BENNINGTON -- An article published in the New York Times last week about heroin addiction in Bennington continues to rankle local leaders.
Town Manager Stuart Hurd provided the Select Board Monday with copies of the Times article along with an article and editorial about the Times piece printed in the Banner.
The Times article contained quotes from Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette. Many in the Bennington community had a negative reaction to the article, especially concerning remarks attributed to a Vermont State Police trooper about heroin use amongst high school students.
"I include with that a copy of Paul's email to me as to what he expected when he was contacted by the New York Times and the tone of the entire interview and the day it went on, was very different than what came out," said Hurd. "So, there's some disappointment on Paul's part that it didn't work out as he'd expected. He expected it to be a very positive article about what Bennington, what Vermont is doing to address the drug problems, and it tended to focus more on the sensational side of it and carried some comments and quotes that were really cavalier in nature."
The quote from the trooper that has led to much ire reads, "Everyone is doing it. It's in the high school. The kids are doing it right in school. You find baggies in the hallway."
Board member Greg Van Houten noted that the trooper did not say which high school, and other board members noted there have been no police reports about heroin being found in Mount Anthony Union High School.
Hurd also mentioned a Banner editorial that mentioned a Banner employee had estimated 50 percent ofBennington residents use a drug of some sort.
"That, too, is a cavalier statement entirely unsubstantiated. It gets printed and it becomes fact," said Hurd.
When this was brought to the attention of Banner Editor Michelle Karas after the meeting, she said that statement was included in the editorial to show how perception of drug use in the town can be distorted. It was one person's opinion and in no way was a statement of fact, she said.
The board agreed that a formal response from the town was necessary and that Hurd would draft a letter for the board's approval to be sent to the New York Times.
Van Houten said the Times article made no mention of heroin being a problem anywhere else, which it is. "It made us sound like the epicenter of drug activity on planet Earth," he said. "And I just thought it was a poorly written article."
Board member Thomas Jacobs said all the town can do is acknowledge its problems and work to fix them, which board Chairman Joseph Krawczyk Jr. said has been happening. He said the board increased the police budget to address drug crimes and he mentioned the Turning Point Center on Main Street, which assists addicts in various ways.
At the same time the board was meeting so was the Mount Anthony Union School Board, where newly appointed chairman Tim Holbrook took the time to address the statements quoted in the Times article.
"That was a statement I found extremely offensive," said Holbrook, "I think that when accusations are made that are simply inaccurate, we must respond to them."
Holbrook then turned the microphone over MAUHS principal Sue Maguire, who said, "The kids are not doing it right in school. We have never found a single baggie of heroin or anything else. The trooper has sensationalized a serious problem at the expense of the school and the community."
Maguire said that she had reached out to the State Police, and had been informed by the quoted trooper that he was unable to speak on the situation and that she woul have to seek comment with his lieutenant. The lieutenant and barracks commander, Reginald Trayah, informed Maguire that the trooper's comment had been taken out of context and that Godfrey had no intention of implying rampant drug use at the high school, but would not comment further.
Following Maguire's statement several parents stepped up to the microphone to speak. One parent, Susan Strano, praised the faculty and staff at the school, who she said have always acted in the best interest of MAUHS's students. "I find it hard to believe that they would ignore this problem," she said, "In fact, I find it absolutely impossible to believe."
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