Shumlin releases tax return, assets

Gov. Peter Shumlin’s campaign has released his 2013 tax return and a list of his assets. According to the return, Shumlin earned about $721,000 in 2013, including $128,000 from the state. He made $167,000 from capital gains and about $350,000 from real estate.

According to the campaign, Shumlin has more than $10 million in assets. He owns 16 properties valued at a combined $3,867,702. He owns six vehicles and various farm equipment valued at $128,000. His various investments are valued at $6,487,382.

 

 

 

DVHA has new deputy commissioner

MONTPELIER — A new Department of Vermont Health Access deputy commissioner has been hired to help the state’s troubled exchange.

Lawrence Miller, Gov. Peter Shumlin’s chief of health care reform, said Wednesday that native Vermonter Bob Skowronski will take over the role. Former Deputy Commissioner Lindsey Tucker has been assigned to a new roll in DVHA, he said.

According to Lawrence, Skowronski has “spent his career in health care IT system work.” In recent years he has worked on exchanges in New York, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Rhode Island and Connecticut. He has also worked as Blue Cross Blue Shield in Vermont as director of data management.

Skowronski said Wednesday that his experience in working on exchanges has come from the carrier side in previous work with United Health Care.

“I would consider the carrier … as a customer of the exchange. So, I’ve seen the exchange from a different perspective. The processes are the same, just a different perspective,” he said.

Miller said Skowronski approached him about helping the state fix Vermont Health Connect, which continues to lack key functions.

“He sent me a letter a few weeks ago offering to help at a time in his career when he can step off the corporate track and give back to the community in a way that really takes advantage of his skills and experience,” Miller wrote in an email.

Skowronski said he was preoccupied with his work and only recently began to take not of the challenges in Vermont. When he took stock of the situation at Vermont Health Connect he wanted to help. He said his status as Six Sigma black belt will can help address the site’s shortcomings.

“A few weeks ago, a month ago, I started paying closer attention to news reports … and realized they were experiencing problems that I thought I could help solve,” he said.

Miller said he passed Skowronski’s interest in helping along to Agency of Human Services Secretary Harry Chen and DVHA Commissioner Mark Larson for interviews.

Skowronski, who began work on Tuesday, said he has spent his first two days listening and gauging the needs of stakeholders.

“Clearly Vermonters have had issues with the way Vermont Health Connect was implemented. What I want to start with is their perspective. I want to start with what’s important to Vermonters. I want to work with what’s important to carriers. I want to make sure we’re working closely with the vendors. I want to make sure we’re satisfying various regulators,” he said.

Yacovone leaving post at DCF

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin announced Wednesday afternoon that Department for Children and Families Commissioner David Yacovone is leaving his position in the embattled department for a job in the private sector.

Yacovone made the decision to leave state service and was not asked to step down. Still, the move comes as DCF deals with the fallout of several crises and faces a potential reorganization following a comprehensive review ordered by Shumlin in May.

The department faced scathing criticism following the deaths earlier this year of two children supervised by the department. Two-year-old Dezirae Sheldon of Poultney died in February and 15-month-old Peighton Geraw of Winooski died in April. Both deaths were ruled homicides.

David Yacovone

David Yacovone

Calls for Yacovone’s ouster have persisted since those tragedies. Former Agency of Human Services Secretary Doug Racine was fired by Shumlin earlier this month.

Various investigations into the toddlers’ deaths are ongoing, and a special legislative panel has worked all summer to determine what, if any, legislation is needed to address policies and procedures within the department.

Additionally, a lawsuit was filed last week against the state department alleging that social workers did not act on the reported abuse and neglect of two children in Ludlow over a four year period.

Yacovone, a former member of the Vermont House, was appointed DCF commissioner in January 2011, when Shumlin took office. He has worked in the health and human services field since 1976, beginning as a vocational counselor for economically disadvantaged Vermonters.

Yacovone also worked as a nursing home administrator for 16 years and at the Agency of Human Services for 12 years, including stints as chief operating officer, commissioner of the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living and and director of field services in the Morrisville district office.

A full story will appear in Thursday’s editions of the Herald and Times Argus.

Poll: Shumlin leads Milne by double digits

Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin is leading Republican challenger Scott Milne 48 percent to 36 percent, according to a poll released Friday by Rasmussen Reports.

According to Rasmussen, the survey of 700 likely voters in Vermont was conducted Aug. 28 to Aug. 29 by. The margin of sampling error is +/- 4 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence. Field work was conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC.

The poll did not include Libertarian candidate Dan Feliciano. Although Milne easily secured the GOP nomination in Tuesday’s primary, Feliciano was able to secure double digit support thanks to an aggressive write-in campaign. He will appear on the general election ballot as the Libertarian nominee.

