Williams Challenging Kelly in State’s Attorney Race
Democrat Scott Williams is challenging incumbent Washington County state’s attorney Tom Kelly for his job in this November’s election, maintaining that “in two election cycles, there has not been a strong Democratic campaign for the position. This year is different.”
For Williams, the justice system’s handling of drug abuse constitutes a salient issue. “We MUST recognize that drug possession and use is as much a public health issue as it is a criminal one,” he wrote in a press release received by The Bridge. “That doesn’t mean people who commit drug crimes or crimes while addicted to drugs should get a pass on their criminal behavior. But we need leadership to aggressively address what has become a major source and catalyst of criminal behavior in our community.” He added that the prosecutor’s office must “take advantage of community-based programs like restorative justice,” through which offenders are expected to compensate their victims and/or communities by positive means, such as community service and financial restitution, as an alternative to jail.
In an interview with The Bridge, Kelly did not draw any battle lines over his opponent’s views on either drug abuse or community-based programs. “I don’t disagree” with Williams’s statement, he said. “I think we are taking advantage of restorative justice tools and addressing the drug cases as they are as they’re brought to us by the police. … In every case where there are drugs involved, we recommend substance abuse treatment.”
“It’s important to consider the experience that the candidate brings to the office,” he responded, when asked to name the key issue in the campaign. “I’ve been a prosecutor since 1987 and the state’s attorney since February 1 of 2007.”
Williams, 49, grew up in Bennington and lives in Berlin with his wife and two children. He practices law in Barre. Kelly, who was born in 1954, lives in Barre City. He is married and has six children.
Kelly first won election in 2006, garnering 53 percent of the vote against Democratic opponent Colin Seaman’s 47 percent. Kelly was reelected without opposition in 2010.
Hallsmith Wins a Round
In a case brought by former planning and community development director Gwendolyn Hallsmith, Judge Helen Toor of the State Superior Court ruled Thursday that the city of Montpelier’s grievance procedure for terminated employees did not meet requirements for due process.
The city fired Hallsmith last November in the wake of conflicts between her and other city officials over her outspoken advocacy of public banking. Hallsmith subsequently filed a grievance with the city, stating that she had been terminated illegally for activity outside of her official duties. In December, serving as adjudicator at the grievance hearing, assistant city manager Jessie Baker rejected the grievance.
According to the court’s decision, Baker had already concurred with Fraser’s decision to fire Hallsmith, and the only witness at the hearing was Fraser. Hallsmith’s appeal to the court alleged that the grievance procedure was an unconstitutional violation of her due-process rights, since the hearing officer was also her immediate superior, hearsay was allowed as evidence, and she was not allowed to cross-examine Fraser.
“But the city cross-examined my witnesses [at the hearing],” Hallsmith noted, in an interview with The Bridge.
In its decision, the court sided with Hallsmith on all the major points of contention, rejecting the city’s argument that Hallsmith’s option of taking the matter to court sufficed to guarantee her rights. In a statement circulated Thursday, Fraser countered that “the City followed the process outlined in the personnel policy and city charter.”
The court threw out Baker’s decision and ordered the city “to provide Hallsmith a new grievance hearing that fully satisfies Hallsmith’s due process rights, including her rights to confront adverse witnesses and to an impartial adjudicator.”
Despite Hallsmith’s request, however, the court did not rule on the case’s merits–that is, whether the city terminated her with just cause.
“Partially because it was such an egregious due-process question that the evidence couldn’t be viewed as reliable,” she told The Bridge..
“With the judge’s ruling that I’m entitled to a hearing before an impartial arbiter, I’m confident that I will prevail and will be reinstated to my job. I’m really grateful to Judge Toor, to the people who drafted and uphold the U.S. Constitution.”
“I am disappointed that we will have to spend additional city time and resources on the process aspect of this case–we prefer to have the substantive just cause reasons for termination considered,” Fraser’s statement read..
The court decision, he added, “will require a new process not contemplated in the city’s policy or charter. The city is reviewing the decision and considering whether to appeal or simply proceed to this additional hearing.”
