Category Archives: local/regional

Norm McAllister plays the world’s smallest violin…again.

Just in case anyone still cares, you should know that, according to the Messenger, perennial victim of unfair antipathy toward serial sexual assaulters, Norm McAllister wants to have his conviction on one count of “prohibited acts” overturned.That’s right: following one aborted trial concerning accuser #1, a teenager at the time of the alleged assaults; the untimely death of accuser #2, and the defense’s successful end-run against all but one of the lesser charges concerning accuser #3, Mr. McAllister wants another bite at the apple of complete exoneration.

Nevermind the fact that he has twice put the state through the costs of preparation and jury selection to hear the case concerning accuser #3. You may recall that Mr. McAllister abruptly entered a plea of guilt after the first day of the first trial, because the audio evidence was judged so damning by his defense team. The next morning he demanded that he be allowed to revoke his plea and stand trial all over again, claiming his defense team had bullied him into the plea.  (whimper, whimper...)

If you read the comments on stories about these trials, made almost entirely by men…and men who were not in attendance at the trials, I might add…you will understand why Mr. McAllister has felt emboldened to play the victim, over-and-over again. With few exceptions, these gentlemen, enlightened by nothing more than brief second-hand summaries of recordings and testimonies, all conclude that McAllister did nothing wrong; often adding a superfluous observation to the effect that “women often lie about these things.” The passion of these remarks makes one wonder about the gentlemen’s own personal histories on consent!

Statistically, nothing could be further than the truth. Not only is sexual assault drastically underreported; on the occasions when it is reported, the deeply personal nature of the crime means that it is rarely brought successfully to trial. The percentage of false accusations is around 5% or less. Few men are ever held accountable for their sexual assaults.

And what is the possible sentence that Mr. McAllister is facing for his “unfair”conviction? All of $100. or a year in jail. Tsk, tsk…how unjust.

Worlds-smallest-violin

 

Vermont’s town clerks do the darnedest things!

Vermont may not have the criminal cachet of bigger states, but in one specialized area of wrong doing, we could claim some eccentric distinction.

That area is, of course, embezzlement by town clerks.

The latest tale of disappearing dollars in Coventry is told so well by Dan Schwartz of Vermont Digger that I will leave you to read about the epic failure by local authorities to bring the culprit to justice, from that reliable source.

Suffice it to say that Cynthia Diaz, now former town clerk, treasurer, and tax collector  of Coventry, is suspected of embezzling over one million dollars over the course of her thirteen year tenure by pocketing cash payments to the Town and writing unwarranted checks in payment to herself from the Town.

It appears that the situation was compounded by incompetence from the town select board and some rather odd behavior by the fired town lawyer, Bill Davies.

‘Turns out that Ms. Diaz had a history of suspicion for embezzlement from her previous employer, Gray’s Paving. Apparently she has been under investigation in one place or the other since 2005. The Feds have been on her tail for years. She was even convicted on two misdemeanor tax evasion charges; but no one’s managed to nail her for embezzlement before now, and she just kept getting re-elected.

Using the “carrot and stick” approach, she kept an intimidating Rottweiler in the office with her but also “forgave” some people’s tax debts, as it suited her. There were many irregularities, like a missing grand list, and many creative excuses.

She had a bank account in the Bahamas, was receiving wire transfers from
an ex-husband in Panama, and holds properties in remote locations like Hawaii.

How did Ms. Diaz manage to remain in office all these years? Apparently she was also pretty good at playing the martyr and had somehow convinced the voters that she was just a victim of a “witch hunt.”

Don’t laugh. That performance has worked in higher office than Coventry town hall.

The whole story is worthy of novelization. Diaz apparently had complete power over town offices and used simple key control to deny anyone access to anywhere she liked. When Scott Morley of the select board finally gained access to the attic above town offices, after people had remarked on the sound of animals moving about overhead, he discovered it contained feral cats and filthy litter boxes.

What the hell???

She has already destroyed the thumb drive of town records that she routinely carried back and forth to work, and other important paperwork also appears to be missing.

Finally, the grownups seem to have retaken the kindergarten, and the new town attorney, Paul Gillies, is hot on what’s left of her paper trail.

