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Rutland Herald – Anti-bias promise could be county-wide

Originally written by Patrick McArdle of the Rutland Herald.

The executive director of Project VISION challenged members Thursday to help pass declarations by all the towns in Rutland County that they value diversity and inclusion.

During Thursday’s meeting, Bob Harnish, of Pittsford, asked VISON members to consider how “welcoming diversity in the city and the region can help add population and revitalize our town.”

“We all want the Rutland region to become a more welcoming and thriving community and an important way to accomplish is by letting the world know we welcome people of all backgrounds,” he said.

Harnish said he believed Burlington’s “very diverse population” has helped the city sustain a “dynamic business scene.” He added that Brattleboro’s economic development program called, “I Am A Vermonter,” has demonstrated a diverse population is welcome there.

Harnish told VISION members that Franklin and Pittsford have passed declarations that he hopes could guide other local communities, including Rutland City.

He suggested other municipalities in Rutland County might consider similar declarations if Project VISION, economic development agencies or business groups like local chambers of commerce provided support.

Harnish read a sample declaration that he suggested could be a guide.

“The Rutland region condemns racism and welcomes all persons regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, age or disability and will protect those classes to the fullest extent of the law,” he stated.

The declaration could formally condemn all forms of discrimination and commit to the fair and equal treatment of all residents.

“We want the Rutland region to be a place (where people) can live freely and express their opinions,” Harnish said.

Matthew Prouty, of the Rutland City Police Department, who is executive director of Project VISION, said he and Harnish had talked about declarations against bias earlier in the week.

The commander said the subject also was discussed internally, including with Sgt. Jon Dickerson, who runs Project VISION in Prouty’s absence. Prouty said he appreciated the way Dickerson responded to the proposal when he said, “All we’re doing is putting common sense on paper.”

Prouty added he “loved the thought of the challenge.”

“Wouldn’t it be awesome if Rutland County were the first county in the state that had 100% participation in this, if every town were in agreement with the state,” he said.

Prouty suggested that some towns may tweak the declaration, but wondered whether the 27 municipalities could support something similar.

“What a leadership statement that Rutland County could have,” he said.

Although VISION is not a political organization, Prouty said members of the group, who live throughout the county could approach their municipal leaders with a sample declaration and a statement of support from Project VISION, which Prouty suggested would be “a great way to start.”

Prouty said a statement of support would be drafted.

Harnish said he wanted to keep his presentation short because Thursday’s meeting was the last for Project VISION chairman Joe Kraus, who was the group’s first chairman. Prouty expressed a similar thought but said he expected there would be further discussion about bringing the suggestion to other Rutland County towns.

Harnish added that declarations promising similar freedoms and protections would move toward the Constitutional ideal that “all men are created equal.”

Kraus told Project VISION members they should expect to hear more on the proposal in the future.

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