Tag Archives: Vermont

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.

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.

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.