How things could have gotten so far out of hand in the little town of roughly 1,000 souls is a very good question until you remember my previously favorite embezzlement story from Isle LaMotte, (2009) in which the Town Clerk was the daughter of the select board chairman, who reimbursed the City from his own pocket when he learned that she had dipped into the till to the tune of $150,000. Because a second select board member was the woman’s boyfriend, they managed to keep the whole affair a secret. Those kinds of secrets rarely go undiscovered, and the culprit was ultimately sentenced to 90 days in the pokey.

You just gotta love this quirky little state.

VT GOP Fundraising: Lie down with rodents, get up with ticks

Considering that Vermont Republicans — and our Governor in particular — often bill themselves as being outside the national fray and belonging to the long-fabled (mythical?) “northeast moderate Republican” club, they sure have a history of inviting outspoken GOP nutcase-stars to join their fundraiser events. In the past notables Maine Governor Paul “Bring back the guillotine” LePage and former Congressman Allen West, who believed religious coexistence “would give away our country,” headlined  VTGOP fundraisers.on skids

Now conservative New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu will be the headliner at an August fundraiser for the Vermont Republicans. The Governor will address issues both states face. “As a region, we can continue to have important conversations on affordability, energy, the environment and important regional economic issues,” he promises, according to VTdigger.com.

And as an extra, the Vermont GOPer’s could likely get some helpful tips on how to restrict voting rights. In a recent diary I wrote that Governor Sununu is right in lock-step with the not-so-moderate national GOP trend to limit voter registration. Shortly before this year’s election on Boston talk/news radio Sununu alleged Democrats practiced voter fraud and said: “[…] when Massachusetts elections are not very close, they’re [Democrats] busing them in [to New Hampshire] all over the place.” He got a pants on fire rating for that one from politifact.com.

President Trump referenced alleged New Hampshire vote fraud as justification when he announced his Election Integrity Commission. After taking office Sununu called for “tightening up” voting laws. Last month New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, a member of Trump’s Election Integrity Commission, readily agreed to hand over voting records. He has since said NH will “hold off” Commission vice chairman Kris Kobach’s fifty-state request for voters’ names, addresses, dates of birth, party affiliation, last four social security number digits and voting histories since 2006 pending the outcome of an ongoing legal challenge from the ACLU.

Sununu is unlikely to offer the same level of wacko blather as LePage or West, but his support for boosting his own and Trump’s voting restrictions is at odds with the concerns of average Vermont voters. But regarding the VTGOP’s “moderate” reputation and character: maybe a true view of the party’s reputation is exposed by the characters they  choose to headline their fundraisers.

McAllister guilty on only one count of “prohibited acts.”

The verdict is in.

We all heard the same evidence that the jury did. We heard the tape recorded conversation in which Norm McAllister discussed his sexual interactions with the alleged victim in the grossest terms.

We heard her tearful and painfully detailed account of those same interactions in direct testimony from the stand.

We heard the Defense’s one scheduled witness, McAllister’s son Heath, noticeably hesitate as he responded in his father’s defense.

Then we heard Norm McAllister unexpectedly take the stand and essentially tell a tale completely opposite to that of the alleged victim, but with none of the visceral emotion betrayed in the woman’s voice.

Apparently, when the chips were down, the jury chose McAllister’s testimony as more credible, which begs the question: why?

Was it because the jury was predominantly male and societal attitudes remain in a place of denial about the legitimacy of rape complaints?

Was it because the alleged perpetrator was a “pillar of society,” a state senator, landowner and patriarch of a prominent Franklin County farm family; whereas the alleged victim was poor, powerless, and a prior victim of domestic abuse?

I have no idea; but the verdict makes no sense to me…especially since the jury did apparently believe McAllister was guilty of procurement for prostitution.

No doubt the fact that evidence of other sexual assault complaints against McAllister was excluded from the proceedings, and the fact that jury selection carefully screens for prior knowledge made a significant difference.

No one can fault the principle behind those exclusions, but justice is as often a victim of these discretions as it is a beneficiary.

In this case, justice was left crying in the dust.

