In March, Bennington Select Board member Jim Carroll asked the Board to open a discussion exploring the possibility of implementing a living wage ordinance in Bennington. After researching the community impact of living wages, he suggested this would be a way to improve the lives of Bennington citizens, many of whom represent a growing population in America -- the working poor. Carroll argued that through a living wage ordinance, applied exclusively to big box stores (the richest most profitable companies in the country), Bennington's small businesses would see increased profits, an improved life for the working poor, and a reduction in the number of citizens who require government and community assistance to subsist because they earn poverty wages.
The idea is not a novel one, despite the select board's hostile response. As of July 2011, living wage ordinances have been passed in 125 municipalities. But rather than discussing the possibility of proposing an ordinance the board dismissed and mocked the idea. First, Town Manager Stuart Hurd suggested that Bennington's Select Board would lack authority to implement a living wage ordinance, which is inaccurate as Burlington is one of the 125 municipalities operating with a living wage ordinance.
Then, Select Board Chairperson Joseph Krawczyk -- who recently threatened a veteran voicing his opposition to the recent anti-poor, anti-homeless, anti-panhandling ordinance -- proudly declared during the March meeting: "Last time the minimum wage was raised in Vermont I voted against it." He went on to chide Burlington for its living wage implementation, calling their policymaking and governance ideas "a fiasco," despite the fact that by almost all measures Burlington has a faster growing economy than Bennington, fewer children living in poverty than Bennington, and is cited as one of the country's best places to live -- most recently topping Travel + Leisure's "Best College Towns in the Country" list.
Outgoing select board member Jason Morrissey railed on the idea and insisted that the record state, as his final act on the select board, that a living wage ordinance was by far "the worst idea I have ever heard in my time on the select board."
Well, let me say that the worst idea I've ever seen come out of Bennington's Select Board is the recent anti-poor, anti-homeless, anti-panhandling ordinance passed less than a year after the select board resoundingly rejected a discussion of a living wage ordinance. A board too timid to even discuss the possibility of asking multibillion-dollar corporations to pay a decent, living wage to Bennington citizens, from whom they profit hand over fist, didn't even blink when they voted to punish poor and homeless people of Bennington.
It is an appalling ordinance, not only because of its overt cruelty but because it does absolutely nothing to solve for causes of poverty facing families and neighbors in Bennington who live day to day with the stress of figuring out where their next meal will come from, where they will safely sleep, or how to make rent and pay utilities from month to month. It is an ordinance that does one thing and one thing only: It punishes people for being homeless or poor in Bennington.
If you watch the select board meetings on CAT-TV, or attend them in person you may notice that Chairperson Krawczyk often refers to citizens of Bennington as "those in the audience" or "audience members." I am writing this letter to citizens of Bennington in the hope that you will remember what some select board members might like you to forget: You are much more than a spectator of democracy; you are a member of it. You can reject the policies of this board, which favors billionaires over the working poor and the unemployed. You are better than this board; hold them accountable.
First, sign the petition to repeal the anti-poor, anti-homeless, anti-panhandling ordinance. Second, show and share your support for a living wage ordinance. Third, support a $25,000 allocation to the Bennington Coalition for the Homeless. Fourth, hold select board members Joe Krawczyk, Sharon Brush, John McFadden, Greg Van Houten and Tom Jacobs accountable for passing this ordinance.
Briee Della Rocca is a resident of Shaftsbury.