Shumlin taps Coriell to head campaign

Gov. Peter Shumlin announced Friday that he has tapped Scott Coriell to head his re-election bid, which will have a kick-off event on Tuesday, Sept. 9.

Coriell has served as a special assistant to Shumlin since September 2013, and was previously the communications director for Democratic Rep. Peter Welch. Coriell will leave his position in the governor’s office immediately to begin working on the campaign.

“My campaign will focus on the challenges and opportunities facing our great state in the years ahead,” Shumlin a vacationing Shumlin said in a statement sent out by his campaign finance director. “We have made great progress, but I will not rest until all Vermonters have the economic security and quality of life they deserve. It has been a great honor to serve as Vermont’s governor and I look forward to traveling the state over the coming weeks and asking Vermonters for their support for two more years of progress.”

Details about the kick-off event will be released next week, according to the campaign.

Optum report critical of state, CGI

Vermont’s top health care reform officials are planning a roundtable meeting with reporters this morning to discuss a report by Optum that is critical of both the state and CGI.

Included in the report:

Optum has concluded, based review of the VHC’s Program Management documentation and interviews with both SOV and contractor staff, that the project’s Program Management structure and processes contributed to SOV’s lack of project ownership and CGI’s lack of accountability. Additionally, project
management processes within the program, do not align with industry best practices and are insufficient or ineffective.

As a result CGI has not met its commitments in the contract and the project has not met the expectations of the SOV. The project team’s ability to deliver the remaining contractual requirements is a ‘High’ risk, and as such, immediate corrective action is required.

 

Read the report below:

Shumlin, Milne and Sorrell secure nominations

MONTPELIER — Tuesday’s primary was marked by low voter turnout and slow, tedious counting by election officials as they sorted through many ballots with write in votes.

Few Vermonters exercised their right to vote in the state’s primary Tuesday in which candidates looked to secure their party’s nominations for the general election in November. Clerks around the state reported a paltry showing from voters.

Most town and city clerks were expected to be counting and tallying results late into the night, well past deadline, thanks to aggressive write in campaigns waged by Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Dan Feliciano and Dean Corren, a Progressive running for lieutenant governor.

On the GOP ballot, gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne was declared the winner by the Associated Press just after 8 p.m. He defeated Republicans Emily Peyton and Steve Berry, and fended off the write in challenge by Feliciano.

With just 79, or 29 percent of the state’s 275 precincts reporting results at 8:45 p.m., Milne had tallied 70 percent of the vote, far ahead of both Peyton and Berry who both had about 6 percent. Write in votes, presumably most with Feliciano’s name, accounted for 17.5 percent of the reported votes.

Town and city clerks were mandated to report results to the Secretary of State’s office Tuesday night with the number of write in votes cast, but were not required to declare for whom those write in votes were cast.

“I’m very pleased to win. I was not surprised, I guess, but I think the low turnout could have been bad for me. My sense is that if there was a larger turnout my margin would have been higher,” Milne said. “Overall, I thought it was good for Vermont and I think it gives me a little more name recognition going into November, so I’m thankful for my opponents for that.”

Milne will now pivot from the primary to focus on defeating incumbent Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, who easily won his party’s nomination Tuesday. Milne said he will make the case that Shumlin has had “a really bad performance over the last four years.”

“We need to present ourselves as a credible alternative to Gov. Shumlin and I think we will do very well in the fall,” he said.

Corren was asking voters to write him in on the Democratic primary ballot to help him secure the nomination for both the Progressive and Democratic Parties. He will need at least 250 write in votes on the Democratic ballot for the party to endorse him. However, some party stalwarts, including Democratic Sens. Dick Mazza, Dick Sears and John Campbell, have endorsed the popular Republican incumbent Phil Scott.

As of 8:45 p.m., 1,245 write in votes had been cast, but it was unclear for whom. Some Democrats had pledged to write in Scott on the Democratic ballot in a bid to thwart Corren.

In the Democratic primary for governor, Shumlin was declared the winner early on by the Associated Press. He was way out ahead of challenger H. Brooke Paige. Shumlin had 76 percent of the vote to Paige’s 17 percent.

Paige was also badly trailing incumbent Attorney General William Sorrell, also declared a winner by the AP, in that position’s primary. Sorrell had 79 percent to Paige’s 20 percent.

The race for the Republican nomination for U.S. representative was too close to call. With 92 precincts reporting, Mark Donka and Donald Russell were separated by one vote and had 34 percent of the vote each. Donald Nolte had tallied 27 percent of the vote.

