This editorial first appeared in the Rutland Herald:
Congratulations, Vermont. We did it. We moved the needle back to “normal.” First in the nation to do so.
Four hundred fifty nine days since the state of emergency was enacted by Gov. Phil Scott, it is being lifted at midnight, per the governor’s signed order.
More than 80% of eligible Vermonters have received at least one dose of vaccine for COVID-19. And as we know, that 80% vaccinated figure represents the trigger for the end of coronavirus-related restrictions in Vermont and the expiration of the state of emergency.
What does it mean? All business restrictions and requirements are lifted. All event and gathering restrictions and requirements are lifted. All masking and physical distance mandates are lifted.
But it also means public meetings can be held, well, in public again. We can get down to the business of governing together.
According to Secretary of State Jim Condos on Monday:
– A physical meeting location for public participation must be provided.
– Members of public bodies may still attend meetings remotely.
– Public bodies should review the Open Meeting Law’s advance notice requirements which requires physical posting of notices.
– Meeting minutes must be made available after five calendar days from the date of the meeting.
Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters noted, “Even though the law is reverting back we strongly encourage public bodies to continue use of these proven tools to better enable all members of the public, including those who have limitations that may preclude physical attendance, to have their voices heard in their local government. Supporting the right of all Vermonters to express their opinions on matters considered is something we all must strive for.”
We hope this push for non-Zoom meetings means the democratic process will continue to be robust and not backslide. In fact, we would urge municipalities to keep the Zoom meeting option as a regular function of the open meeting process.
“If there is a silver lining to be found among the tragedies of 2020, it is that Vermonters have found innovative ways to communicate and participate in state and local democracy. We are hopeful these lessons learned translate into future best practices,” said Condos.
Normal is important right now.
In his remarks yesterday, Scott noted just how impactful this pandemic has been on Vermonters.
“There is no doubt each of us — every single Vermonter — has been through a lot in the last 15 months. Missing time with family and friends; adapting to restrictions; putting off weddings, birthday parties, holidays and travel; working and learning from home. Or worse: losing loved ones, businesses or jobs.”
He went on: “(The) people who deserve the credit most are everyday Vermonters — those who wake up each morning wanting to do the right thing. … Vermonters met this difficult moment from the start. You have cared for one another, you have followed the science, and you have put others first. You stuck together, even while we had to be physically separated. We have been united in our commitment our sense of duty and our care and respect for one another. The ingenuity, creativity and dedication of all Vermonters — to their friends and families, to their neighbors, and to their communities — has been incredible and we should all be very proud. I know I am. Through it all, we have shown the nation — and much of the world — how to respond when there is no playbook, and how to do it with civility and respect. But this is no surprise to me and should be no surprise to anyone who knows anything about what it means to be a Vermonter.
We all need to be mindful that the pandemic is not over. As Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint noted, “This will be a change for all of us, but I know Vermonters will continue to carefully navigate best practices. We will continue to take care of one another as we enjoy our new freedom. Like all Vermonters, I am truly looking forward to the summer and being together with my friends and neighbors.”
For now, though, we have much to celebrate — publicly again.
Aptly, in showing her pride, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray invoked a famous quote from Calvin Coolidge, “‘I love Vermont ... most of all because of her indomitable people. They are a race of pioneers who have almost beggared themselves to serve others. If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the Union, and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont.”
Nicely done, Vermont.