I can venture that opinion because I was there at the first McAllister trial as well. I remember the emotionally scarred young woman, barely more than a girl, who had been persuaded to brave the courtroom to confront her accused assailant. It was clearly torture for her to relive her degradation in front of a courtroom full of curious listeners. Her participation was an act of greater bravery than most of us have ever been called upon to do, but, under relentless pressure and embarrassment, she told a desperate fib to preserve her current relationship…an insignificant fib about never having kissed a co-worker, and, when she confessed to her attorney her case was abandoned by the prosecutor and all that pain was for nought.

I still wonder how she is doing, having prostrated herself before the law only to be cast out into the judgmental world, never knowing the balm of justice.

The woman involved in the current case is older and more experienced in life’s cavalcade of never-ending disappointments, but still she shed real tears in her testimony, her cheeks burning with shame and degradation.

Her future is far more uncertain than that of her exploiter, even with his one conviction.

There is no true justice tonight.

Norm McAllister in the dock once again.

Ex-senator Norm McAllister is back in court, and this time it looks like the trial will play out to a jury decision. Accused of exploiting a vulnerable woman (one of three who filed related complaints) in a sex-for-rent scheme, McAllister faces one count of rape and two more for procurement.

The third alleged victim passed away before having had a chance to testify against McAllister; so this is the last opportunity for the Franklin County prosecutors to hold McAllister accountable for the violations his accusers say he has committed against them.

It took two and a half days to seat a jury, and opening arguments were presented yesterday afternoon. Having already sat through days of false starts at the courthouse in the McAllister matters, I chose to skip the first three days of the current iteration; but today I was there for the duration.

As was the case in McAllister’s first trial, just witnessing the victim’s distress on the stand was harrowing. The first trial ended, without a decision, when the prosecution withdrew charges after the victim fibbed on an incidental embarrassing fact that should have had absolutely no impact on what appeared to be a very strong case for serial sexual assault. She sat, with obvious reluctance, through hours of painful and humiliating questioning, while her ‘alleged’ abuser remained silent, stolidly safe in his seat, facing forward and avoiding the gaze of the gallery.

It was gut-wrenching to witness her distress at having to relive the incidents before the prying eyes of the jury, press and public; but relive it, she did.

This time, we heard graphic details of gross and humiliating acts of sexual degradation allegedly performed on the victim’s person while she wept and pleaded with her assailant to stop. At one particularly painful and degrading point in her ordeal, the perpetrator shushed her loud objections, then said “Good girl.” as if she was one of his livestock.

Her explanation for tolerating the sexual exploitation for so long centered on the fact that she was homeless when she accepted work and a place to live at the McAllister farm and was trying to satisfy the state in order to regain custody of her children. She already had a sad history of earlier abuse at the hands of her on-again/off-again husband that had contributed to the loss of custody.

Her testimony was compelling; nevertheless, the Defense asked Judge Martin Malley to dismiss all the charges on a technicality; something the judge refused to do, observing that evidence had been presented on all three charges that could support conviction, should the jury reach that conclusion.

The prosecution rested its case at the end of the day. Tomorrow morning, the trial continues, even though Mr. McAllister himself does not appear to be willing to testify.

It is anticipated that testimony will conclude by midday tomorrow, after which the jury will be allowed to deliberate at its leisure.

It’s Independence Day in Vermont

4thpostcardI figured I’d haul out the Fourth of July blimp postcard.

Even if you are not marking today with “[…] Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations” as John Adams suggested in a letter written July 3, 1776, what celebrates independence more than the right to vote?

And so here’s a timely tweet from Charlie Pierce reminding us why voting matters.Untitled-1July 14th is the deadline for states to comply with Trump and the GOP’s bogus voting “fraud” commission request for extensive voter registration data from all fifty states. Over half Forty one have refused to comply fearing that the real mission of Donald Trump’s Election Integrity Commission — run by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — is to suppress voting — and slate.com says, to eventually gut and repeal the National Voter Registration Act.

On Monday Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos (D) left no doubt about our state’s position: “I want to make one thing perfectly clear: Vermont will NOT be complying with the Commission’s request for Vermont voters’ private and sensitive information,”* Condos said Monday in a written statement. “Protecting the privacy and security of Vermont voters’ most sensitive information is something I take very seriously, and I will not compromise the privacy of Vermont citizens to support the Trump Administration’s witch hunt for widespread voter fraud, which has been disproven many times over by non-partisan experts.”[added emphasis]

Happy Independence Day Vermont

*The fine print: Condos: “I will not release any more information about Vermont voters than is available to any citizen requesting our voter file.”

