The City of Montpelier has 23 active committees that cumulatively meet about 250 times a year and include about 155 non-unique members. Some people serve on more than one committee, so they are counted more than once in the 155 members.
“Montpelier runs because of these volunteers,” said Shaina Kasper, chair of the Social and Economic Justice Advisory Committee. However, Kasper added, economic, racial, class, and gender barriers keep some who would like to participate from doing so. Offering stipends for participation on city committees may be one way to remove some of those barriers.
“Having city volunteer leadership be more representative of the folks in the city seems like a really important first step to making our city more equitable all around,” Kasper said. “The purpose of these stipends is to compensate people for their time, as well as having that be assistance for childcare, food, transportation, and other needs that people would have to be able to attend.”
The city council agreed and in December added $30,000 to its proposed budget to establish a pilot program that will pay committee members who want to take a $50-per-meeting stipend. While $30,000 isn’t nearly enough to pay stipends for all committee members to attend all meetings, the expectation is that many will not take stipends, since the primary intent of them is to help people who face hardships by being on committees or who have previously not joined committees for that reason.
“Offering stipends to encourage more diverse participation in city committees was a major priority identified in the city’s Initial Equity Assessment,” said councilor Lauren Hierl, who is the council’s advisory committee liaison. She added that the assessment “included significant public outreach” and that the council wanted to act on its recommendations.
The council established the Social and Economic Justice Advisory Committee three years ago “to assist city council in addressing and reshaping systems, policies, and practices that perpetuate barriers to racial, social, and economic justice in our community.” Offering stipends was the first recommendation from Creative Discourse, the consulting firm that last year did the exhaustive study of “the concerns and needs of underserved and underrepresented communities in Montpelier.”
There are procedures to work out before the program begins in July — assuming the council’s budget stays the same and is approved by voters — and Kasper said the committee will look at existing stipend programs in other communities for ideas. She said that neither the committee nor the council wants to get into needs-testing; requesting the stipends will be completely individual choice.
The council has also included in its budget $10,000 to continue working on the overall strategies and priorities from the assessment. The goal of the first phase was to identify needs and potential strategies and priorities, and the focus in the upcoming, second phase will be to continue developing and implementing those strategies and priorities.
The assessment, which included 17 “ideas for change” from community feedback and seven additional recommendations from the consultants, made several suggestions for how the city itself could change, including emphasizing the hiring of more women and people of color and providing anti-racism training. Assistant City Manager Cameron Niedermayer, who is the city’s advisory committee liaison, said the city has been working on both of those goals. She said they recently hired an additional woman police officer and promoted two women within the department, and in another department, hired a person of color.
Niedermayer said that in the fall, the city leadership team went through equity and inclusion training that included microaggressions and implicit bias and “how we keep these concepts in mind when developing the budget and strategic plans.” She said the city is currently piloting a “Whiteness at Work” training in one department; they will use that experience to determine whether to use the same program with other departments.