January 12th, 2010

Tick-Tock of a Small Victory: In Which One Robert Millar Makes Good, Brings Winooski Into Yankee Town Meeting Day Push

by Philip Baruth

One of the most beautiful things about politics is the way it often depends on individuals, pushing on key issues at key moments. You might remember that a while back, Newfane activist Dan DeWalt announced another Town Meeting Day push on whether to decommission the Vermont Yankee plant. Now, of course that general push depends on specific individuals in given towns finding a way to place the question on their own town’s Town Meeting Day agenda.

Robert Millar at the Nectar’s Senate campaign kick-off.

Who would these specific individuals be? DeWalt had no real way of knowing. Like a Quaker meeting, those who speak up are those who are so moved.

Enter one Robert Millar of Winooski.

Robert is an early supporter of my Senate campaign, and a stalwart in every category. He called last week to say that he was having some trouble navigating City Hall in Winooski; it was unclear whether the VY question needed to be introduced with signed petitions, or whether it could be put on the ballot with a simple majority vote of the Winooski City Council. Robert had asked the Town Clerk to forward the issue to the Council, but it wasn’t clear if that would or could happen.

And so the two of us made plans to go door to door in Winooski, to hunt up the necessary signatures.

But then on Monday, Robert wrote to say that the Clerk had put the ballot question to the Councilors, and it would be taken up at last night’s meeting. Which, it turns out, was covered by more than one television outlet. Which is where the story gets good, and so I’ll shift to Robert’s narrative:

“The big conflict was over, supposedly, whether going about it by presenting the resolution to the council was the proper process, or if we needed to go back and get the 100 signatures. The first thing the Mayor (who is the tie-breaking vote in Winooski, but otherwise doesn’t vote) said after I introduced the resolution was that if it were up to him the Council would vote against it but leave it open for us to go get the signatures and come back.

“I thought that would be the end of it, but Jodi Harrington immediately jumped to our defense and Erik Heikel more or less did the same, though both Michael Mahoney and Sally Tipson seemed to side with the mayor.

Councilor Jodi Harrington, right.

“There was a lot of back and forth amongst the Council, then my partner Rachel came and sat next to me and had her say. She was pretty upset because the Clerk and (indirectly) the City Manager had both suggested this route for getting the resolution on the ballot, yet here the Council wasn’t even debating the resolution, but rather whether they should even be debating it at all.

“Everyone in the audience put in their two cents, including the camera man from the public access station, who was a Winooski resident and from Eastern Europe and talked about how awful it was when the Chernobyl disaster happened in Russia. I think that was probably the best moment of the night — besides the final vote, of course.

“I think what finally turned Sally Tipson was the fact that there really was nothing in the Winooski charter about a nonbinding resolution, so therefore state law takes precedence, which does allow for bringing a resolution before the Council.

“One last thing: shortly before I went up, the Council was discussing options for replacing a fire truck they have that’s no longer safe to use. It was built in 1970, so it’s just slightly older than Vermont Yankee. An interesting parallel.”

What’s not to love here? Even though most of the hurdles were procedural — arguments about how to argue, and how much voice individual citizens will have — Robert hung tough and brought his town along.

And in that way, you have to see Dan DeWalt and Robert and Jodi Harrington performing an intricate democratic triple-play that makes anything Tinker, Evers and Chance ever did look elementary by comparison.


And the camera man from the local access station testifies about the fallout from Chernobyl? If you need any more evidence that the opposition to relicensing Yankee has become an honest to God movement, look no further than the man who drops the video camera to speak from the heart. That’s not just a great story.

That’s Spielberg-caliber, friends. Spielberg at his best.