By NEIL ZAWICKI
A July 16 trip by two selectboard members to a conference at the White House could help the town get a long-awaited piece of equipment held up by a presidential executive order, but one former board member wonders if the trip could have been done with just one person.
Selectboard Chair Darren Adams, along with board member Chris Taylor, traveled to DC to attend the Northeast Regional White House Conference, an invitational event that gives regional elected officials the opportunity to meet with White House Administration leaders and policymakers. The board on July 8 voted to send Taylor and Adams to the conference with funds from the Town Manager’s travel fund. Both men handled their own expenses beyond the plane ticket and a single hotel room, in which Taylor stayed, while Adams stayed at a friend’s condominium.
Adams said the total expense for the trip landed just under $2,000 and because it came from the travel fund it “did not burden the taxpayers.” But former selectboard member Brenda Steady complained the addition of Taylor on the trip was an unnecessary expense.
“My concern is why is the taxpayer funding two board members and not sending one,” wrote Steady in a July 13 letter to the Independent. “I realize there are some questions that can [be] asked on the community’s behalf, and I believe one person could accomplish this.”
The travel fund does, in fact, come from the general fund, which is created with tax revenue.
Beyond the dissent regarding expense, Adams and Taylor said the trip gave them the opportunity to speak directly to policy influencers regarding some issues the town has been trying to solve.
The most pressing issue, said Adams, has to do with a $300,000 Department of Transportation grant the town received in 2017 for a new vacuum truck, which the town would use to clean storm drains and culverts. The current truck is 13 years old and in need of replacement. But the town is still waiting for the new truck, which is in Florida, and the reason they can’t get it is directly related to President Donald Tump’s April 2017 executive order, called “Buy American, Hire American,” which requires all federal grant recipients to use equipment made with 100 percent U.S. steel.
“The vacuum on the truck is American made, so it qualifies as 100 percent U.S. steel,” said Adams, “But the rest of the truck is not 100 percent U.S. steel, so we haven’t been able to get our truck.”
Both Adams and Taylor say they agree with the premise of the president’s order, but that it’s just not working in the real world.
The pair brought up the issue at the conference when they met William Crozer, who is the special assistant to the president and deputy director of international government affairs.
Adams said the response from Crozer was positive.
“He can call the DOT person and try to get an answer for us,” said Adams.
Adams said the town has considered finding a way to drive down to Florida to pick up the vacuum truck, but such a trip would incur additional expenses.
Adams added that the trouble getting the vacuum truck is “ironic,” in that such a truck would help the town reduce pollution into Lake Champlain.
“Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to prevent more pollution?” he said.
Both Adams and Taylor say they came away from the conference with a strong connection to administration officials.
“I feel with just this one-day event we’ve established a long-term relationship with this administration,” said Adams.
Adams said he plans to continue a dialogue with the contacts he made at the conference.