Whatever any member of the public is entitled to from Secretary of State records will be available — so that would mean no social security numbers, DOBs, or other ‘private’ info. Our names, addresses, and voting histories (which are public info) will be in Pence-Kobach’s hands within the deadline period.

A golf pro, a lobbyist and Governor Scott walk in to the legislature

Since becoming governor Phil Scott has twice had the chance make appointments to the state legislature. His choices to replace Republican legislators a lobbyist and a golf pro hardly fit the image most citizens may have of an average Vermonter.

Scott’s first legislative appointment to the state House of Representatives was Jim Harrison, a lobbyist and former president of the Vermont Retail and Grocers Association. And his most recent pick, for the state Senate is David Soucy, a golf pro who now manages the Green Mountain National golf course. FDTF

The course, located in and owned by the town of Killington, has struggled for years to cover as much as $5 million in debt originally incurred to build the facility. In 2011 with golf revenue down 13.5 percent in Vermont, town officials were critical of spending $25,000 per year to promote the course while facing a large municipal debt restructuring.

At the time Soucy appeared to dismiss worries over the debt and said reporting on it had been “sensationalized.”  He championed the golf facility, telling WCAX: “[…] as far as the debt is concerned, the pressure is on the town, not the course. It really comes down to the debt structure, not our operations; we make money on our operations. The debt structure is what needs to be taken care of,” he said. [added emphasis] So the Gov’s  newest pick for the legislature hardly your typical Republican town budget hawk worried.

David Soucy may actually be a good match with Scott’s earlier appointment to the legislature, Jim Harrison the former Vermont Retail and Grocers Association president. Under Harrison the VRGA opposed taxing sugared drinks, any paid family leave policy, and the Vermont Genetically Modified Organism labeling law. A lobbyist and a golf pro selected to represent average Vermonters in the state House and Senate that’s par for Republican Governor Scott giving business an even bigger voice in the legislature. Making Vermont Affordable for Whom?

 

Job preservation at work in Vermont

Country Home Products named one of Vermont’s best places to work in 2017 has announced it is laying off dozens of Vermont workers. There’s a major layoff announcement in Winooski. Country Home Products informed employees this week that dozens will soon be out of a job.[…]selffeeding layoff The Vermont-born maker of outdoor power tools gave 67 employees a letter or reached out by phone, telling workers they are out of a job and when their last day will be.

In 2009 the longtime Vermont business Country HomeProducts/DR Power raised $12 million from 24 foreign investors through the EB-5 investment-for-visas program. The $12 million was used to fund product development and market expansion. As a designated “troubled business,” the company escaped the normal EB-5 requirement to create 10 jobs and only had to preserve existing jobs.

Six years passed, and in 2015 Country Home Products, now with a market value of $2.1 billion, was sold to Generac Holdings Inc., a larger publicly traded business. Generac is headquartered in Waukesha, WI, the CEO is Aaron Jagdfeld, and the company employs 4,202 people. Jagdfeld’s overall compensation in 2016 was $3.9 million, while all executive compensation was up 6.51% the same year.

And so now the layoffs start. Country Home Products president Matt Bieber says the full-time, part-time and seasonal layoffs are in addition to the complete closure of their Winooski assembly plant. [Emphasis added.]

Kind of raises a few questions about what “job preservation” in Vermont actually means. And whose job and for how long was it supposed to be preserved?

I am sure we will be told there isn’t much the State can do other than speedily provide unemployment benefits and perhaps job counseling.  Although Governor Scott offers this: “Any job loss in the state of Vermont is concerning,” His suggestion that, “It reinforces that we have to watch every dollar. We have to make Vermont more affordable,” might ring kind of hollow to those now out a good job. No prescriptions available for this malady from the Gov., just take two ‘affordables’ and call me in the morning.

Cradle-to-College Public Education Can Revitalize Vermont

Vermont is looking for ways to grow economically without betraying its sustainability commitments. In order to succeed in competition for a skilled workforce with other states, we must provide unique living opportunities tailored to the needs of young families.

At the same time, we are learning that daycare services, vital to a youthful workforce, are drying up in Vermont. The poor pay for providers and lack of possibilities for professional development make fast-food service jobs look almost like an attractive alternative.