After-School Music Program Coming to Union Elementary
The Montpelier-based Summit School of Traditional Music and Culture will be offering after-school classes in music for pupils from the city’s Union Elementary School September 2 to December 23, between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m. The classes will also welcome local home-schoolers. Local musicians will lead the programs: intermediate-level band, ukulele for beginners, and choral singing with the UES World Music Choir. All instruments are welcome in the band, a Summit School press release stated. “We’re working with Union Elementary School and Community Connections,” Summit School director Katie Trautz said. “We’ll be using the school auditorium and classroom space.”
The classes will cost $10-12 per day, on a sliding scale, and some scholarships are available, too, Trautz stated. After-school care between the end of the school day and the commencement of classes will cost an additional $3 a day. Further information is available from Trautz at 802-917-1186 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
New Student Stipends Available
The Vermont Student Assistance Corporation, the state agency that helps students pay for post-secondary education, has announced a new program which offers $50,000 in stipends this coming schoolyear to help low-income high schoolers cover costs of dual enrollment, whereby students take up to two post-secondary courses tuition-free, in addition to their high-school studies.
Only those dual enrollees who qualify for free- or reduced-price school lunches and need additional help to pay for books, fees or travel for dual-enrollment courses will be considered–but will be considered automatically–for an annual stipend of $150 to assist with those costs, VSAC spokeswoman Sabina Haskell told The Bridge. Stipends will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.
A release from VSAC, which is based in Winooski, reported that dual-enrollment program participation burgeoned from 642 in 2011-12to over 1,600 last school year.
Persons needing more information should go to http://vtdualenrollment.org/ or call VSAC at 802-655-9602.
Shaw’s Reports Possible Data Breach
A nationwide supermarket conglomerate that includes Shaw’s, which operates stores throughout Vermont, has learned of an “unlawful intrusion to obtain credit and debit card payment information,” according to a release from the parent company, Boise, Idaho-based AB Acquisition LLC. Appropriate law enforcement authorities have been notified, the release stated, and the parent company is investigating the nature and scope of the breach. The company has not yet determined that any cardholder data was in fact stolen.
In Washington County, Shaw’s operates supermarkets in Montpelier, Berlin, Waterbury and Waitsfield. The breach affected Shaw’s markets in several New England states, as well as other supermarket chains across the country that form part of AB Acquisition. The release stated tentatively that the breach may have started on June 22 and ended on July 17 at the latest.
“AB Acquisition believes that the intrusion has been contained and is confident that its customers can safely use their credit and debit cards in its stores,” the announcement stated, adding that more information will be posted at www.shaws.com, among other store sites, by the middle of the day on Saturday.
Fiscal Committee Makes Budget Cuts
On Wednesday, Aug. 13, the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Committee approved a 2.2-percentcut in the current fiscal year’s state budget, as revenues have fallen short of the budgetary forecast. Reacting to the Shumlin administration’s Monday announcement of the budget-cutting plan, human services advocates gathered at the State House on Tuesday to lodge their protests at a public hearing before the committee. But the panel saw few alternatives but to cut social services–among other targets–and the entire process played out in less than 48 hours.
The committee initially rejected Governor Shumlin’s plan, proposing certain changes that would reinstate about $1 million of the package’s $31 million in cuts and make additional, compensatory cuts elsewhere. Shumlin approved the changes, whereupon the committee passed the revised set of cuts on an 8-2 vote Wednesday afternoon.
Shumlin had ruled out any tax increase to boost the revenue side of the ledger, and Finance Commissioner Jim Reardon, in an interview with The Bridge, noted the downsides of short-term borrowing, which the state constitution does allow for. He pointed to the downward impact that that might have on the state’s credit rating, the possible need for approval of the loan by the full Legislature, and the obvious need to devote future budget appropriations to retiring the loan.
