Tag Archives: Vermont

Creative Invention: Plan for the future, learn from the past

Many small colleges are struggling with low inquiry, application, and admission rates, including here in the Northeast. Rising tuitions, student loan abuses, and radical change in employment patterns have discouraged many students who then choose to bypass college and just enter the workforce at a lower level of opportunity. Now combine that thought with the fact that Vermont spends twice as much storing our social and economic fallout in jail as it does supporting its six state colleges. The chancellor and Board have begun a process to merge Johnson and Lyndon to save administrative overhead, but this is structural, and much more could be done to prepare both campuses for the new age we’re entering. It’s widely accepted that prevention …
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Ethics Meltdown in Legislature

The Legislature is at an impasse trying to decide whether to establish and adequately fund a statewide ethics commission that has real enforcement capability. There’s been considerable favorable testimony by Vermonters, ethicists and our secretary of state, Jim Condos, who has been a relentless champion of government transparency, inclusion and establishing such a commission. Each time VTDigger runs a story on ethics legislative testimony or ethical lapses by state officials, comments from Vermonters run almost universally in favor of establishing such a commission. Legislative arguments against it are unconvincing: In this year of budget constraints, we can’t afford another government bureaucracy ($330,000 of $3.5 billion); (less than 1/100th of a percent) Financial disclosure of possible conflicts will discourage Vermonters from …
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Vermont’s Ageing Legacy Systems

Vermont’s Ageing Legacy Governing Systems How we understand our complex systems affects the quality of our discussion about them, as well as any agreements we might make toward progress. Too often, we are myopic and imagine decisions we make in Vermont are the sole determinant of outcomes, when in fact our geographic boundaries mean less and less. As a friend recently pointed out, the decision by the Saud royal family to sell Aramco may have a greater impact on Vermont than all our energy management efforts combined. We are buffeted by regional, national, and global winds that have more impact on us than we understand. We are 620,000 people living on 10,000 square miles. To make progress on the challenges …
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Vermonters Want a Real Ethics Commission

The Vermont legislature is at an impasse trying to decide whether to establish and fund a statewide Ethics Commission. There has been considerable favorable testimony by Vermonters, ethicists, and our Secretary of State, Jim Condos, who has been a relentless champion of government transparency, inclusion and establishing such a commission. Each time VTDigger runs a story on ethics legislative testimony, the comments from Vermonters run almost universally in favor of establishing such a commission. Legislative arguments against it are disingenuous: In this year of budget constraints, we can’t afford another government bureaucracy ($300,000 of $3.5 billion); Financial disclosure of possible conflicts will discourage Vermonters from government service; We’re all good people and we all know each other; What if an …
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Consensus or Democratic Stasis?

Vermont has a “consensus” problem. We don’t understand the concept. This confusion manifests itself especially when leadership is weak. For example, there’s broad agreement that we need more affordable and market-rate housing that’s environmentally efficient, affordable, and more compact than last century’s housing. But ask housing officials what impediments they confront when planning new projects and they’ll tell you about the tens of thousands of dollars in approval and regulatory costs and the years that accrue prior to any construction. If housing is indeed a priority, we need to revisit the consensus process that finally allows us to put shovel to earth. Consensus doesn’t mean universal agreement. Democracy runs amok when individual rights impede community good. Neither democracy, business management, …
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Ethics and Strategy

Whomever we elect to lead us for the next two years, we’ll need to confront two gaping holes in our governance: strategic planning and ethics. Our last few decades ought to have alerted us to the need for both. Lacking these essential guardrails, we fall prey to the egos and legacy whims of our political leaders and are left to choose from their menu of needs rather than our own. Strategic planning looks through the lens of known facts at real trends affecting Vermont and its people – economic, demographic, social, and environmental. It quantifies current challenges and opportunities, measures them against known trends and data and offers scientific rather than ideological solutions. Ethics establishes sensible guidelines for what is …
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We Can’t Afford Our Future

Periodically, we must relearn old lessons. A key such lesson is Franklin’s “Ounce of prevention…” adage – as relevant today as when Franklin applied it to fire prevention 250 years ago. Vermont has reached a critical juncture. We face some daunting issues we seem unable to fix. We’re expedient and well-meaning, but our efforts to tweak our way along are in vain and are now only add complexity and expense. Politics has evolved from public service into a lucrative career so there’s plenty of blame to go around, but attributing blame has become a political end in itself, defending empty ideologies and distracting us from actually fixing what’s broken. Special ed., emergency healthcare, mental health crisis care, drug rehab, homelessness, …
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Open Letter to Vermont Legislators

As the new legislative session ramps up, I’d like to offer some thoughts. Don’t micromanage complex issues. We already have too many laws and administrative statutes, many poorly drafted, ambiguous, or conflicting. Some actually confound good behavior. Our problems can’t be enacted away. They’re substantial and demand clarity of vision, courage, and leadership. A good captain looks over the bow of his ship, not the stern, and our two-year terms for governor and legislators confine us to short-term fixes for long-term issues. Senator Snelling is introducing legislation to move to a four-year term like the rest of the country —  except New Hampshire, which shares our fealty to the past and insouciance about the future. This issue surfaces every few …
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Comments to Chamber Meeting of Business, Non-profit and Legislative Leaders 12/16/15

In opening, I’d like to make just a couple of points. They are similar to the points I made to your Legislative Commission on Government Efficiency. There are three legs to the government management stool. The executive and the legislative branches focus too often on two of the three: spending and revenue. The orphan leg is enhanced agency leadership, best-practice management, accountability, which you will hear more about, and transparency, in short, doing more, better, and with the same amount of money. Even if we amend our outdated tax code, revenue is not going to bloom, nor are social safety net needs going to shrink in the foreseeable future. Our demographic and economic trend indicators simply don’t foresee either. There …
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Vermont’s Next Governor – Why It Matters

The national media’s rife with bread-and-circus candidates of every ideological stripe and I.Q. and that’s gotten me thinking about what I’ll want to see in Vermont’s next governor. There are always two narratives, the one you must use to get elected and the one you use to actually govern. The former is filled with platitudes about high taxes, jobs, gun rights, and the economy. The latter is the one that voters should really care about – and it doesn’t lend itself to the facile soundbytes we’ve come to expect in debates and media spots. Our problems are too complex and deeply entrenched in our past. Here a few areas needing attention: • We must keep up our redesign of the …
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