Daily Archives: February 20, 2015

A new day in an old way

Vermont lawmakers, in their infinite wisdom, have decided to make a change in the hidebound office of Sergeant-at-Arms. Formerly a sinecure for beloved dodderers, the post is now apparently being filled on merit. Who knew?

In a rather shockingly one-sided vote, Francis Brooks — who was SaA for eight years after serving for 25 as a state representative — was dumped in favor of Janet Miller, deputy director of the Legislative Council. The final tally was 128 Miller, 47 Brooks.

I take it as a sign of a new attitude toward the management of the Statehouse. Gone are the days when an 87-year-old Statehouse fixture (Dwight Dwinell) could hang onto the job as long as he could get up the steps of the building. Now, wewant an actual manager.

Is this a harbinger of tighter security at the people’s house? Perhaps. There’s talk of fire drills and active-shooter drills for lawmakers. (If they’re serious about evacuation procedures, they might want to cut another couple of doors in the House and Senate chambers. The House chamber is a huge room with three exits from the main floor, two of them tiny; the Senate is a smaller room with one main-floor exit plus a small side door that leads to a room right next to the main exit. Hope the desk nearest the door doesn’t catch fire.)

So, a new day, but carried out in old-Vermont fashion. There had been complaints about Brooks, some quantifiable, some passive-aggressively vague, and many of them anonymous: he didn’t run a tight enough ship, security wasn’t up to snuff, he didn’t recruit enough legislative pages from other parts of the state, there was “a general level of discontent,” he was too “grumpy.”

Of course — and this is the “Vermont fashion” part of it — nobody told Brooks about any of this. On the eve of today’s vote, Brooks told VTDigger that “no one came to me… No individuals or group have come up and said it to me that, ‘You were wrong,’ or ‘You should have handled it this way.'”

As a flatlander who’s lived in Vermont for less than a decade, I can tell you this happens A LOT in Vermont. Direct confrontation is avoided; grievances are allowed to accumulate until the situation reaches the breaking point.

To Vermonters, this probably seems like a positive: what’s wrong with politeness?

Well, when it’s used to paper over issues instead of dealing with them, it’s counterproductive. By all accounts, Brooks didn’t see this coming until it was too late. And that’s a shame. My sense is that he operated under the old-timey conception of the job: a low-impact sinecure for a man (cough) of a certain age.

Not any more. And the fact that Brooks got a standing ovation after his unceremonious ouster is a very Vermont thing to do: it was a nice tribute to a senior figure, but coming right after the lopsided vote against him, there was something curiously hollow about the gesture. Yeah, let’s have a nice round of applause for the guy we just kicked in the teeth.

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