The fast-moving debate began on Monday, when some 150 demonstrators, gathered at the State House to voice opposition to the proposed Vermont Gas pipeline’s construction, added a denunciation of the anticipated budget-cut package to the protest agenda. Those on hand included an estimated 25 members of Glover’s Bread and Puppet Theatre, whose spokeswoman, Jannelle Treibitz, told The Bridge that “the budget should not be balanced on the backs of low-income Vermonters. The state has other options.”
As approved on Wednesday, the $31 million in cuts include rescinding a 1-percent increase in aid to state colleges that was approved by the Legislature this past session, trimming grants for start-up agricultural ventures, reducing overtime labor, trimming Medicaid reimbursements, and leaving seven open state-police positions unfilled.
At Tuesday’s hearing, social-service providers and service beneficiaries came forward one after another to denounce the loss of help for vulnerable Vermonters that the budget cuts translate into. Testimony focused on impacts to autism services, substance abuse programs, and already-high staff turnover at social agencies as a result of low pay in the field. Addressing the committee, Ed Paquin, from the Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights, warned of the “long-term impacts of short-term solutions.”
Two mute individuals testified by means of facilitative typing, which allows the user to write out a statement on a tablet and have it read back by a mechanically activated voice. More than one witness decried the budget-cutting process’ timetable, which gave affected parties only a day to examine the proposals and get a spokesperson to the hearing room. Others bemoaned what they perceived as the durable political choreography of legislating appropriations and then cutting them back when money runs short. Adding a philosophical perspective to that discussion, Dale Hackett of Barre told the committee, “What bothers me is something called habit,” by which, he elaborated, legislators perennially spend long hours deliberating and passing appropriations, only to cut those appropriations in great haste later on.
As Wednesday’s outcome demonstrated, the committee members were only a little moved by the testimony. Official comments had a tone of resignation. The State House’s senior legislator, Senator Bill Doyle (R-Montpelier), who does not serve on the committee and had no part in its decision, praised Reardon for acting in nonpartisan fashion in formulating the proposed cuts.
“I am very pleased that some of the original cuts to developmental disability [programs] were restored,” Doyle added. “I’m also pleased that some of the cuts to the Choices for Care program that makes it possible for people to live in their home and not go into a nursing home–I’m pleased some of those cuts were restored.
Clean-Up Nets Tons of River Trash
If you thought those folks dragging canoes loaded with you-name-it through the shallows of local rivers Saturday were simply outdoors buffs with a strange idea of a good time, guess again. They were in fact collecting the detritus–old tires, rotting mattresses, abandoned bicycles, rusted car parts and the like–that less-than-considerate citizens had dumped in the watercourses. Waterbury’s Keurig Green Mountain sponsored the effort–its tenth annual river clean-up–and could boast, by day’s end, that this year’s drive had removed tonsof trash from watery graves.
The Saturday effort actually capped a weeklong clean-up in which nearly 200 company employees waded into the Winooski and Dog rivers, the Waterbury Reservoir and Waterbury’s Thatcher Brook to retrieve the cornucopia of refuse. Saturday’s push added a new element to the undertaking by attracting some 35 community volunteers to work alongside the Keurig Green Mountain personnel, in what the coffee company billed as Community Clean-Up Day.
Company spokeswoman Sandy Yusen reported that some of the more unusual gleanings this year included a chainsaw and a bread-making machine. The junked-tire count, she estimated, came to about 400. Tire manufacturer Bridgestone will collect the tires for recycling as part of its One Team, One Planet program, she added.
Keurig Green Mountain conducts river clean-ups in waterways near four of its other operating locations–Sumner, Wash.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Castroville, Cal.; and Burlington, Mass.–in addition to Waterbury. The company’s website states that “the annual river clean-up is part of Keurig’s Community Action for Employees (CAFE) program, which allows full time employees to spend up to 52 hours a year volunteering for non-profits and local community based organizations during normal work hours.”
“It’s an effort we feel very strongly about,” Yusen said.
