Agoraphobia in Charlotte? Leadership, Governance, and Opportunity

The recent community skirmish around Evergreen Family Health, no longer coming to Charlotte, sheds light on deeper issues roiling the town some are now calling “Charnot.”

Governed by a Selectboard, Zoning Board, and a variety of committees on which locals volunteer to serve, Charlotte charts its path forward.

My own hometown, Hinesburg, was similarly managed for years but last year made a town-wide decision to hire a Town Manager to bring professional town management and to reduce the inevitable interpersonal conflicts in community board service.

By and large judging by local conversations, the results have been well received by the community and the business of our Select Board has not been compromised, but rather, streamlined. They now focus on the overarching principles and strategic issues affecting the town, while the Town Manager reports to the Selectboard and oversees the day-to-day practical issues that make the town function.

Community service, like philanthropy, can be altruistic or self-serving. Having lived in Vermont towns most of my life, I’m familiar with town governance.

Citizens often run for a local board to “make change” they believe is needed: eliminate sex ed in the schools, zone out mobile homes, better fund the fire department or library etc.

After a few years of board service, they either quit in frustration or develop a true sense of their job description —service to community rather than to self-interest or narrow one-issue advocacy.

The conflicts of interest, claimed and real, that have roiled Charlotte politics for the last few years belie a similar confusion about “community service.”

For a nation, a community, or a family to function properly, each member must understand compromise, believe in the commonweal — the good of the whole community — and be willing to put down the axe they’re grinding and set aside their own self-interest.

In the case of the proposed health center renovation project, as I understand it, the issue of the adjacent wetlands required and got regulatory review and was deemed not significant, as the extended parking lot would impinge on an area of about 10 by 20 feet, the size of a generous living room.

To me, the remarkable opportunity here was that the project would have utilized and upgraded an existing abandoned space in the downtown cluster. The issues of increased traffic and light pollution are frankly neighborly inconveniences when the downtown core already includes an existing store, post office, senior center, children’s center, and fire department.

The value of having a small community health center centrally located in a populous town is hard to underestimate. There are many less wealthy towns that would love to have such a facility, especially given our ageing population and the current access challenges in our regional hospital systems.

Perhaps the discussion in Charlotte is not whether the town would benefit from an accessible, affordable family health center, but rather how it might improve its governance architecture to minimize the conflicts between privilege and need, and to ensure the well-being of the entire community.

Hinesburg benefited greatly by its decision.

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