Turnout, as expected, was extremely low. The percentage of registered voters that cast ballots Tuesday was unknown Tuesday night, but looked like it could be one of the worst showings in recent history.

In Barre Town, by 2:30 p.m. only 227 voters had cast ballots out of a possible 5,464 voters on the checklist, according to Town Clerk Donna Kelty.

“It’s been realy, really, slow here,” Kelty said. “We rarely have great turnout for primary elections In our municipality it was the first day of school so people had other things on their minds.”

In Bennington, both of the town’s House districts featured a contest on the Democratic ballot. In the Bennington 2-2 district, four Democrats were running for two spots on the November ballot. Results were not available as of 8:45 p.m.

Still, not even that contested race with well-known candidates could drive voters to the polls in large numbers.

“It doesn’t look like it’s huge,” Town Clerk Timothy Corcoran said about turnout. “Even with those it’s not real huge.”

Corcoran said a lack of contested statewide races on the Democratic side was a major reason for the lack of interest among voters.

“There’s no real statewide races. Nobody votes in the Republican primary,” he said.

Kelty said the state’s late August primary is a main reason for the low turnout. Moving the primary to earlier in the year would like boost turnout, she said.

“I would agree 100 percent with that. If I could pick and choose I think a good time for a primary would be mid-June,” Kelty said. “That would allow ample time for the secretary of state’s office to prepare ballots for the general election.”

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

VSEA announces new legislative director

MONTPELIER — The Vermont State Employees’ Association announced a new legislative director Monday, filling a vacancy created when former Legislative Director Steve Howard was promoted to executive director of the union.

Ben Palkowski, who was working as an attorney in Massachusetts before being tapped for the VSEA position, previously served as the Vermont Democratic House Campaign’s executive director from 2007 to 2011. He also worked in 2006 as a field coordinator for Democratic Rep. Peter Welch’s campaign.

“Ben knows Vermont politics and our state election and legislative processes very well, which is why VSEA is pleased to be adding his expertise to our legislative team,” VSEA President Shelley Martin said in a statement. “I have no doubt VSEA members are going to be well served at the State House by both Ben and our Legislative Specialist Anne Accettella.”

“I am thrilled to be back in Vermont, and I am really looking forward to working alongside and advocating on behalf VSEA members,” Palkowski said in a statement.

Prior to joining the VSEA, Palkowski practiced student loan and consumer protection law in Boston and operated a consulting firm.

Hoffer will audit Vermont Health Connect

MONTPELIER — State Auditor Doug Hoffer announced Monday that his office is planning to audit the state’s online health insurance marketplace as the Shumlin administration and its new lead contractor look to fix ongoing technical issues.

Hoffer informed interim Agency of Human Services Secretary Harry Chen in a letter dated Aug. 21 of the pending audit.

Vermont Health Connect, the insurance exchange mandated under the federal Affordable Care Act, has been troubled since its October 2013 launch. Thousands of users who need to change information, such as their address or marital status, must undergo a cumbersome manual process rather than the faster, automated way the website was expected to offer.

Additionally, small business employees are still not allowed to enroll through the website and must obtain insurance directly from carriers. That function is now expected to be available next year at the earliest.

Hoffer said Monday that his office will focus on whether the state has plans in place to correct the site’s shortcomings. A number of reports from various independent contractors have highlighted those shortcomings and provided recommendations on how to address them.

Doug Hoffer

Doug Hoffer

“All of them include a number of recommendations and some of them go back to last year. That’s good, in a way, because we can check and see if adjustments were made,” Hoffer said. “We said, ‘Let’s try to be positive and provide info to the administration, the Legislature and the various departments and see how well they’ve responded.”

Hoffer said his review will begin by late September. That will allow time for an ongoing federal review, conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General, to be completed. There will be “no overlap” between the state and federal reviews, he said.

“We certainly didn’t want to be in their shop at the same time the IG’s folks are there,” Hoffer said.

The state review will not include contracts awarded by the state or money spent on the exchange, according to Hoffer.

“It’s not about contracts at this point. Some of that ground has been pretty heavily plowed,” he said. “Clearly, everybody knows and these reports have documented, that there have been a lot of problems.”

The state audit will involve two to three employees from the auditor’s office and is expected to take months to complete.

“These things are complicated and take a long time. I have yet to see an audit take less than four months — six is more likely,” Hoffer said. “It’s my intention to really encourage folks to find a way to get this done during the [legislative] session. That might involve trimming the objectives to save time.”

Milne launches TV ad

MONTPELIER — Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne has launched his first television commercial as the primary approaches next week.

