Monthly Archives: October 2011

McDonald to Shumlin: Use bully pulpit to help end strike

Gov. Peter Shumlin was eager to chastize state employees who filed a grievance seeking double pay for work performed after Tropical Storm Irene.

Now Vermont GOP chairwoman Pat McDonald wants Shumlin to use the bully pulpit to criticize another group of public sector employees: the teachers who continue to strike in southern Vermont.

"It is outrageous that this strike has gone on for so long, and it's time for the Governor to speak up and tell the striking teachers to get back to work," said McDonald in a written statement issued Friday. "Parents need to get back to their jobs, and kids need to get back into the classroom.  As Vermont's Commissioner of Education put it earlier this week, it is time to stand up for the silent victims of strikes: students."

Will Shumlin weigh in? Stay tuned.

– Thatcher Moats

Former House Rep. Mark Mitchell dies

MONTPELIER – Former Rep. Mark Mitchell, who resigned from the Vermont Legislature earlier this year due to terminal cancer, has died, Gov. Peter Shumlin said Thursday.

Shumlin gave his condolences to Mitchell's family and friends during a press conference and praised Mitchell's work as a lawmaker.

As a representative he fought hard for smart environmental policies and for those who don't have a voice, and he was always extraordinarily thoughtful and hard working for this great state,” Shumlin said.

Mitchell was born in London, England in 1934, according to his official biographical sketch. He lived in Ireland during World War II and came to the United States in 1946.

Mitchell, a Barnard Democrat who also represented Hartford and Pomfret, began serving in the Legislature in 2007.

He resigned at the end of the most recent legislative session, blaming his habit of smoking two packs a day for 40 years for his lung cancer.

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Common Cause calls off presser

MONTPELIER — Common Cause of Vermont announced on Wednesday it would hold a press conferece Thursday (today) at the Statehouse to outline its allegations that Gov. Peter Shumlin violated Vermont's campaign finance law during his successful run for governor in 2010.

But don't bother showing up at the Cedar Creek Room at 1 p.m., because the presser is no more.

Wally Roberts, executive director of Common Cause, said word came down from the national Common Cause office to hold off.

"Basically the national office reviewed my presentation and wants me to make it more clear," Roberts said.

In an interview with the Vermont Press Bureau this week, Roberts explained the group's position. Here are quotes from today's article in the Rutland Herald and Times Argus:

“The law clearly states that $1,000 can be spent in the primary and then $1,000 in the general election,” said Roberts.

“The state takes the position that $2,000 from any particular contribution can be spent at any time during the election cycle, and we contend this subverts the principle of free and fair elections,” Roberts added in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon.

Roberts said the press conference hasn't been rescheduled but could possibly happen next week.

– Thatcher Moats

Moore leaving VPIRG

MONTPELIER — James Moore is leaving is job as Clean Energy Program Director at the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

In his seven years at VPIRG, Moore has been one of the most vocal advocates in Montpelier for the expansion of renewable energy in Vermont.

Moore will remain on staff until the end of January.

After he departs, Moore is considering creating a new organization "to try to make solar available to Vermonters around the state."

"The exact details of that are not clear yet," said Moore.

 VPIRG is advertising his position and is trying to fill it quickly, said Moore.

– Thatcher Moats

Tayt Brooks leaving Vt. GOP post

The Vermont Republican Party Executive Director Tayt Brooks is stepping down to help Kurt Wright run for mayor of Burlington. Mike Bertrand is replacing him, according to an announcement from the party.

Here's the news release:

Pat McDonald, Chair of the Vermont Republican Party, announced today that Mike Bertrand of Montpelier is taking over as the GOP's Executive Director.

The current Executive Director, Tayt Brooks, is stepping down so he can focus his time and energy on helping Kurt Wright's campaign for Mayor of Burlington.

 

McDonald lavished praise on Brooks, who served as Vermont's Commissioner of Housing and Community Affairs before joining the VT GOP.

 

"Tayt Brooks is a top-caliber administrator with a very keen political mind, and we will miss having him around," said McDonald. "He has been a steady hand on the tiller for us, and I know great things lie ahead for him. I wish him well."

