Tag Archives: Vermont

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.

Ethics, anyone?

Ethics in elected office has been a big topic of discussion since the latter part of the 2016 presidential campaign.

The highest profile issues are those surrounding President-Elect Trump, who still hasn’t shared his taxes with the public, and apparently doesn’t intend to distance himself from his business holdings; and from his roster of administration appointments in which billionaire tycoons and former lobbyists figure heavily.

Apparently Republicans aren’t interested in questioning anybody’s ethics but those of Democrats.

Emboldened by majorities in the House and Senate, as well as control of the Oval Office, Congressional Republicans attempted to castrate the independent Office of Congressional Ethics. That effort was scrapped only twenty-four hours later, when news of the sly maneuver reached the greater constituency and all hell broke loose.

Still, it was a reminder to me to check on the progress of Vermont’s own belated attempt to establish ethics rules in the wake of the sensational Norm McAllister sexual assault scandal.

Efforts to establish a State Ethics Panel were allowed to languish and die before summer recess. In a measure of progress, though, the Senate’s own version, propelled forward by the McAllister debacle, does establish certain new disclosure guidelines for senators.
With the 2017 winter session comes new hope that a State Ethics Commission, which already has broad support in the Senate, will finally obtain House approval.  It’s far from all we might wish for, but it’s better than nothing.

Here in Franklin County, the salacious topic of Norm McAllister’s unwholesome appetites simply refuses to go away. Shortly after a jury was selected to hear the case of the second of his three alleged victims, it was announced that Mr. McAllister had copped a plea to avoid a trial and was facing up to seven years in the sentencing phase, but would avoid potential penalties (up to life in prison) for the most serious charges.

That was Tuesday. Today came the news that McAllister had told WPTZ that he “might” change his mind.

While I would relish the opportunity to finally hear McAllister being examined on a witness stand, I can’t imagine that the continued suspense provides anything but further suffering for his victims.

Who knows whether he will really change his plea? This is the same guy who has essentially both admitted to and denied his guilt in the assorted pre-trial depositions.

In Post-Truth America I suppose we shouldn’t be at all surprised.


Primary Flashback and Franklin County Frolics

A belated congratulations are due to GMD’s own Mike McCarthy, who now, officially joins Rep. Kathy Keenan as our excellent  Democratic candidates for the Vermont House from St. Albans City.  Mike has already served a term as St. Albans’ House Rep. so we look forward to having him back again.

The heat knocked me out for the past week or so, but I’ve recovered enough to want to comment on the outcome of the primary.

Although I wasn’t particularly active in the primary, I could not be more pleased with the outcome. Despite the pain we all feel at the national spectacle, I think we have much to be grateful for, here at home.

Sue Minter and Dave Zuckerman comprise a very strong Democratic ticket. I look forward to the debates with relish!

I was also pleased to learn that despite the early endorsement pass by the VCV, Philip Baruth will be defending his seat against the Republican challengers once again.

Returning to Franklin County, it was, I think, a relief for the entire county that disgraced senator Norm McAllister went down in defeat. We can now refer to him summarily as ‘disgraced ex-senator’ Norm McAllister…and doesn’t that feel good.

Nevertheless, roughly 700 Franklin County voters actually endorsed candidate McAllister, leaving one to ponder whether his family is exceptionally large, or there is a significant population out there with disturbing attitudes toward women.

None could have been more relieved with the primary results than Franklin County Republicans, who would have not found it a pleasant experience to campaign on the same ticket with a virtual pariah

Stepping into the breech for Republicans was Representative Carolyn Branagan, who will join Dustin Degree in competition against our two outstanding Democratic candidates for senate, former Senator Sara Kittell and clean lake activist, Denise Smith.

It goes without saying that I support Sara and Denise without reservation, but I have to say that Brannagan would be a strong third choice. She’s a good moderate representative for her district and has a pretty good environmental voting record.