What better incentive could Vermont offer, in order to retain and attract desirable businesses and young careerists, than to provide a new tier of public education to serve that essential need?

With a declining primary school population, many communities have more brick-and-mortar capacity than they can currently fill, and statewide efforts are focussed on consolidation.

Why not redirect those assets to a program of certified public daycare/early childhood ed, and roll it into the administrations of local school boards that are already in the process of adapting to consolidations?

If we begin now to provide tuition-forgiveness incentives for qualified students to enroll in early childhood education programs at colleges and universities in the state; and provide a professional track for daycare providers to become certified early education providers under state rules, we could begin to rebuild that essential work-support infrastructure.

Under this plan, as qualified teachers, early childhood care/education providers should be allowed to negotiate their contracts with school boards just as their primary and secondary school colleagues do.

All indications are that investments made in early childhood care and education more than return their value in reduced costs to society from the many undesirable outcomes that are avoided over the years: drug addiction, domestic violence, persistent poverty, crime and incarceration, .

Even costs associated with mental illness and poor health habits can be greatly reduced by early childhood education interventions.

At the same time, being a pioneer state in providing cradle-to-college public education would set Vermont above others as a singularly desirable location for any up-and-coming business requiring a skilled workforce to locate it’s operations for the longterm.

Updated: Climate change and a couple of the GOP’s “muted barbs”

[Update:  Good! After it became evident there would be some nudging in the Vermont Legislature by State Sen. Chris Pearson (P/D-Chittenden) Governor Scott has agreed to join a group formed by  New York, California and Washington, calling itself  the U.S. Climate Alliance. This effort is meant to achieve the Paris agreement’s goals of reducing carbon emissions despite of President Trump’s exit from the international accord.]

Now that President Trump has decided the U.S.A. should join Syria and Nicaragua as the only other countries not supporting the Paris agreement setting goals to slow climate change, a significantly heavier burden now falls on state governments to address climate change. Believe it or not at Trump’s festive Rose Garden announcement “ceremony” a jazz band played ‘Summertime.’

justusthree

Should we worry here in Vermont? Well, less than year ago Governor Scott’s beliefs on climate change were vague enough that they reportedly might still be “evolving,” and his resistance to wind power is well known.

However, nice man that he is, he makes an occasional symbolic gesture in support of addressing climate change. This May, in response to fears that Trump might exit the Paris agreement, Scott and Massachusetts fellow Republican  Governor Charlie Baker sent a letter to Trump’s Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry. Their letter made no specific demands and only called for the federal government to “continue national leadership” in its efforts to address climate change by meeting goals in reducing greenhouse gases. No doubt the former governor from the oil state of Texas was deeply impressed by the effort, and  if he remembered  might have even passed it along to the President.

In practical terms Governor Scott announced yesterday that Attorney Anthony Roisman was his pick for leading the Public Service Board. The PSB sets public utility rates, oversees service quality, and decides on siting Vermont’s energy infrastructure including wind and solar power. Roisman shares Scott’s aversion to wind power. Seven Days reports he represented plaintiffs opposed to wind power here in Vermont. He has also litigated against nuclear power plant operators, and in the 1980’s he represented a group of families harmed by toxic industrial waste. Most recently he was instrumental in killing a proposed  60-megawatt solar array power project in Maryland.

Yesterday, after Trump’s announcement, Scientific American reported some reaction at the state level in the wake of Trump’s decision. Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington reiterated his support of a carbon tax in his state. And Gov. Jerry Brown (D) of California is headed to China next week to take part in high level meetings on climate change and clean energy. The California legislature recently voted to receive all its energy from renewable and zero-carbon sources by 2045.

Republicans, Scientific American notes, “were far more muted in their barbs.” Scott’s Massachusetts letter-writing partner Gov. Baker said Trump’s action was “disappointing and counterproductive.” And what do we hear from the Green Mountain State?   A spokeswoman for Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R), who recently penned a letter with Baker calling on Trump to stay in the Paris accord, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Now, that’s about as “muted barb” as you can find.

To say the least, it seems “moderate” GOP governors like Baker and Scott are unlikely to join the likes of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) or Gov. Jerry Brown (D) of California. But, hey, they write letters to Rick Perry.