 

Bertrand, 41, served in several different positions during the Douglas Administration: Commissioner of Labor and Industry; Special Assistant and Deputy Legal Counsel to the Governor; Deputy Secretary of Administration; Deputy Commissioner of Insurance; and lastly Commissioner of Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration.

 

Bertrand grew up in Montpelier, and attended Penn State University and Fordham Law School. Prior to joining the Douglas team in 2003, he practiced law and also served as Assistant Clerk of the Vermont House of Representatives. Since leaving state government in January of this year, he has been working as a consultant in Montpelier.

 

"I'm thrilled that we were able to get Mike Bertrand to come run the party's operations during such an important time for us," McDonald continued. "Mike knows Vermont, he knows government, and he knows the issues. He's the perfect fit as we move into 2012, which is shaping up to be one of the most important election years in my lifetime."

 

Bertrand will assume his new duties the week of October 31st.

Scott: ‘In retrospect, it wasn’t the best thing to say’

MONTPELIER – Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott spent some time this week digging himself out of a rhetorical rut after suggesting Republicans were playing a larger role in the flood recovery effort than Vermonters affiliated with other parties.

Scott's comments, made at a Republican fundraiser in Rutland, were reported by True North Reports, the right-leaning news website founded by the former chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, Rob Roper.

Here's what Scott said, according to Roper's report in True North:

“We all need to work together to get this done. Having said that, however, we also need to put the right people in place to get the job done…. As I crisscrossed the state and witnessed recovery efforts, and saw the truck drivers, the equipment operators, the law enforcement personnel, the National Guard members, the municipal leaders… and it may have been my imagination, but I do believe most of them who were doing the work were Republicans.”

Scott concluded, “We’re the party of common sense. We are the doers. We’re the ones that get the work done…. Isn’t it ironic that with the majority of Vermonters declaring themselves Democrats, that Governor Shumlin would have to lean on Republicans like myself and Neale Lunderville to help steer the ship, to come up with common sense solutions during adversity to get things done.”

The lite guv, who has had a close working relationship with Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin – especially after the flooding caused by Irene – said he may have been singing a tune the party faithful assembled at the fundraiser wanted to hear.

“I was again at a Republican fundraiser and may have been playing to the crowd a bit,” Scott told the Vermont Press Bureau on Friday. “Unfortunately that was taken out and made it sound a lot worse then it was. For those who are offended, I didn't meant to offend them. I have a lot of friends who are Democrats that are up to their knees in debris and mud and cleaning up so I have no illusion that they aren't effected or aren't cleaning up.”

Scott's comments drew quick condemnation from Vermont Democratic Party chairman Jake Perkinson.

“Yes, Lieutenant Governor… it was your imagination,” Perkinson said in a news release. “Vermonters of all political persuasions have been working hard for weeks to put our state back together, and it’s sad that the Lt. Governor would choose to politicize this crisis.”

Scott said he didn't mean to suggest that Democrats were not working hard after Irene.

“I said it, but I didn't mean it the way it sounded, I guess,” Scott said. “In retrospect, it wasn't the best thing to say.”

His quotes were “taken out of context quite a bit,” Scott said. His larger point, he said, was that in a state where the Democrats hold the governor's office and huge majorities in the House and Senate, Republicans still have an important role to play.

He didn't blame True North, but said that in print, his offhand, joking tone didn't come through.

Scott has praised Shumlin for his flood response, and said he has exchanged voice mails with the governor this week about his comments and talked to Shumlin's staff.

The comments don't mark a new phase in his relationship with the governor or a new, more rigid, partisan stance, said Scott.

“I'm not going to let this little blip alter what has been a great working relationship so far,” Scott said.

–Thatcher Moats

Migrant worker activists continue to lobby Shumlin

MONTPELIER — Activists representing migrant workers employed on Vermont's dairy farms said they were planning to meet with Gov. Peter Shumlin on Friday to urge him to "stand up for the rights of all Vermont's communties."

