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We Need To Talk About Kevin
...or at least your confirmation bias
I may not have years of political experience or deep knowledge of government affairs, but I know hot air when it hits me. Kevin Ellis’s recent post about “Montpelier’s reckoning” burned my eyes with its many faulty arguments. I can forgive him because I know Kevin and he likes to pontificate. He is a former statehouse lobbyist and current radio talk show host who lives in East Montpelier. This guy talks a lot. I do have a hard time however, forgiving his readers who so readily share his writing without critique, as if his points are agreeable. Let’s look at a few:
His definition of Downtown / Montpelier:
“A place people visit from the world over for its authentic real-worldness and where families of all kinds live…” What he means by “authentic,” I think, is an unpretentious ease, a defined sense of place. I think that if a person is of the majority population, has ties and connections, that sense of place, the belonging and unpretentiousness can come easily.
But not all of us are Amherst grads, have flats in Williamsburg, or are conventionally attractive. I don't think the “families of all kinds” that Kevin thinks live here provide the kinds of diversity he claims. So let's see:
The 2021 Census has Montpelier at 92% white, 81% at voting age, with a median homeownership value of $252K and 66% post secondary degree. The per capita income is three times the federal poverty threshold and the nonminority-owned businesses account for 73% of all reported businesses.
Nope, not much diversity here. It’s generally affluent, educated white people doing white people business. A white collar crowd with a 5% poverty rate. If I wanted a “real-world” experience, there’s always Winooski (80% white, 21% in poverty) or Brattleboro (23% in poverty, median income barely twice the poverty threshold). Montpelier’s charm is its quaintness, its “Vermontiness”, not its “realness”.
This “Blue Ribbon Commission” 🙄🎖️
First off, the name itself implies an elitist worldview, where only certain acceptable people are allowed to participate. That in itself is not set up for work with equity. It may work for the benefit of the well-off white people who live here, but I doubt it will for the “other kinds” of families that Kevin believes also live here.
The folks he suggests lead the charge also fall within the demographic–educated white professionals. Neither the Montpelier Foundation nor Montpelier Alive are think tanks who can provide the studies he thinks the city needs. Neither are they resourced enough to devote funds or staff to this kind of mission-creep.
What Paul Costello, John Hollar, Sarah Jarvis, and Katie Trautz have in common is their interest in stewarding the Montpelier Strong Fund (they are collaborators) and making sure it does what they said it will do. And that is the flawed correlation: their leadership on the fund should not automatically qualify them to be on a panel of experts on what a rebuilt Montpelier should look like.
In an effort towards equitable practice, I propose changing this blue ribbon to a “full rainbow” committee, who can evaluate solutions to ensure they comply with the City’s declaration of inclusion, its Downtown Master Plan, and any other guiding documents. There are a number of Vermonters doing excellent community work, like Jess Laporte of Community Resilience Organizations, Shaina Kasper of Montpelier’s SEJAC, Melissa Bounty of CVEDC, to name a few. They may have nominees from their networks for this committee. I haven’t spoken to any of these folks, but we should look beyond the usual players if we want unusual, extraordinary results.
To create a new committee to do new work without consulting the previous work is redundant administrative overkill. I don’t think the downtown merchants will appreciate funding yet another study.
Let’s look at Kevin’s proposed “solutions”:
Figure out housing! (Oh please… This is an issue regardless of rebuild. Anyone who figures this out should be Governor. 🤣)
District Heat! (As if there are any more new connections available. This is a red herring, the solution is not on the table.)*
Do better at politics! ( As though our Congresspeople are out of touch? This is plain wrong. All three of our delegates were on the ground immediately after the flooding throughout the state, and Rep. Balint had a meeting with Montpelier businesses on Monday.)
His blog post was republished in the local papers, which may lend a sense of authority to it. I presume that the folks who are sharing and amplifying Kevin’s thoughts do so out of an automatic confirmation bias reflex. He does speak to the urgency of the moment, the need to act with measured reason, and do so ambitiously. But beyond the feels, I urge readers to take a closer look at the arguments he makes. Make sure sharing a piece is not contributing to an echo chamber, but to a rigor of thought.
I write this newsletter to examine myself and the world around me. This will often include critiquing the media that we consume and the opinion pieces they publish. Because like it or not, that informs our judgment and worldviews. If we want to create a better future than the one we inherited, we will need to be discerning in our conversations.
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*Since publishing this post, I’ve been told that new connections to District Heat may be in the works, a FEMA-funded project.