Incredibly, Branagan got some grief from McAllister and some of his supporters for having had the temerity to offer herself as a candidate in the scorched aftermath of McAllister’s untimely departure. No one expected him to run again, given that he was facing numerous charges for crimes against women; but run he did, submitting his petition in the last minute of the eleventh hour, when no one had a chance to discover that it did not satisfy the minimum of the law before time ran out on a challenge. That didn’t stop him from attacking, in a parting shot, the only woman on Franklin County’s Republican senate ticket

So now we have an interesting race shaping up for two senate seats in Franklin County: two strong Democratic women, one respected Republican woman…and Dustin Degree.

It does seem fitting that, for his sins, McAllister will definitely see a woman he probably loathes in his senatorial seat….no matter which woman that ends up being.

Of course, popular wisdom around here probably has Degree holding onto his seat, but I beg to differ. Branagan came in a strong second to Degree in the primary; and I think that even Republicans may be ready for a little more estrogen in the Franklin County delegation.

And there are those nagging, unanswered questions about who-knew-what-when.

In what could only be imagined as an attempt to drag Degree under the bus along with him, thus improving his own chances in the primary, McAllister himself hinted broadly that Degree knew more about him (and presumably, the ‘intern’) than anyone else.

We may never learn the whole story about the intern, but McAllister’s statement means Degree is in for some increased scrutiny.

Degree and McAllister campaigned almost in tandem in the past two election cycles. They passed two years as seatmates in the senate. The intern maintains that she helped on their shared campaign.

It is difficult to believe that Degree never visited the apartment where McAllister shared a bedroom with the intern, and that he never observed how very young and fragile she looked next to the sexagenarian farmer who presumably bossed her around at the statehouse.

Also to be questioned is Mike McCarthy’s House opponent Cory Parent, who gave the teenaged intern rides back to Franklin County from the statehouse. He seems to have been another close intimate of McAllister’s. One would think the relationship between McAllister and the intern could not have been entirely unobserved by Parent and Degree.

So, it should be interesting over the next couple of months. I sincerely hope that whoever conducts the debates does not shy away from the McAllister question. The voters deserve some answers before they cast their ballots again.

Carbon Tax Hysteria

I’ve been staying off the GMD front page during my campaign to return to the House, but I just can’t stay silent while the Vermont GOP slings hyperbolic lies in Franklin County and on the internet. Our friend at the Vermont Political Observer has been covering the fuzzy math on this, but I want to call attention to a couple of local candidates who are beating the drum louder and louder in Franklin County.

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 8.59.16 PM

I walked in to get some documents about my parent’s property at the Swanton Town Clerk a few months ago around the end of the session, and Rep. Marianna Gamache had left a petition on the counter.  It had a shocking headline: “STOP THE DEMOCRATS’ CARBON TAX!”

A Franklin County Republican once told me that there’s a big difference between being an advocate and being a legislator and boy does someone need to take his advice. The more radical Carbon Tax proposals have no hope of moving forward as is, but they bring up important conversations that we need to be having. I wouldn’t support a carbon tax that dramatically increased the cost of gas or heating fuels in a single year, but there are some related policies that are going to be critical to our energy and transportation infrastructure in the coming years.