The group, the Vermont Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project, also released a video that attempts to demonstrate that a recent clash between the Vermont State Police and activists was not an isolated incident. The group's efforts Friday come the same week that a state police advisory committee cleared the state trooper of any wrongdoing during the Sept. 13 traffic stop. Here's the committee's report:

Download SPAC – Trooper Hatch Internal Investigation Summary[1] 

Here's the link to the new video from the VTMFSP:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSrQsiG2VGw

Here's the letter to Shumlin:

Honorable Peter Shumlin, Governor
State of Vermont109 State Street,
PavilionMontpelier, VT 05609                                                                       
RE: Bias-Free-Policing

October 14, 2011                                                      
Dear Governor Shumlin,

We are grateful and honored for the opportunity to meet with you in person today. The timing and significance of this first historic visit of Vermont farm workers to meet with you is not lost on us as we watch our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, and friends get displaced from schools, have their water cut off, and hide in fear of showing their faces in public in Alabama. While the Governor of Alabama, models an inhumane, unjust and discriminatory reaction to the broken federal immigration system we, here in Vermont, have an opportunity and obligation for a completely different way forward. At key moments in history Vermont has broken with the institutionalized discrimination of the status quo based on the principals of freedom, respect and human rights for all those living and working in our great state.

Will Vermont embrace inclusivity, diversity, inter-dependence and the rights for all or will it build bigger walls between us that foster misunderstanding, exclusion, discrimination, and persecution?  We are profoundly disappointed with the State Police's investigation into their biased-policing practices on September 13 that resulted in the detention of Danilo Lopez and Antonio-Meza Sandoval. We are hopeful that you will oversee your own investigation into this and other incidents we share today. At the same time we acknowledge the need for State Troopers to have even more clarity, direction, and guidelines so that we stop biased-policing practices in Vermont and we seek to work with you to that end.

We sit here with you today, with great humility and respect, representing the good folks that work day and night to put the milk and cheese on the table, and ask that you stand up for the rights of all Vermont's communities by:

*Viewing this short video documenting incidents of biased-policing practices in Vermont:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSrQsiG2VGw 
 
*Strengthening, clarifying and implementing the enclosed recommended changes to the State Police's Bias-Free Policing Policies:

http://vtmfsp.org/sites/default/files/Bias-Free-PolicingChanges.pdf 

*Reading this letter from leaders of Vermont's communities of color expressing community concerns about the September 13th biased-policing practices: http://vtmfsp.org/sites/default/files/POCletter.pdf 

*Direct a letter to President Obama, on behalf of Danilo Lopez and Antonio Meza-Sandoval, requesting that ICE use its powers of 'Prosecutorial Discretion' to stop their deportation and removal                proceedings because their civil rights were violated by Vermont's State Police:

http://vtmfsp.org/sites/default/files/prosecutorialdiscretionmemo.pdf
·                            *Reading this petition, signed by 608 Vermonters, asking you to:            
                        1) Pledge to keep Vermont safe by keeping out ICE's “Secure Communities”;
                        2) Support and promote Bias-Free Policing Policies throughout Vermont
             http://www.workerscenter.org/no_to_S_Comm
 
Again, we are deeply grateful for you taking the time to meet with us today and for your support for farm workers, farmers, and Vermont's communities of color.

Sincerely,
 
Justicia Migrante/VT Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project
Danilo Lopez, Over Lopez, Javier Franco Duran, Eliazar Rodriguez, Bernardino Hernandez, Leonel Alfonzo Moreno, Natalia Fajardo, Brendan O'Neill, Monica Collins, Martha Caswell

Spaulding: Some state workers will likely remain in Waterbury

MONTPELIER — There is a “high likelihood” the state will maintain a presence at the 100-acre office complex in Waterbury that was home to 1,500 state workers until floodwater damaged buildings and displaced the workers seven weeks ago, a top Shumlin administration official said Thursday.

Jeb Spaulding, the secretary of administration for Gov. Peter Shumlin, said “the chances of us being totally AWOL in Waterbury are very slim.”

But exactly how many workers will return to the central Vermont town won't be decided soon.

“There will be no decision announced on what the plans are going to be relative to going back into Waterbury or moving somewhere else – or doing a blended option – anytime in the next few months,” said Spaulding.

Spaulding made his comments during a press briefing in Montpelier where the administration discussed the future of the Waterbury complex. 

About 110 state Department of Public Safety employees have already moved back to their Waterbury offices, and the administration used them as an example of workers that would likely remain.

