Public Records Show
District 8-1 and 8-2 State Reps
Voters' Support for "3+3"
On March 3, 2020, 61% of Essex voters chose to equalize the representation on our Town Selectboard -- 3 Village residents and 3 Town-outside-the-Village residents -- by approving a change to the wording of our Town Charter.
The state legislature must approve a charter change before it becomes law.
The House Government Operations Committee (HGO) is the first step of that legislative approval process.
Its 11 members verify that proper process has been followed, and they ask questions to ensure this is the will of the people.
Normally, this is a smooth process. HGO holds a hearing, if needed, to learn more and passes the charter on to the larger House for approval.
The Senate has its own Government Operations Committee, the first step on that side of the statehouse. The Senate, in turn, would be expected to pass the charter change on its own. Then it becomes law.
In the case of "3 +3", those who don't want to share power have leveraged their friends in high places to fight this Charter Change behind the scenes.
Three State Reps from Essex worked to suppress that charter change, and this page contains a synopsis of their activities.
The charter change is currently stalled in the legislature because one powerful man out of the 11 members on the HGO was turned against the charter, as you'll see below.
He wrote a letter condemning it, and Essex staff and elected officials have since pointed to his letter as a reason not to support "3+3" rather than to rebuff all of the false information it contains.
The follow public records merely hint at what went on behind the scenes.
Much communication about public policy takes place via private phone, text, or e-mails among elected officials, and is therefore, not accessible via public records requests.
Lead Sponsor is Not a Fan
Rep. Marybeth Redmond (District 8-1) steps up to sponsor the bill known as H.944 -- as a courtesy to her constituents: 71% of the Town-outside-the-Village (TOV) voters approved it on March 3rd.
But she sounds hard-pressed (below) to support fair representation with any degree of enthusiasm or sincerity.
Lead Sponsor Sees No Urgency
When asked about the urgency of passing this bill, Rep. Redmond has several options, COVID-considered.
She could have mentioned that, once every three years, the Selectboard has a one-seat election and, therefore, this year is an ideal time for the House Government Operations (HGO) Committee to do all it can to pass it, in time to add a second seat to March 2021's otherwise one-seat election.
She could have said that, since 1958, Essex has faced animosity because of lopsided representation which allows one part of Town to govern while the other part pays. Either statement would have gone a long way toward positively "shepherding" this bill, which she had promised constituents she would do.
Instead, Rep. Redmond tells Rep. Jim Harrison of the HGO that fair representation will be included in a merger plan to be voted on in November (this will not occur).
She acknowledges how much her constituents want this, yet she minimizes its urgency and importance by telling him "put it on a lower rung", and it "would not see the light of day" on her own Committee.
Lead Sponsor Excludes H.944's Only Supporter and District 8-3 Rep From Private Meeting
A Zoom Meeting is set up between three Essex Reps who personally voted against "3+3" -- Marybeth Redmond (District 8-1), Dylan Giambatista (District 8-2) and Lori Houghton (District 8-2) -- and the Vice Chair of the House Government Operations Committee, John Gannon.
Essex District 8-3 voters are not represented at all; their only House Rep, Bob Bancroft, is an unapologetic supporter of H.944, but he was not invited to balance out the conversation.
When asked why, at the Essex Democrats' Candidate Debate on July 28th, Redmond was unable to "remember" whether she had invited the Rep from 8-3. Meanwhile, Rep. Bancroft remembers no such invitation being sent to him, which the public records confirm.
3 Opponents Meet Privately with Vice Chair before his May 7th Committee Meeting
The HGO Vice Chair's Calendar entry sets the meeting with Redmond, Giambatista, and Houghton at 10:15 am on May 4th. Rep. Redmond has denied repeated requests to obtain her automatic Zoom recording of that meeting to show constituents that she said anything positive to John Gannon, amidst the negativity coming from the District 8-2 Reps, Giambatista and Houghton.
Lead Sponsor Knows Nothing of Any Lobbying Against the Bill
Rep. Redmond's denial (below, of any lobbying against the charter change) rings a bit hollow, in hindsight, as she would eventually invite two other opponents of the bill to provide "context" to the Vice Chair of the House Government Operations Committee on May 4th, three days before his committee would meet to prioritize their workload.
At that May 7th meeting, Vice Chair John Gannon had a long list of concerns about "3+3" that mirrored the red herrings delivered repeatedly by the Town Selectboard Chair and others who appear to not want to share power equitably. He was the only HGO Committee member who provided multiple negative comments rather than inquiries.
Here's a link to that HGO Committee meeting. Discussions of the Essex Charter Change begin at the 6-minute and 40-minute marks.
Co-Sponsor Keeps His Communications Covert
Rep. Dylan Giambatista was contacted by Selectboard Chair Elaine Haney in December, just days after the citizen petition was submitted to the Essex Town Clerk. She was eager to have him help her "turn over every rock" to find ways to thwart the forward movement of the charter to a March vote. ...
Giambatista eventually signed on to co-sponsor H.944, then acknowledged in follow-up conversations that would be the extent of his efforts toward its passage.
He cautioned voters who wrote to him "against reading too much into why a charter change has or hasn't advanced". Indeed, if they weren't reading this collection of public records, they'd have no idea who buried "3+3", would they?
He, like Rep. Houghton in the next entry, admits to speaking to legislative colleagues and members of the HGO, yet none of his comments were put in writing. Had his comments been positive, the meeting with Vice Chair John Gannon should have netted a different outcome.
Opppent Has Not Lobbied Anyone But Has Regularly Communicated her Opposition
Rep. Lori Houghton -- who declined to sponsor H.944 -- says she has "not lobbied" any other House members, but she did make her negative feelings known and kept in contact with Reps on the House Government Operations Committee about it.
Oxford Languages definition of lobby: "seek to influence (a politician or public official) on an issue."
The following people were looped in to Lori's efforts to halt progress on the charter change:
John Gannon, Vice Chair of HGO
Sarah Copeland Hanzas, Chair of HGO
Luke Martland, Director and Chief Counsel, Vermont Legislative Council
Liz Harrington, Secretary of State’s office
Will Senning, Secretary of State’s office
BetsyAnn Wrask, Legislative Counsel
Tucker Anderson, Legislative Counsel
Senator Tim Ashe
Senator Virginia Lyons
Senator Michael Sirotkin
Senator Debbie Ingram
Senator Christopher Pearson
Senator Philip Baruth
Co-Sponsor Tells Citizens It's a Process They Just Don't Understand
Rep. Dylan Giambatista says he's eager to explain to angry, disenfranchised voters how the system works, now that a letter written by Vice Chair John Gannon has suggested tabling "3+3" until after a November merger vote.
During the virtual "town hall" on June 6th, Rep. Giambatista talked generalities and public process. He didn't mention the backroom meetings and off-the-record conversation that influenced two HGO leaders, who signed the letter that took away the power of nine other HGO members to have a say in what happened to Essex' charter change this spring.
Apparently, the means of passing a charter change are not transparent nor above-board. Voters who trusted the process would be wise to understand how it really works.