The ad, which will be running on WPTZ, Fox 44/ABC 22 and WCAX through the primary, features footage from Milne’s campaign kickoff event last month in Barre. Former Republican Gov. James Douglas is prominently featured, calling Milne the next governor of Vermont.

“Internally, I think sort of the campaign family, we’re stoked about it. I think it’s very, very good and I’m appreciative of all the support from Gov. Douglas,” Milne said Tuesday.

The commercial also shows footage of Milne’s mother, former GOP state Rep. Marion Milne, who passed away on Aug. 11.

Milne said his campaign is spending just over $20,000 on the commercial through next Tuesday.

 

Racine out at AHS

MONTPELIER – Agency of Human Services Secretary Doug Racine is being replaced, the Shumlin administration announced Tuesday, as challenges within the agency mount.

According to Shumlin administration officials, current Health Commissioner Harry Chen will replace Racine on an interim basis while a permanent replacement is sought.

“I appreciate Doug’s hard work over three and a half years to help Vermont’s most vulnerable,” Shumlin said in a release.

Doug Racine

Doug Racine

Shumlin touted the agency’s move to a data-driven, results-based planning strategy and a revamped mental health system under Racine’s tenure.

But the agency has faced significant challenges, too. Vermont Health Connect, the state’s online health insurance marketplace that is overseen by the agency’s Department of Vermont Health Access, has struggled and remains hobbled. And The Department for Children and Families has faced scathing criticism following the recent deaths of several children, allegedly at the hands of caregivers.

“This has been a tough job, but now is the right time to start with new leadership to take the Agency of Human Services forward,” Shumlin said. “I appreciate Dr. Chen’s willingness to get us started on that challenge.”

Harry Chen

Harry Chen

Chen is expected to remain as Interim Secretary of AHS through the end of the year. Deputy Commissioner of Health Tracy Dolan will head the Health Department in his absence.

A full story will appear in Wednesday’s editions of the Herald and Times Argus.

Vermont Law School Professor Cheryl Hanna dies

MONTPELIER — Vermont Law School Professor Cheryl Hanna, a frequent legal commentator for Vermont media outlets, died unexpectedly Monday, according to the school.

Hanna, 48, was an expert in constitutional law, the United States Supreme Court, and women and the law. She received a bachelor’s degree from Kalamazoo College in 1988 and a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1992. Her work has been published in leading journals, including the Harvard Law Review, Yale Law Journal, and Michigan Journal of Gender and the Law.

Hanna made frequent appearances on Vermont Public Radio and WCAX-TV, and provided comments and analysis for newspapers around the state.

“It is with the most profound sorrow that we announce the untimely death of our dear colleague Professor Cheryl Hanna,” the school said in a statement Monday. “Professor Hanna was a beloved teacher and role model to many within and beyond the Vermont Law School community. It is with heartache that we share this loss. She will be deeply missed by our faculty, staff, students, and alumni.”

Cheryl Hanna

Cheryl Hanna

Maryellen Apelquist, director of media relations for Vermont Law School said there would be no further comment from the school.

Hanna is survived by her husband and two children. A memorial service will be held at a later date and details will be announced when plans are finalized.

According to the school’s statement, Hanna consulted on constitutional cases and represented public interest organizations through the filing of amicus briefs in cases before state and federal courts.

“This included the amicus brief she and Vermont Law School students wrote on behalf of the Vermont Commission on Women in Dreves v. Hudson, the first case implicating Vermont’s Equal Pay Act. The book she co-authored, Domestic Violence and the Law: Theory and Practice, was the leading casebook on violence against women,” the statement reads.

According to her biography on the school’s website, Hanna previously served on the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign and as an assistant state’s attorney in Baltimore before joining the Vermont Law School faculty in 1994. She had also been a visiting professor at the University of California-Hastings College of the Law and at Seattle University School of Law.

Lawmakers launch new PAC

MONTPELIER — A pair of moderate lawmakers — one a Democrat, the other a Republican — have launched a nonpartisan PAC aimed at electing candidates that seek “fiscal responsibility” and “balanced, common-sense public policies.”

Rep. Heidi Scheuermann

Rep. Heidi Scheuermann

Reps. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, and Paul Ralston, D-Middlebury, who is not seeking reelection, announced the new political action committee, Vision to Action Vermont, on Monday. The duo, who have worked together on the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee for the past four years, say they want to “encourage economic prosperity, greater opportunities for Vermont families and businesses, and individual liberties and responsibility.”

“I am very excited to launch this new endeavor,” Scheuermann, who flirted with a run for governor earlier this year, said in a press release. “For many years, I have advocated strongly for a long-term, comprehensive strategy for economic growth in Vermont, and this organization will help bring that focus to the forefront.”