The administration announced at the briefing the formation of a seven-member advisory committee that will examine three permanent options: renovating the Waterbury buildings and moving workers back; leaving Waterbury and building a new state-of-the-art complex elsewhere in central Vermont; and a “blended option.”

The blended option could entail moving some employees back to Waterbury and others to existing buildings in or around Montpelier, Shumlin said.

For more on this story check out tomorrow's Times Argus and Rutland Herald

– Thatcher Moats

Leahy to SBA: Show Vermont the money

MONTPELIER – Why has the Small Business Administration handed out so few loans to Vermonters still struggling to recover from the devastating flooding that swept through the state nearly seven weeks ago?

That's the question Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy put to an SBA official during a hearing Wednesday on Washington, D.C., according to a news release from the Democratic senator's office.

Leahy told SBA associate administrator James Rivera that initial reporting shows that SBA has received requests for nearly 1,700 business-disaster applications from Vermonters, has received back more than 140 completed applications, and yet has approved only 24 business loans, totaling just $3 million, according to the news release.

That seems like a very low success rate to me,” Leahy told Rivera.

I understand that SBA needs reasonable assurances that a business can repay a loan,” Leahy added. “But following a disaster – when offices, facilities, computers, and equipment are destroyed – no business appears credit worthy. That is why we have the disaster loan program and why there should be an appropriate standard for these applications.”

Leahy continued: “I appreciate that SBA finally opened a recovery center in Brattleboro yesterday, but loan decisions ultimately seem to be made out of a centralized loan processing center in Texas. I worry that this does not enable a loan officer to take an adequate look into the history and importance of a business severely impacted by the disaster.”

Rivera pledged a prompt response to Leahy’s questions, Leahy's staff said.

– Thatcher Moats

McDonald a maybe?

Could Pat McDonald, current chairwoman of the Vermont Republican Party, represent the GOP in next year’s gubernatorial race?

“I must say the idea is very intriguing,” McDonald said this week. “So it’s hard to say ‘no, I’m not interested.’”

But she said to count her as more of a long-shot than a likely candidate. The former House member from Berlin, who has held a host of high-level administrative jobs in state government, says she likes the gig she has now.

“My strength may very well just be to build party and grassroots,” she says.

And she says there’s a crop of “very strong candidates” still mulling a gubernatorial bid.

“I’d like to make sure they have an opportunity to come forward if they want to run,” she says.

Tom Salmon’s decision to seek reelection to the state auditor’s post marked the first and only major Republican announcement for statewide office. Former Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie has reportedly been considering a rematch against Gov. Peter Shumlin. Franklin County Sen. Randy Brock has also been floated as a possible GOP candidate for governor.

In July, McDonald said she hoped to have a candidate in place by Labor Day. After Irene hit, the date got pushed to Columbus Day. She assures us the GOP will have someone to rally behind by its fall dinner in November.

The latest rumor making the rounds: that a well-respected businessman with no electoral experience will jump into the fray.

Stay tuned…

Help Wanted: Shumlin launches Vt. Clean Up Day

RICHMOND – As winter closes in, state and local officials leading the Irene recovery effort are trying to create a groundswell of volunteer support to help Vermonters who are still struggling to recover from the flooding that struck the state more than six weeks ago.

On Tuesday, Gov. Peter Shumlin declared Oct. 22 “Vermont Clean Up Day” and urged Vermonters to a volunteer their time to tackle unfinished projects.

We need Vermonters from across the state coming out on that Saturday to donate their time once again to the people and the communities and the projects that need us the most,” Shumlin said at a news conference at a park in Richmond. “We need volunteers who don't have skills. We need volunteers who have skills. We need bulldozers and backhoes. We need chainsaw operators and plumbers and electricians. We need Vermonters from all walks of life giving a day of service to this great state.”

In the days after the flooding struck on Aug. 28, hundreds of volunteers helped flood victims muck out their houses and remove damaged belongings and debris. Many residents credited the help of volunteers with not only shouldering some of the workload but also lifting the spirits of Irene victims.

The emergency phase of the recovery from Irene has subsided and for many Vermonters the damage is out of sight and out of mind. But state officials said there is still a great need for assistance.