One such policy, with bipartisan support, is moving from “cents-per-gallon” fuel taxes to a “vehicle miles traveled” approach to paying for our transportation budget. I drive a hybrid and get 52 mpg in the summer. That means I fill up half as much as the average car, and pay half the amount of fuel taxes. As cars have become more efficient, and some drivers have gone fully electric, the transportation fund has taken a hit. With alternative fuels there is a disconnect between how much fuel you pump and how many miles you drive. We have to make sure the way we pay for the roads is fair and doesn’t overburden a particular group of users. Wow, something Phil Scott and I agree on.
Another example is a heating fuel surcharge to support low-income weatherization. I’ve always thought that it was crazy to give heating subsidies to folks year after year (LIHEAP) when we could make their homes more comfortable and energy efficient with a one-time investment in insulation and other cost-effective weatherization.
So, would Mike McCarthy support a big scary carbon tax that radically increases costs to everyday Vermonters? No. I would however make improvements to how we pay for the heating and transportation programs that are smart policy and better for the environment. These energy policies will save the vast majority of Vermonters lots of money compared to the way we currently pay for heat and transportation programs.
Most of what you just read was published as a response to the County Courier’s candidate question of the week: “Do you support the proposed carbon tax?” Do you know what Rep. Corey Parent’s response to this question was? One line: “No, because we cannot afford it.”
Thanks for the thoughtful discourse on climate change and energy policy Franklin County Republicans. This is about what we’ve all come to expect.

Norm McAllister in the dock again. Son opens mouth, inserts foot.

Suspended Senator Norm McAllister is once again scheduled to answer charges of sexual assault and trafficking beginning on August 10 in the Franklin County Courthouse.

There is much fault that could be found with the way in which Mr. McAllister’s first trial was prosecuted, including the fact that the victim was forced to testify for many hours before the curious eyes of the press, while Mr. McAllister was allowed to sit the whole thing out without saying a word or even glancing at the assembly. It must be hoped that justice will be better served in the upcoming trial.

Norm Mcallister’s son Heath McAllister has, in the meantime, given us ample fodder for discussion with his comments to the media this week.

Defending his father, Heath is quoted as saying

“You’d have to believe he went from a loving husband of 43 years to some kind of animal…”

I agree that it is unlikely that Norm McAllister woke up one day at the age of 60+ and became a serial abuser. When an old man is discovered to be engaging in such behavior, it is almost certain that the pattern of abuse began many years earlier, and that there are other victims who simply have never come forward.

Heath McAllister went on to say that people are making too much of the extreme youth of the alleged victim.

“That’s not a big deal. You want to be disgusted that she was 19 and he was 63, knock yourself for a loop,”

Even if we accept his version of the story, in which she was 19 (not fifteen or sixteen, as she alleges) when the sexual contact began; according to her testimony, she weighed only 85 pounds, which is why he could easily pick her up and sling her over his shoulder like a bag of grain. The idea that she could “consent” to the relationship is outrageous. Now, at twenty-one, she is still a wee slip of a pretty girl, unlikely to consent to being violated by a portly, balding old man.

Apparently Mr. Heath McAllister sees nothing wrong with this picture.

That speaks volumes about the culture in the family, perhaps even in the McAllisters’ circle of friends.

The coup-de-grace, though, is this final admission:

“Did my dad talk like a pig? Sure. I don’t know how many men — what the hell, I’m in the list,” he said. “There’s been moments where if you took what I said out of context, it would sound horrible.”

The culture of misogyny and exploitation hangs heavy in those words. He thinks this is perfectly normal and acceptable.

Locking the perpetrator of such crimes away from vulnerable populations is only part of the remedy for sexual abuse; and, statistically, our society has a poor record of accomplishing even that much.

The real need is to address the underlying culture that enables such behaviors, interrupting the pattern before it takes hold among a broader community of family and friends. The simple reality is that women and girls raised in a culture of exploitation and abuse seldom seek or receive help. Captive to the culture of their tormenters, they simply accept that this is what they must survive.

The women who have spoken out about their experiences with Mr. McAllister deserve our respect and the same indulgence we allow to wartime victims of PTSD.

It is the very least that we can do.

Burlington’s Open Meeting Problem

‘Sounds like it’s time for Sec. of State Jim Condos to bring his celebrated
Transparency Tour to the big city of Burlington.

I used to think Franklin County was the poster child for dodgy open-meeting practices, but this week, Miro Weinberger and company seem to be giving FC a run for its money.