Buttoning Up Vermont
Barre-based Capstone Community Action (formerly Central Vermont Community Action Agency) is offering prizes for short videos that “inspire viewers to take action to lower their heating costs and do something positive for the planet,” according to a release from the organization. The “Button Up Video Contest” begins on Sept. 2, on and after which date videos can be posted to the contest website. The competition runs until Oct. 19; Capstone expects to announce winners in late October. Winners will receive a variety of prizes, the grand prize being $300.
Videos must run two minutes or less, and will be judged in three categories: most humorous, most likely to spur action, and most informative, the release stated. Within each category, winners will be selected in three age groups. Capstone is encouraging both individual and group efforts in creating the videos. For more information, visit ButtonUpVt.org or Button Up Vermont on Facebook.
Protesters Converge on State House
Some 150 demonstratorsconverged at Montpelier’s State House on Aug. 11 to protest plans to build a natural gas pipeline through western Vermont. Rising Tide Vermont, a coalition of activists that, according to its website, “organizes and takes direct action to confront the root causes of climate change and to facilitate a just transition to resilient and equitable land-based communities,” organized the protest. The organization has made the pipeline, proposed by Vermont Gas, a focus of its actions. The State House demonstration also protested a 4% budget cut that Governor Peter Shumlin is expected to seek in response to a state revenue shortfall.
Speaking to The Bridge, Rising Tide spokesman Will Bennington termed the event “an opportunity to call Shumlin out on his backward budget and climate change priorities.”
Gathering under a banner demanding “System Change Not Climate Change,” the participants included a substantial contingent from Glover’s Bread and Puppet Theatre, who used their trademark stilt-walkers and giant puppets, depicting penguins, among other things,to demonstrate how climate change affects cold-climate species–“to bring to light the gravity of the situation,” in Bennington’s words.
The protesters gathered in front of the State House and marched inside after a confrontation with police, who refused admittance to a marching band that formed part of the procession. The rest of the group, including stilt-walkers, made its way through the building, however, before returning to State Street, where the gathering effectively shut down the thoroughfare for an hour or more, staging theatrical presentations by Bread and Puppet and other participants.
Leonard Nimoy’s Vincent Coming to Vermont Festival of the Arts
Starry Night Theater Company will present ten performances of Leonard Nimoy’s Vincent later this month at the 2014 Vermont Festival of the Arts in Waitsfield. The one-man play dramatizes the passionate and turbulent life of Vincent van Gogh. Nimoy developed the script from the correspondence of Vincent and his closest ally, his brother Theo. In the play, Theo, played by part-time Waitsfield resident James Briggs, “movingly reveals Vincent as few knew him,” in the words of a release from Starry Night. “Theo is not interested in telling the small story of the demise of one man,” the release continues. “Rather, he argues the big story of the meaning and significance of his brother’s life to all humankind. As seen through the eyes of Theo, Vincent van Gogh lives on as a symbol of inspiration, courage, passion, and the lust for life that art kindles in us.”
The performances will take place daily at 8 p.m. from August 21 through 24, and August 28 through 31; there will also be 2 p.m. matinees on August 23 and 30. The venue is the air-conditioned Valley Players Theater, located at 4254 Main Street in Waitsfield village. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and students. For tickets or more information, visit www.starrynighttheater.com or call (802) 230-7740. Tickets will also be purchasable at the door if seats are still available.
Cheryl Strayed to Appear at VCFA
Author Cheryl Strayed, whose Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (2012) spent seven weeks at the top of the New York Times bestseller list’s hardcover fiction category, will speak at Vermont College of Fine Arts’ Alumni Hall on August15, as part of a “public conversation” with VCFA president and novelist Tom Greene. The program will be part of the college’s annualpostgraduate writers’ conference. The conversation will begin at 4 p.m.Admission is free, but space is limited and interest in the event has been strong, given Strayed’s substantial local following.
In addition to Wild, Strayed has published the 2006 novel Torch, and Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar (2012), a collection of essays from her personal-advice column. She has also written for the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post Magazine, and Vogue. Born in Pennsylvania in 1968, she now makes her home in Portland, Oregon.
