Do Bank of America and Wells Fargo Run Vermont's Capitol City?
by William Boardman --Reader Supported News
"To repeat myself ad nauseum, I still don't see how our city's chief economic development officer can hold and promote views that are fundamentally anti-capitalist in nature."
-- March 19, 2013, email from the Montpelier mayor to the city manager
When a city employee promotes a point of view that happens to center on an aspect of populist economics that seeks to serve the public good, and the democratically-elected mayor of that city has an opposing ideology that he'd rather not debate openly, why would anyone expect the resolution of this conflict to be anything but ugly?
That describes the often-covert, year-long struggle by minions of the private banking industry in 2013 to strangle the nascent idea of a Public Bank for Vermont in its cradle before the public might begin to admire it and help it grow.
In this preliminary outline of the circumstances that appear to have culminated in a process so blatantly unfair as to be laughable if it were in a movie, the three main actors all worked for the City of Montpelier:
John Hollar, the mayor of Vermont's capitol, Montpelier (population about 8,000), is an attorney in the Montpelier office of Downs Rachlin Martin, one of the state's more prominent law firms, for which he is a registered lobbyist with some thirty years of lobbying experience. His clients include Bank of America and Wells Fargo. In March 2012, he ran unopposed and was elected in a citywide vote as mayor of Montpelier, a part-time position paying $4,000 a year.
William J. "Rusty" Fraser has been Montpelier's city manager since 1995, longer than any city manager before him. He has cultivated a reputation for political and ideological neutrality. He has also cultivated his music since he was about 10 years old and in recent years has performed with his band Rusty Romance, playing "roots'n'roll" around the Montpelier region. The band now appears to be moribund.
Gwendolyn Hallsmith published "The Key to Sustainable Cities: Meeting Human Needs, Transforming Community Systems" in September 2003. She was serving as executive director of Global Community Initiatives, a small 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, when she went to work for the City of Montpelier as the Director of Planning and Community Development. Her hiring letter of October 11, 2006, makes specific allowance for her activity with Global Community Initiatives, which she founded, and other organizations, as well as her attendance at related conferences at city expense.
Vermont's reputation for having a green streak was justified
In 2001, the Montpelier City Council endorsed the Earth Charter, which defines itself as "a universal expression of ethical principles to foster sustainable development." Montpelier was the first state capitol to endorse principles that might appear anti-capitalist in nature, as expressed in the Earth Charter preamble:
"We stand at a critical moment in Earth's history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations."
In this context, the city's hiring of Gwendolyn Hallsmith made complete philosophical sense. Starting in 2007, the planning director oversaw the development of the 247-page Montpelier Master Plan using Earth Charter principles to guide "enVision Montpelier, a community driven, longrange planning initiative." The City Council adopted the plan in September 2010, with a 30-100 Year Vision Statement that said in part:
"Our vision is to excel as a creative and sustainable community. More specifically, we seek to safeguard the natural environment and enhance our small-town setting. We aspire to strengthen community ties and expand civic participation. We aim to encourage learning and cultivate good jobs."