On GMD, we’ve long questioned the wisdom of locating F-35 fighter planes in the densely populated area that is Burlington Airport. We’ve read the well-articulated concerns of neighbors and the glaringly deficient conclusions of officialdom.

We know that Burlington probably wouldn’t even have been considered for the siting if it were not for the concentrated efforts of Senator Leahy, the Chittenden County political elite and the development community, which seems to play a central role in local decision making.

Even assuming the best of intentions on the part of all of these interested parties, legitimate public concerns always seem to get short-shrift.

When such a controversial topic is discussed before City Councilors, one would think there would be special care taken to ensure that the rules governing open meetings are scrupulously observed, even to the point of over-compensation.

Even though the notice posted announcing the meeting stated that “no Council business will be discussed,” a quorum of Councilors was present (the minimum number of Councilors necessary to conduct Council business), and that of and by itself triggers the ‘open meeting’ requirement and all the rules associated with an open meeting.

To say that no Council business would be discussed is a bit disingenuous in any case, as a presentation by the Guard would undoubtedly involve some mention of the F-35 siting and questions and answers of interest to the public who are engaged on either side of the issue.

It is my understanding that, to remain within the confines of Open Meeting Law, either the public must be free to attend, or the number of Councilors in attendance must be below the number required to conduct a legal vote. If a quorum must be in attendance, the Council has no choice but to gavel a meeting before the public.

After that, if it can be justified under the limitations governing open meetings, the Council may go into Executive Session, excluding the public from the conversation. But there are strict rules governing the circumstances under which Executive Session may be convened. I believe the only allowable reasons are to discuss a city employee or legal matters which my be adversely affected by premature disclosure. They should be prepared to summarily explain why Executive Session is justified, and they must come out of Executive Session if a vote is to be taken.

In any case, maintaining public trust should be paramount in any question of excluding citizens from a Council gathering.

While the Secretary of States office is relatively powerless in enforcing open meeting rules, Jim Condos has recognized that Vermont has a problem in that area, and initiated his annual “Transparency Tour” not long after he took office.

Since receiving a polite reminder of the obligation to follow the open meeting rules a couple of years ago, I am happy to say that the City of St. Albans appears to have become much more conscientious. Apparently, the same cannot necessarily be said of Burlington.

As I have discovered, there is little legal recourse for the aggrieved in the event of an open meeting violation, so it is not surprising to learn that

“None of the community members…are currently pursuing any action.”

Norm McAllister assaults the system…and gets away with it…again.

So, accused rapist/sex trafficker Norm McAllister will remain on the Republican primary ballot for senator even though his petition has been found to be deficient.  I hear fellow Republican candidate Carolyn Branagan’s cry of indignation and I share it!

Mr McAllister must be some sort of human detector for weaknesses in Vermont’s judiciary and legislative systems.

So far, he has succeeded in exploiting no less than five significant failures, and he hasn’t even come to trial yet to face accusations made by two more women.

1) The lack of meaningful protections for the vulnerable in the private workplace.

2) An apparent culture of “don’t ask; don’t tell” in the statehouse, where the extreme youth
of Mr. McAllister’s omnipresent ‘intern’ should have raised concerns and led to timely interventions.

3) The lack of a meaningful ethics policy governing legislators.

4) The lack of adequate provision in court for the PTSD disability common to victims of sexual abuse.

5) The lack of effective vetting practices to validate candidate petitions.

I’m sure there are more, but these spring most quickly to mind. Do not look for a grasp of reality anytime soon from this man because both Franklin County and the state of Vermont have yet to demonstrate any ability to bring his arrogance and his appetites to heel.

Update: Is this what scuttled the McAllister trial?

As I have already said elsewhere, I sat in disbelief last Wednesday as the Prosecution dropped the charges of multiple sexual assaults against suspended senator Norm McAllister.  This, after putting the fragile victim through something like five hours of clearly painful and humiliating public testimony while the accused, seated with his back to the curious crowd, was spared the need for any account of himself.

