Greg Tatro

Greg Tatro addresses the crowd in August at the opening of Jenna’s House in Johnson.

Jenna’s House, a community center and cornerstone of Jenna’s Promise, a Johnson-based non-profit run by the Tatro family and named for the daughter the family lost to opioid addiction, opened in Johnson in August.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch spoke at the midday ribbon cutting while Gov. Phil Scott headlined a banquet dinner that Sen. Patrick Leahy and a whole cast of Vermont celebrities and big names attended via video message.

“We were determined to try and make sure that other families would have better opportunities for success than we had,” Greg Tatro said at the opening ceremony. “We saw where the system failed and fell short. In Jenna’s obituary, we wrote that our daughter’s journey was like a rock thrown into the lake. The rock might disappear, but the ripples roll ever outward into the future.”

The house the Tatros built became a cornerstone of the Johnson community overnight, not just for those in recovery but for the wider population, with events like movie screenings and activities consistently showing up in community news bulletins and around holidays.

In a year when the COVID-19 pandemic would simply not be banished despite widespread vaccination in Lamoille County and Vermont, the opening of Jenna’s House demonstrated what was possible when a community came together and a politically powerful figure like Tatro used his power to change the material conditions of a community.

“This could be a model for the rest of the country,” Scott said at the opening banquet. “This is homegrown, this is grassroots. This could help others throughout the country. This is the right support at the right time to make a real difference.”

Crime and punishment

Crime and the community’s attempts to address it was an ongoing concern in Johnson over the past year.

Six cars were set on fire in town and suspected to be the work of a serial arsonist. A $5,000 reward from the Lamoille County Sheriff’s Department still stands for anyone with information that could lead to an arrest and prosecution in the case.

A smaller $1,500 reward is still out for someone who spray-painted “Vaccines Are Toxic” at the local skate park.

The sheriff’s department hosted a community watch and safety meeting in September, where Railroad Street and the skate park were identified as areas concerning which the department received the most calls.

The department placed some of the blame on low level drug dealers who, despite multiple arrests, never end up incarcerated and asked for the community to become a “force multiplier” to help lower the number of calls the department received from problem areas.

But the most high-profile arrest of the year involved a town employee. Highway foreman Hugh Albright was fired and arrested in August on charges of embezzlement.

He was accused of spending $14,636 in town funds on a treasure trove of automotive parts and hardware for his own personal use during his approximately six-month-long tenure.

What gave Albright away, in the end, was his own wanton use of Facebook and other social media, where someone who saw the former foreman showing off his illicit purchases tipped off the Johnson Selectboard and set the Lamoille County Sheriff’s Department investigation into motion.

Municipality matters

The village of Johnson’s Board of Trustees has spent the year trying to find its footing after a turbulent finale in 2020.

After the resignation of Gordy Smith from both chair of the trustees and his position as fire chief, which he served for 40 years, after accusations of curtailing discussions of racial justice, Will Jennison took over as chair.

Jennison was initially appointed to serve the day after former trustee Jena Gould-Hopkins accused him, among others, of harassing her for standing up for racial justice.

Jennison has led the trustee’s conservative bloc, joined often by Ken Tourangeau Sr., who defeated former selectboard member Kyle Nuse in a special election in May.

The two were often recorded tussling with the fledgling Racial Justice Committee. In one instance in July, among others, the committee requested the village’s approval for an installment of a Racial Equity Alliance of Lamoille banner.

After banner regulations were adopted, Jennison and Tourangeau opposed the hanging of the equity alliance banner but were overruled by the other trustees.

The village hit another snag in June when manager Meredith Dolan resigned, though she has ended up staying on part time indefinitely while the village searches for a replacement.

In the meantime, Dolan continues to manage essential projects for the village, such as the search for an engineer to evaluate the mold-ridden village garage, a project that will stretch on into next year.

Meanwhile, talks about merging the village and town governments continue. In March, Johnson voters directed the village and town to continue discussions and the selectboard forced the issue in September.

An informal exploratory committee has been formed.

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