Ralston said November’s election is key, with lawmakers set to tackle health care, property taxes and “taxes in general” during the next legislative biennium that will have an impact on the state’s small businesses and families.

Rep. Paul Ralston

Rep. Paul Ralston

“We must be sure that those in elected positions address those issues thoughtfully and independently, and with an eye toward the benefits and consequences to our economy,” he said in the release.

The PAC plans to raise money to support, promote and endorse candidates of all parties “who are committed to policies of true economic growth, and show great leadership, strength, and independence, yet do so with compassion and respect.”

Deadline for AHS reorganization extended

MONTPELIER — Governor Peter Shumlin’s own Pathways from Poverty Council is asking him to allow for public participation before the Agency of Human Services issues its recommendations on how to address systems, policies and procedures within the agency.

As a result, Shumlin’s office says it is planning to extend an Aug. 1 deadline for AHS Secretary Doug Racine to submit a plan to the governor’s office to reorganize the agency. That deadline will now be Oct. 1.

Shumlin’s order for a reorganization plan, along with other more immediate changes he called for in May, came on the heels of the deaths of two children involved with the Department for Children and Families. Two-year-old Dezirae Sheldon of Poultney died in February and 15-month-old Peighton Geraw died in April. Both deaths were ruled homicides resulting from trauma.

Shumlin said a review and reorganization of DCF is needed because the current department was created from two others in 2004. He said he wants to ensure DCF is focused on its core mission: protecting children and strengthening families. Work not associated with those issues may be reassigned to other parts of state government, according to the governor.

Christopher Curtis

Christopher Curtis

Christopher Curtis, co-chairman of the Pathways from Poverty Council, created by Shumlin through an executive order in December, said council members are aware of ongoing action by a special legislative panel.

“I think the council members became increasingly aware that there’s clearly a public process that the Legislature has undertaken on the questions of child protection. It’s clearly been undertaken with urgency and great concern, as is appropriate,” he said.

But members also want to ensure that any changes made by the administration to DCF also includes input from stakeholders and the public.

“I think many of the stakeholders around the table at the poverty council starting thinking that if there are major policy chances being considered that may have a big ripple effect,” he said.

Council members “wanted to be a part of whatever changes the administration is making,” Curtis said, “rather than just respond to those.”

The council delivered a letter to Racine requesting more time and public input at its Thursday meeting. Shumlin agreed on Friday.

“The Poverty Council has done tremendous work in the past year, helping us formulate smarter, more responsive policies for Vermonters in need,” Shumlin said in a statement. “I am grateful for their work, and appreciate their suggestion that we take more time and receive more input prior to formulating further recommendations regarding the work of the Agency of Human Services and the Department of Children and Families.”

Shumlin said his administration will work with the council on receiving public input.

“I’ve asked Secretary Racine and his Agency team to coordinate with the Poverty Council to ensure we receive strong feedback in this process, and look forward to receiving their further recommendations by October 1st,” Shumlin said in his statement.

Curtis said additional input will help the administration reform the agency in a constructive way.

“We can’t possibly represent all the constituencies out there. Our hope is that this will invite more process … and allow people an opportunity to either write to the governor’s office or write to the secretary,” he said. “I think to open that process will give the administration the benefit of more solutions and informing their decisions.”

Milne admits past health, legal troubles

MONTPELIER — Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne revealed in a statement to reporters Thursday that he was arrested three times in college and suffered a stroke in 2006.

The arrests, two for driving under the influence of alcohol and one for possession marijuana and cocaine, all resulted in convictions. Milne said in a telephone interview Thursday that the cases were “settled as expeditiously as possible without spending money on counsel.”

“I don’t think about them on a daily basis, but my presumption is they are part of the public record,” he said.

In 2006, Milne suffered an ischemic stroke caused by a blood clot in his brain. He said he has made a full recovery, suffers “very little residual effect,” and has been cleared by doctors to campaign and serve as governor.

“Basically, I have a little bit of numbness on one side of my buddy and that really is about it,” Milne said.

He gave credit for his recovery to his daughter who he said sought immediate medical attention when the stroke occurred.

Milne, who has yet to formally launch his campaign, said he wanted the information about his past to be out in the open. He said facts about his past “might be important and relevant” to supporters.

Scott Milne

Scott Milne

“I think we wanted to get it out. If we started to campaign earlier we would have sent it out a lot earlier,” he said. “It was a consideration when I was weighing whether or not to run.”

Milne, in the statement sent to reporters, said “Vermonters have a right to a governor who is upfront and transparent.” He promised transparency about his personal life as well as the “economic challenges and crisis of affordability we face as a state.”