I was further dismayed to see so little concern over the decision expressed by conventional media. Emphasis seemed to rest on the Defense’s unchallenged assertion that McAllister had been “vindicated.” Attorneys for the two sides shook hands amicably and left the courtroom without really explaining what had happened.

The victim was simply abandoned to the tender mercies of public speculation.

It was therefore more than a little heartening to finally hear a piece on VPR this afternoon that showed more empathy for the victim than was exhibited in the immediate aftermath of the aborted trial.

From VPR, we learned that the Prosecution had made the decision to drop the case after the Defense pointed to something that the victim “lied” about in her testimony. We are told that the victim felt question asked was “too personal” and, in any case,  irrelevant to the case; but the prosecutor, nevertheless, decided to withdraw the charges when the victim admitted that she hadn’t answered truthfully..

I think I might know what this is all about and it really was a very poor reason to abandon the case. If I am mistaken, I would really like someone to set me straight.

Toward the close of the cross-examination, she was clearly reaching the end of her emotional tether.  Perhaps realizing she was that close to breaking, the Defense began to pressure her about physical evidence of the crime on her body, and in rapid succession she said, “no,no, no” to every intimate question that was asked.  Her body language indicated to me that they had hit a wall of resistance to any further indignity.  She’d had enough.

The other possibility that occurs to me is that the Defense succeeded in persuading the Prosecution that they could dispute a detail of the first attack as she described it, by referencing her Facebook page.

In her testimony, the victim said that her ponytail had been dyed purple at the time of the first attack. At the break, I overheard the Defense, first discussing among themselves; then,with the Prosecution, that this was “impossible” because photos on her Facebook page showed her with a purple ponytail a year later but not in any of the photos on her Facebook page that date to the time of the first attack.

Having had a teenager, I know, as probably most people do, that these colors can be applied rather spontaneously and disappear or are rinsed away rather easily. She could very well have had a purple ponytail at the time of the first attack too, but not been photographed with it.

It is, in any case, the kind of detail that could easily become confused in the memory of a girl suffering the mental anguish of rape and trying to suppress that memory in order to keep it secret.

If this is what caused the Prosecution to drop the charges, it is a pretty poor reason.

Either way, the inconsistencies in her testimony could have easily been explained by the Prosecution as consistent with PTSD from sexual abuse.

McAllister Day 1: The Victim on Trial

Today I attended the first day of the long-awaited trial of Franklin County senatorial candidate, Norm McAllister (R) for alleged assaults committed against a then-teenage victim.  

The morning began inauspiciously with a replaced juror, and news that the victim might not appear if the proceedings would be videotaped. She was understandably reluctant to describe the graphic nature of the assaults before the camera’s eye.

For some reason, the attorney for the Free Press advocated most strongly for not sparing the victim from the cameras. In the end, cameras were excluded for the duration of her testimony and she was called to the stand.

The doors opened and a little girl who looked like she might be a high school freshman stepped into the courtroom, accompanied by a victims’ rights advocate. Her taffy colored hair was gathered into a traditional ponytail and she was dressed neatly in jeans and a shirt. She later said that at the time of the alleged assaults she weighed just 85-lbs., and stood four-foot-eleven inches.

Thanks to a deal negotiated by the defense, she cannot be referred to during the trial as “the victim,” since Norm McAllister is disputing whether any crime has been committed. (Try that argument if you are a young black male!) Fortunately, we at GMD are not so constrained, and she will remain “The Victim” in these pages because she did not want the press to identify her, and seemed anguished to learn that her name had already, earlier, been leaked to the media.

After today’s proceedings, I think I better understand why it is so difficult to get sexual assault victims to challenge their tormenters in a court of law. It would be a hideous and demeaning experience even for the most confident and articulate adult.

For an economically disadvantaged and unsophisticated girl, with barely a high school education, her encounter with the “justice” system following sexual trauma is likely to be about enough to finish her off.

