Category Archives: local/regional

Down the memory hole: Phil Scott’s Act 250 overhaul team strikes “climate change” from policy paper

Climate ChangeScottbalance

Vermont’s governor not only shares a name and party with Florida’s GOP governor but he apparently shares Governor Rick Scott’s documented problem using the term climate change. While using a maneuver right out of Florida’s playbook here in Vermont, Phil Scott’s administration has been caught eliminating the term climate change from proposed changes to Act 250 the state’s environmental development law.

The scoop from the Burlington Free Press: At issue is a report by Scott administration officials that was submitted in October to legislators who are reviewing the nearly 50-year-old land-use law. As part of their review, legislators are looking specifically at whether development should be judged through the lens of climate change during the Act 250 permit process.

Tayt Brooks  remember him? founder of right-wing conservative super pac Vermonters First, who now works as Director of Affordability and Economic Growth Initiatives for Phil Scott took credit (or blame) for the editing climate change. Tayt Brooks, […] said the Scott administration remains receptive to possible provisions in Act 250 that would address climate change.

“We didn’t view it as a substantial change,” Brooks said of the edits.

He pointed out that the final draft of the administration’s report suggests that lawmakers’ review “should include consideration of climate change in Vermont.”

Yeah, right: consider it but for god’s sake don’t write it or say it out loud!

Governor Scott (ours) after a little trouble with the issue during his campaign  in 2016 he was evolving  has made some encouraging noises about climate change since taking office. He was even tagged recently by governing.com as a glowing example of : “[…] today’s moderate governors.” Phil may have trouble with that moderate label if he continues to try to have try to have it both ways on climate change especially if he lets Tayt Brooks edit his policy proposals.

So, Tayt, when and where did you have your memory hole installed?

Stop bellyaching about Vermont’s aging population.

Once again, a Vermont Governor is lamenting the aging of our state population, extrapolating nothing but gloom in our economic forecast.

Yes, we have a surplus of Vermonters over the age of 65; yes, we have declining numbers of youth refreshing our labor force; and yes, we are experiencing slow growth due to labor shortages.

That’s the cup-half-empty picture.

But applying a cup-half-full perspective to the same facts could present a picture of opportunity.

We’ve imagined our state becoming a hub of small scale manufacturing, captive insurance markets, tech industry, specialty foods, recreation and tourist activity. With some success, we have focussed on and incentivized each of these sectors in turn, attempting to fertilize the seeds of state potential.

In each case, we looked to our state’s unique qualities as strengths to be marketed to a larger world, yet we have never thought of an aging population as anything other than an inconvenience bordering on a burden; something to be apologized away or camouflaged by any youngsters we can bring to the front of the queue.

We are missing out on the resource that an older population can represent. If the state incentivizes a state-of-the-art eldercare and senior housing industry, with walkable communities, targeted recreational opportunities and social networking innovations; Vermont could become a trend-setter, attracting the best skilled youth workforce in the healthcare sphere from all over the country.

Those newcomers could become cornerstones of a new generation, expanding our tax base, filling classrooms and playgrounds with future Vermonters.

Embracing the natural aging of our population and viewing it as an opportunity for innovation is the smart way to tackle the future; and we could sure use some “smarts” right about now.

As one of the discounted multitude,  I still have to buy food and clothing, keep a roof over my head, attend to my medical and dental needs, and consume a modicum of entertainment.  I may even spend more money in some instances, than do younger consumers, in order  to create a safe environment in my home, protect my health, coddle grandchildren, beautify my garden, travel and learn.

We’re here; we’re not dying off anytime soon; and we have needs that are often unmet within our communities.  It’s time to give this new market a second look.

Teflon legacy stubbornly sticks to Bennington

As we wait for it to dawn on Texas lawmakers that some of the toxic misery that is being visited upon them is due to lax regulation in a business-first state, Vermont is confronting its own history of safety “compromises.”

In an eye-opening series of feature stories, “Teflon Town,” Vermont Digger and the Bennington Banner explore a tale of regulatory failure that belies Vermont’s clean green reputation

Details of this “business friendly” environmental compromise are damning:

For decades, Vermont officials asked ChemFab to test smokestack emissions to determine whether the company was emitting toxic chemicals in the manufacture of Teflon-coated fabrics. One of those chemicals was PFOA, used to bond the Teflon, or polytetrafluoroethylene, to fiberglass fabric. Those tests were never performed. Instead of requiring ChemFab to meet environmental rules, state officials took a conciliatory approach and repeatedly allowed the company to violate emissions standards without penalty.

According to Digger, even though the state learned of the hazards from PFOA as early as 1997, no attempt was made to test the emissions from the ChemFab facility in Bennington for this substance until 2016. This, because the premier producer of Teflon-coated fabrics was considered too important to the Vermont economy to inconvenience with regulatory overbsight that the company claimed (falsely) to avoid in other locations.

•Residents filed hundreds of complaints about a “dirty plastic” odor from the North Bennington plant over a 24-year period.

•The company was supposed to catalog every chemical in the smokestack emissions. Results from testing in 1985, which established the baseline monitoring standards for a 15-year period, were badly executed. The tests were “not representative of stack emissions,” according to Mike Kawahata, the scientist with Environment One Corporation, the contractor for ChemFab that conducted the tests. State Rep. Marie Condon told DEC officials that it appeared ChemFab might be “intentionally withholding damaging information about its toxic emissions.” The state allowed the flawed results to stand.

•In internal memos, the commissioner of the Department of Health and field inspectors for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation asked senior officials at the Agency of Natural Resources to test for fluorocarbons, including PFOA. The tests were never conducted.

