond been blighted if that were at all possible - and remain so - because no one cares (except for the properties contiguous neighbors).

Many towns in southern Vermont have experienced the closing of retail establishments, Arlington is no exception. But where there is a difference, a notable one at that, in the other towns; Bennington and Manchester are actively doing something to fill the vacant properties - in Arlington the most that is being done is that we drive by closed properties and murmur "that’s too bad."

What is even more distressing about the current state of inertia that has taken hold in Arlington, is how quickly it developed.

Existing and long time established full service grocery stores, a bank, the Catholic Church, the Rockwell Museum were all flourishing as well as a dozen B&B’s in the mid 1990s. In 2013 they have closed except for maybe two B&B’s.

Fifteen years ago this writer penned a photo/essay titled "A Renaissance is Taking Place in Arlington." The premise for the piece was that the Mack and Orvis corporate headquarters were being built along with a 9,000-square-foot library and the remodeling of the town’s elementary and high school as well as the planning for the now built Happy Days Pre-School building.

The Town of Arlington, has always had a hard working and dedicated Select Board, Planning Board and School Board. These leaders have had two assets that were entrusted to them that do not appear on the town’s or school district’s balance sheets - its the town’s constituents and the town’s Grand List. The results of the recent town vote should stir them to reach out and reverse what had taken place at town meeting.

Every town needs 100 percent participation, not 10 percent. Otherwise give the vote to the town’s 2nd homeowners - they believe they have made an investment and spend time in Arlington and they pay taxes. But above all, they are interested and care about the town. So let them vote at town meeting and let’s see what level of turnout there is?

Don Keelan lives in Arlington and writes a bi-weekly column.