Politics and Graveyards…. An interesting topic for a show, don’t you think? Pat McDonald and Ben Kinsley, co-produce and co-host a TV show called Vote for Vermont. On a recent show they interviewed Dan Barlow, public policy manager for Vermont Business for Social Responsibility (VBSR). He represents VBSR at the statehouse lobbying on such topics as health care reform, clean energy, and employment issues. He was also an award-winning journalist. But in his off hours he is the co-founder of Green Mountain Graveyards, a photographer and researcher devoted to telling stories about Vermont cemeteries. This year Dan was among the 40 most accomplished young leaders in Vermont who were recognized by Vermont Business Magazine as a Rising Star for their commitment to business growth, professional excellence and their communities.
VBSR’s goal is to advance business ethics that value multiple bottom lines to include the economy, social issues and the environment. VBSR has over 700 members representing a wide variety of businesses from entrepreneurs and LLCs to major corporations. Because their members run the gamut, each has its own interests and concerns. VBSR tried to find the common denominator that they can all agree on and work together to make an impact on their employees and business. – such as child care or health care. VBSR believes businesses have as much responsibility to workers, communities and the environment as they do to being financially successful. VBSR works hard to find the balance of these two objectives as opposed to making it an either/or proposition.
Asked which companies demonstrate a strong balance between the environment and business, Dan mentioned the Alchemist for their work with clean water; Black River Produce for their work with the Farm to Plate initiative; and Seventh Generation for their work with energy and the environment.
With regard to the economy, VBSR runs the Vermont intern program, matching businesses with recent college graduates and they publish the Buy Local First Vermont Coupon Book as a great way to highlight strictly Vermont businesses. The Book includes over $3,000 in coupons to more than 250 locally owned and independent Vermont businesses. During the legislative session, Dan works as a lobbyist but when the legislature is not in session, Dan provides workshops on changes in legislation to members and works with individual members to help them be in compliance with new laws and regulations.
One topic of importance to VBSR is the continuing issue of the Independent Contractors. Dan notes that the existing test (referred to as the ABC test through the Department of Labor) has not kept up with the changing economics. VBSR is supporting using the Federal test which provides a set of criteria where no single factor is decisive in determining a worker’s status. Dan commented that if Vermont is so focused on entrepreneurs, it makes sense to support the Independent Contractor designation to foster the sole proprietor model. VBSR would also like to see a common test for both unemployment and workers compensation to provide consistency and predictability in the system.
One of VBSR’s frustrations as with many Vermonters is the condition of Lake Champlain and Vermont’s waters and why it is taking so many years to develop and implement a plan to clean up the Lake and our waters. VBSR realizes the economic impact the Lake has on Vermont and how important clean water is to the State. Dan noted that the solution is to identify a stable financial mechanism and a plan to address the issues.
Dan noted one of the outstanding successes from last session was the Public Retirement Study Committee, chaired by the State Treasurer, to recommend the establishment of a state-wide public retirement plan. The benefit to employees of non-profits and small-businesses who can’t afford to provide a retirement plan is immeasurable to provide security in retirement.
Looking ahead VBSR will be focused on the impact of the opiod crisis on employees and businesses. Dan reminded us that everyone is impacted on some level and we should all be concerned.
And now the conversation shifted to Graveyards and Dan’s fascination with their history and use of symbols to explain how they reflect the lives of the deceased and their religious beliefs. Dan told many stories about such notables as Col. James Fisk, Jr. known as “Big Jim” who was murdered and buried in Bennington. He talked about how the finality of death softened over the years from the use of a skull with wings to the use of a cherub with wings. One of the more comical stories Dan told was about a stone in Calais that has a can of Budweiser etched on it with a built-in beer cozy to place your beer while you a visiting. Dan estimated that there are about 2,000 private and public cemeteries across the State. You can see all of Dan’s pictures and read his stories and results of his research by going to greenmountaingraveyards.com. Dan works on this project in partnership with Scott Baer, an artist from Montpelier.
Note: Lots of other issues were discussed with Dan. If you would like to see the show go to vote802.com where you can find this and other Vote for Vermont shows or our YouTube channel. Writeups of other shows can be found on vote802.com/blog.
The comments reflected in this article are opinions stated by our guests. Any rebuttals are welcome and can be expressed on the websites and Facebook pages of VFV and CFV.
Co-Hosts and Co-Producers