•Regulators recorded dozens of emissions violations from 1984 to 2002, but only one enforcement action was taken during that period.

•ChemFab managers misrepresented pollution control standards in other states and pushed Vermont regulators to relax air quality standards based on false claims. For example, the company said New Hampshire allowed competitors and other ChemFab facilities to operate without any pollution control devices on some smokestacks. In response to pressure from ChemFab, Vermont authorities gave the company tax breaks and waived air quality rules.

There’s plenty of blame to go around for everyone in this instance of environmental protection failure, extending through the administrations of both Democratic and Republican governors.

It’s the same old story we read over and over again: Vermont “has to be more business friendly.” Inevitably, that is the thinly veiled argument for letting big offenders off the hook on regulations while holding small businesses fully accountable.

…And as far as successfully retaining the “valuable” employer was concerned(?)…once again, it’s a familiar story:

Despite numerous concessions from Vermont officials at every level of government, in 2002, ChemFab closed its Bennington factory and moved its headquarters to Merrimack, New Hampshire.

ChemFab cut and ran, but it’s toxic legacy continues to haunt the groundwater in Bennington county sickening residents and undermining property values.

Is that really “business friendly?”

 

VTGOP committee member: “people […] confused as to what the march is all about.”

twofacesGOP3When The Atlantic Magazine reached out to GOP state and national committee members for a reaction to Trump’s handling of the violent events at Charlottesville, Vermont Republican National committeeman Jay Shepard offered this contention about the white supremist riot: “In all mob scenes there are people who just happen to be there, who aren’t leaders of organizations and are just confused as to what the march is all about.”

Yes, who among us hasn’t been confused “as to what the march [a Nazi riot]   is all about?”Although, you know, for many people seeing marchers wearing white hoods and flying swastika flags might have been the obvious tell.

[…]The Atlantic reached out to 146 Republican state party chairs and national committee members for reaction to Trump’s handling of the events. We asked each official two questions: Are you satisfied with the president’s response? And do you approve of his comment that there were “some very fine people” who marched alongside the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis?  

The vast majority refused to comment on the record, or simply met the questions with silence. Of the 146 GOP officials contacted, just 22 offered full responses—and only seven expressed any kind of criticism or disagreement with Trump’s handling of the episode. (Those seven GOP leaders represent New Mexico, Texas, Virginia, North Dakota, Alaska, Massachusetts, and North Carolina.) The rest came to the president’s defense, either with statements of support or attempts at justification

Almost a year ago I compared the VTGOP’s mixed enthusiasm for then-candidate Trump to a “mullet” hair style. That is the 1970’s and 80’s haircut style (infamous by the 1990’s) showed the public one “thing” (face) in the front view, yet show a different style or “thing” (another face) in the back: “all business in the front and all party in the back.” In the case of the VTGOP’s emerging mullet, all good ol’ imaginary GOP moderation in the front and just totally Trumpism in the back.

Now the VTGOP is still styling the political equivalent of a “mullet,” i.e., a two-faced approach with Phil Scott sporting some neatly trimmed criticism of President Trump’s “very fine people” remark up front, and Committeeman Jay Shepard showing the rough side in the back. It must be the look they prefer while strutting around under the circus tent.

NewVistas by any other name still a dead cow falling from the sky

 

The Valley News reports that David Hall is doing a little bit of rebranding to his New Vistas project. New Vistas is now to be known as Windsorange LLC.DCFFTS It not clear where this rebranding strategy and new name (a mash-up of Windsor and Orange counties) originated but Seven Days reported this spring that Montpelier lobbyist and PR ace Kevin Ellis was on-board with the utopian project and would help woo the local rurals.

The name is a combination of the two Vermont counties, Windsor and Orange, that Hall says he hopes to “improve.”

“What people never caught on to is (that) NewVistas is way in the future, and the first thing that needs to be done is jobs and commerce,” Hall said in an interview last week. “I decided to change the name so that people didn’t think we were trying to do NewVistas right away.” from VNews.com

New Vistas, now known as Windsorange LLC, is the utopian city/state Utah resident Hall has planned for several towns in central Vermont’s Upper Valley. Using the birthplace of the founder of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, Joseph Smith, as its focal point, the futuristic city/state is inspired by the Mormon design for the city of Zion.

The ultra wealthy(former owner of diamond oil drill manufacturer Novatek) Hall  is still buying up parcels of land for what could eventually be a residential community of a more than 5,000-acre home to 20,000 (plus) souls. Nicole Antal, a resident of the town of Sharon (within the area affected by Hall’s planned community) and the blogger who broke the New Vista story, is doggedly reporting Hall’s latest land buys and tracking local opposition efforts on the DailyUV.com.

NewVistas’ name change is only part of the rebranding, as Hall told the Valley News:  [he will be] focusing on offshoots of the research needed to make his self-sustaining communities possible.

“I have lots of expanding businesses under my umbrella,” he said, “and so what my hope is, is to get some good cooperation with other key people in the area” — potential partnerships that could bring to the White River Valley some “good jobs,”

He would not name names of local partners but did say the Vermont Law School with whom he had hoped to partner had rejected an association with Windsorange/NewVistas. But Hall  stresses, in what by repetition seems a vaguely threatening way, the long-term or even inevitable nature of his dream community. “[…] so I’ll just wait. My ideas are too far out for most people. But I’m patient. I can wait.”

For the short term, inflicting his massive Windsorange dream community on several small Vermont towns seems as welcome as dead cow falling from the sky.

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.