At this point, The Victim has been deposed several times over the course of many months, with varying degrees of readinesss, and by people with conflicting agendas. Unsurprisingly for me, her memory is faulty and full of contradictions from one account to the next.

A well educated and mature adult, untroubled by the trauma of sexual assault may find it difficult to understand how her story could be so inconsistent; but consider what that twenty-one year old girl has to contend with. Complicating the recall process was her instinct to hide her ‘shame’ from everyone, but most especially from her boyfriend.

Apart from the direct trauma of the assault, there are societal taboos in play that trigger unjustified feelings of shame and guilt from which the mind may weave a tissue of altered narratives that only serve to complicate recovery of the real memories.

The longer the incidents of trauma persist and the later the attempt at recall, the more likely it is that those memories will be riddled with flaws and fluctuations. All kinds of odd dysfunction occur in individuals suffering abuse. Think of Stockholm Syndrome and the tendency of pedophiles to have been abused themselves as children.

There is likely some underlying pathology to The Victims jumbled memories, as well as the contribution made by her youth at the beginning of the alleged abusive relationship (sixteen or seventeen), and the role of ignorant societal judgements on the violated.

But to dismiss the overarching complaint as a mere fabrication, as I suspect they may be fixing to do in the McAllister case, would be the worst kind of injustice.

Her obvious revulsion at having to discuss the crimes in public could not be concealed. She might have kept the secret of her violation indefinitely if police, investigating other allegations of McAllister’s sexual exploitation, hadn’t come knocking at her door.

Now I am sure she regrets having let them in.

County Courier called out for bias

Here in Franklin County, many people rely on the County Courier to provide weekly perspective on regional, and some national, news.

Lately, many readers have been disappointed to find more and more articles gleaned from national right wing sources creeping into the pages of the Courier, generally without vetting or balance, and  occasionally without complete disclosure of the source.

The latest salvo in this partisan information attack came in the form of a new policy by the Courier concerning “Letters to the Editor” in advance of the 2016 elections. Only letters from incumbent legislators  will be allowed unlimited inclusion in the paper.  Anyone else writing about the election, including opposition candidates, will be limited to a single letter of 100 words or less.  That leaves incumbents with plenty of opportunity to attack their opponents and the opponents almost none for setting the record straight.

Of course, since 10 out of the twelve incumbent legislators are Republican, it’s pretty clear which party this policy is designed to favor.

I hope our own readers will consider adding their voices to the protests against this biased policy.  Here at GMD, we are an unashamedly biased source of opinion, as befits a blog; but the Courier claims to be a newspaper and should limit its bias  to clearly identified editorial content.

Here is the Courier’s email contact:   countycourier@gmail.com

And here follows my own letter to the editor:

Years back, I would routinely pick-up a copy of the Courier because I appreciated the depth of its coverage of local news. Those days are long gone, and the Courier has evolved into an organ of right-wing propaganda, reproducing nationally generated material of questionable accuracy and decided bias without appropriate disclaimers.

That transition is now complete with the announcement of the Courier’s new policy on letters concerning the 2016 election campaign. While challenging candidates and their supporters are limited to one letter of 100 words for the duration of the campaign, incumbent candidates  are allowed virtually unlimited access to the forum.

Given that the Franklin County delegation is almost entirely Republican, as of now, the opposition voice is effectively repressed by your policy. This is a disservice to your readers and to County interests in general.

Consider, in contrast, the habits of the St. Albans Messenger, which prints virtually all letters that are minimally civil, no matter what the point of view. The Messenger is fulfilling its vital traditional role as a community forum, choosing only to limit letters in the last week of an election campaign, when the volume threatens to overwhelm other content. At that point, they simply give a cut-off date for new submissions related to the election. No preference is given to incumbents and their supporters.

Please recommit to your obligation toward the public good and restore the integrity of our County Courier.