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Civil Local Politics? Not In The Town Of Victory

walter-mitchell-victory-mark-davis-201503.jpeg
Mark Davis
/
Seven Days
Victory select board member Walter Mitchell talks with a friend before a meeting that became rancorous, as is commonplace in the town. Seven Days reporter Mark Davis profiled warring factions in Victory.

Vermonters pride themselves on the civility of their politics. The state is ranked as one of the least corrupt in the country, and even controversial issues are often met with measured debate. But in the Northeast Kingdom town of Victory — population 62 — things are a bit different.

The politics there are marred by feuding factions, decades of resentment — even alleged threats and the murder of house pets. Reporter Mark Davis profiled the town’s feud in Seven Days.

On Victory and its residents

"Even by Vermont standards, Victory is a fairly isolated place. It's in Essex County, maybe about a half hour outside St. Johnsbury. It's really sort of two little tiny pockets, almost all dirt roads. It's a fairly low-income population, and heavily retired population."

On Victory's local politics

"They are passionate to an extent that I haven't encountered before, and frankly more vitriolic. Essentially what you have in this town is two factions who've been battling in this very personal, nasty way for decades now. And their sort of chief arena where they battle it out happens to be the town hall — town politics in a town of 62 people. Roughly half of them have some sort of official capacity in this town, and they just duke it out on all matter of town issues. It gets pretty ugly."

"Roughly half of them [Victory residents] have some sort of official capacity in this town, and they just duke it out on all matter of town issues. It gets pretty ugly." - Mark Davis, Seven Days reporter

On personal animosity playing out in public life

"There have been two flare-ups most recently. One involves the humane society that got some attention —there's been a long, sort of standing humane society in the town. And recently some town assessors and some other people took away their tax-exempt status ... The Mitchell family that runs the humane society has long been a player in town politics, and they say this is just sort of revenge for an unending, frankly, series of back-and-forths over the years. 

victory-mark-davis-201503.jpeg
Credit Mark Davis / Seven Days
/
Seven Days
The politics in Victory are marred by feuding factions, decades of resentment - even alleged threats and the murder of house pets.

"The second one is probably more serious. There was a very bad audit that came out recently. They had a private auditor come in [and find] at least a couple hundred thousand dollars of 'missing' town money. We don't have the final report yet. It was presented, in part, at Town Meeting. And again, this has sort of been pitched as yet another back-and-forth between two sides. One side says, 'We're being accused of crimes that we didn't commit, and the other side is using this audit to get back at us.'

"Most of the people there have been there for a long time, don't leave Victory very often. And so, what else is there? The town budget is less than $500,000 ... And yet this is an important, outsized part of their lives."

"There's also a lot of anonymous letters that get sent around in Victory. Really nasty, threatening letters. The woman who just became town clerk, for instance, received a letter in which she was alleged to have joined ICIS, the ISIS of Victory, and the letter accused of her actually having an affair with someone ... You talk to a lot of people in Victory, it sounds crazy, who will tell you they've had pets, or friends' pets, killed or poisoned. It's something really different than I've ever encountered in Vermont before.

"A lot of it is [rumor mill stuff] ... But it's worth noting that a lot of the residents up there have no trespass orders against others. And there has been at least one criminal case: A woman who's been heavily involved in town politics was eventually put on probation for threatening to burn a rival's home to the ground."

On the root cause of the rancor

"I wouldn't say I've figured it out. It's sort of the $64,000 question. Why this little town? I can't help but think, frankly, part of the reason is just the incredibly small population. It's also an incredibly isolated place. Most of the people there have been there for a long time, don't leave Victory very often. And so, what else is there? What else do they have in their lives? And a lot of it comes down to these feuds over what I think most people would say are low stakes, right? The town budget is less than $500,000 ... And yet this is an important, outsized part of their lives."

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