First admit we have a problem.

I’ve got to agree with Seven Days’ Paul Heinz when he cries foul over the governor’s highly selective concern about conflicts of interests.

Without weighing in specifically on the appointment of Alyssa Schuren as commissioner of the Dept. of Environmental Conservation (because I do think her record of recusals demonstrates her ability to avoid conflicts of interest), raising questions about such an appointment is entirely legitimate.  

That it was the chair of the GOP who raised the question is not surprising, but the knee-jerk reaction by Shumlin who attacked it as ‘sexist’ was uncalled for.

The fact is that the Republicans are only too happy to let the door swing between regulators and lobbying interests because the advantage usually favors their own partisans.  Since the possibility in this appointment exists for environmental advantage rather than business advantage, it was perhaps inevitable that it would be met with Republican indignation.

The governor takes a dim view of former administration EB-5 overseer Brent Raymond taking the up-exit to work for Mount Snow, but Alex MacLean barely exhaled before signing on with Jay Peak after she took her leave as the governor’s assistant.  While she wasn’t a commissioner, there is no doubt that she enjoyed the privilege of great influence in her administration job.  Quid pro quo, either before or after the fact, is equally damaging to public confidence in government integrity.

The weeds surrounding the EB-5 boondoggle are deep and full of helping hands.  The interests being furthered in those weeds belong less in the political arena than they do in the financial purgatory of business as usual, where who you know or whom you are related to can be leveraged to tremendous economic advantage.

That is one of the disadvantages to our intimate little state.  There are many advantages to being small, but like incest, conflicts of interest have greater opportunity to flourish in very small communities.

I will be very interested when the dust clears in the Northeast Kingdom to see whom the real winners (and losers?) are in that particular skirmish.  That is, assuming that we get a truly independent assessment of the scoreboard.

We like to think that those with whom we generally agree politically are above suspicion; but when our preferred party has, overwhelmingly, the upper hand, that is exactly when we should be most interested in establishing strict ethical guidelines with meaningful consequences; precisely because we do hold the high ground.

As we grapple in Franklin County with the consequences of not having established consequences for truly bad behavior by a public official we see only too well the cost of indulging in the smug notion that “we don’t have that problem in Vermont.”  

If it’s a problem elsewhere in the U.S., you can bet it’s already here.

About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.

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