Vermonter Breaking Even
Amtrak reports that its Vermonter train is generating a profit in operating terms. For the federal fiscal year to date (October 2013 through June 2014) the train, which travels between St. Albans and Washington, DC, generated a profit of $500,000 on income of $8.1 million. An operating surplus is unusual for a passenger train; the figure does not, however, take into account capital charges associated with the train. The Vermonter, most of whose operating subsidy, when needed, comes from state coffers, is one of seven Amtrak services showing an operating profit this fiscal year. The train serves Washington County daily with stops at Waterbury and Montpelier Junction.
GMP Expanding Heat Pump Program
Green Mountain Power (GMP) is expanding its air-source heat pump pilot program to Montpelier. The Rutland-based utility, which launched the pilot program in its home city last summer, stated in a press release that the units, which it will rent for $44 to $53 a month, will save homeowners 25 to 50 percent of their energy costs yearly. That means that the pumps will pay for themselves if a home’s energy bill is between $1,056 and $2,544 yearly, depending on the circumstances. The ductless heating technology achieves its savings by using heat exchangers similar to those used by refrigerators.
The GMP release touted the program’s expansion “as part of [Montpelier’s] major initiative focused on making [it] the first net zero capital city in the country.” The term net zero means that the energy used by a building, for example, roughly equals the energy that building generates. What that means in terms of an entire city, rather than a building, is less than clear. Mayor John Hollar, quoted in the release, used less ambitious language, calling the project “a significant milestone in our work to have Montpelier meet all its power needs through renewable energy sources and efficiency by 2030.”
State Sues Dollar Tree over Jewelry
The Vermont Attorney General’s Office (AGO) has sued small-box retailer Dollar Tree for violation of a 2010 agreement under which the national chain committed itself to stop selling jewelry in the state. Dollar Tree’s testing protocols do not ensure detection of traces of toxic lead and cadmium present in jewelry, including jewelry marketed to children. whom the agreement was intended to protect, according to an AGO press release.
The suit alleges that the chain has sold 30,000 “items of jewelry” in Vermont since its 2010 promise to desist from Vermont sales of “any product commonly understood to be jewelry.” The resolution of the suit may revolve around the meaning of the word jewelry:according to the state’s filing, Dollar Tree has maintained that the items in question are not jewelry because they’re plastic rather than metallic. A spokesman for the company declined to answer questions for The Bridge, saying he could not comment on pending litigation.
The Chesapeake, Va.-based retailer operates about 5,000 stores nationwide, including one in Berlin and four others around the state. On July 28 the company announced it will acquire rival retailer Family Dollar for $8.5 billion. The deal, which is expected to close by early next year, will give Dollar Tree an additional 13 outlets in Vermont; none of them are in Washington County, however.
Pete’s Greens off to “Pretty Good” Start in Waterbury
Pete’s Greens has taken its place among the food-oriented retail outlets on the Waterbury-Stowe Road, and the new venture is off to a “pretty good” start, according to Tim Fishburne, sales manager for the Craftsbury-based organic grower. Pete’s Farm Market, which opened July 22, joins the Cabot Creamery Cooperative, Ben & Jerry’s, Cold Hollow Cider Mill and Grand View Winery along the road, whose position linking I-89 with Stowe’s high-end resorts means a steady stream of motorists passing by with plenty of cash to spend.
Pete’s Greens has leased the property through mid-November, but Fishburne hopes that the public’s response to the venture will justify continuing the lease through the winter and beyond. “The goal is to stay there long-term–if not in that spot, in that area,” he told The Bridge.
In addition to its own produce, the outlet is offering locally produced dairy products, maple syrup and baked goods. “We’ve had really positive feedback from people in the area,” Fishburne reported on the basis of the first three days of operation. “We’re confident that it’s going to be a successful enterprise. We’ve wanted to do this for a number of years.”
Pete’s Greens grows vegetables year-round on 100 acres in Craftsbury, Albany and Wolcott. It retails its produce at the Montpelier farmers’ market and through a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program.