Senate Pro Tem Balint reprimands Senator Ingalls over Irasburg Village School incident

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Senate Pro Tem Balint reprimands Senator Ingalls over Irasburg Village School incident

Tue, 08/31/2021 - 1:46pm -- tim

Vermont Business Magazine Vermont Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint issued the following statement regarding a social media incident earlier this week related to a back to school activity at Irasburg Village School.

"I was made aware on Sunday of the incident concerning Senator Russ Ingalls and a classroom teacher at the Irasburg Village School. I have spent the last 48 hours gathering information from the teacher, from townspeople, from educators, and from Senator Ingalls. I have taken this situation extremely seriously and have done due diligence to gather the details about what happened. I also met with Senate Secretary John Bloomer to discuss whether Senator Ingalls violated any official Senate Rules by his actions. Although Ingalls has not violated any of our written rules, it is clear that he violated our general principles of decency and professionalism by his conduct on social media.

[A teacher's email was publicized by Senator Ingalls after a parent protested the teacher asking students on a voluntary basis about what pronoun they preferred using. See vtdiggger story.]

"I’ve spoken with Senator Ingalls, and he understands that by sharing a private citizen’s email in the manner that he did, it appears that he was using his elected position to target a constituent. Ingalls has expressed regret and remorse to me over his actions, and he will be reaching out directly to make amends to the teacher for his poor judgement. He also plans to make a statement to the press soon. I made it very clear to the senator that we must to take to heart our role of serving the people. No constituent or private citizen should ever feel targeted by us through our actions or words. Our words and actions matter.

"This situation highlights several important issues for me as the leader of the Senate. We need additional and continued training and education for our citizen legislators about what is an appropriate way to conduct ourselves in all arenas of our jobs: in public, over email, over Zoom, and on social media. The demands of the job have changed dramatically over the years and so has the (sometimes) fraught dynamic with our constituents.

"We also need to reexamine and update our Senate Rules to reflect the digital world in which we all do our jobs in 2021. We must continue to balance tradition with recognition of how the work world is changing and we must create protocol and policies that work for this new world. Our rules must keep us accountable for our behavior.

"Finally, this situation has highlighted for me that our Senate Ethics panel may need to be expanded to include issues of discrimination and professional conduct. As our policy now stands, it is unclear where a matter like this should be heard and addressed. This must be rectified.

"I am grateful to all the Vermonters who have engaged with me on this issue over the past few days. I am confident that with patience, compassion, understanding, and accountability, our state can be a model of how to respectfully engage those with whom we disagree. A model our country so desperately needs right now."

Source: Montpelier, VT - Vermont Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint 8.31.2021