I think the biggest challenge we face now in such a fast-paced world is people losing sight of the fact that we're running a marathon and not a sprint in responding to this, and that we need to continue that work,” said House Speaker Shap Smith. “The rebuilding of Vermont is going to take not months, it's going to take years.”

Vermont Clean Up Day, which Shumlin called the sister of Green Up Day, also includes a push for financial donations and a “goods exchange” organized by local volunteer coordinators and food shelves.

Vermonters interested in volunteering on Oct. 22 or donating money can go to www.vtcleanup.org.

– Thatcher Moats

Some state workers say ‘no’ to double pay

MONTPELIER – At least four employees say they’ve been erroneously listed on a controversial union grievance in which state workers are seeking double-time for hours worked in the days after Tropical Storm Irene.
The Vermont State Employees Association last week filed a grievance on behalf of nearly 100 state workers who say they’re owed twice their normal hourly rates for work performed in the days after the Aug. 28 rains.
In an e-mail to Gov. Peter Shumlin, Sonya Heath, who, until Irene, worked in Waterbury at the Agency of Human Service’s Application Document Processing Center, said she was irate to learn that her name had been included on the grievance.
“I have never wanted to receive double pay and neither have the majority of my coworkers,” Heath wrote, according to the e-mail. “We are all very angry and upset at having our names added when we wanted nothing to do with this. I have emailed the union, as have several of my coworkers, to have our names removed from this grievance.”
Heath is one of four state workers to contact the governor’s office after learning their names had been included on the grievance.
Connor Casey, director of legislative affairs for the VSEA, said the names were included as the result of a “miscommunication” between the employees and their union stewards.
“We’re certainly not pressuring anybody to be on this grievance,” Casey said Friday. “It’s an individual decision, and the issues have been remedied already.”
The e-mails have become the latest front in an increasingly politicized battle between the Shumlin administration and the state workers union over a disagreement about whether some employees are eligible for double time.
A clause in VSEA’s collective bargaining contract that says employees who work during “complete emergency closings” are entitled to twice their regular pay until they are officially notified they will be working from new locations.
The administration agrees that on Aug. 29 – the first day after Irene – employees called into work were entitled to twice their regular pay because state government was shutdown and only essential employees were activated. Statewide, the double-pay cost was about $400,000.
But after that, the administration argues, double-pay was not warranted.
“The contract does not define emergency and our belief is that the emergency was the day after Irene was blowing through and the entire state was closed,” said Jeb Spaulding, the secretary of administration for Shumlin.
The pay flap reached a crescendo on Wednesday, when Shumlin waded into the controversy by publicly shaming the state employees named in the grievance. Those employees comprise only a sliver of the 7,000 workers employed by the state of Vermont.
Since Shumlin’s comments, the administration has received at least four e-mails from state workers like Laura Andrews, who worked in the same document-processing center as Heath.
“I can not express enough to you how devastated I was along with many of my co-workers were when we found out our names had been included on a grievance to fight for ‘double pay,’” Andrews wrote.
Efforts to contact the letter-writers were unsuccessful Friday.
Andrews blamed the mix-up on one employee having instructed a union representative to include a number of workers in the grievance.
“I myself would never even think to do something like file a grievance for double pay when I’ve seen such loss in so many families and people I love,” she wrote.
Casey said it’s been demoralizing for employees to see media coverage of the disagreement between Shumlin and the union. The VSEA issued a statement Wednesday criticizing the governor for launching a “war of words” against the union.
Union officials blame the pay dispute over the administration’s failure to send notices of relocation to displaced workers – an action that would have avoided the double-pay clause.
“It is unfortunate that the disagreement between the administration and the union is the issue that’s being publicized these days when really state employees proved themselves more than ever in Hurricane Irene and showed an amazing effort to get the state back up on its feet again,” Casey said.

-Peter Hirschfeld | Bureau Chief

Shumlin ships another administration staffer to health care board

The Shumlin administration has shipped another of its key players to the new, independent board created to oversee watershed reforms to the state’s health care system.

Anya Rader, formerly the special assistant to the governor, was named chairwoman of the five-member Green Mountain Care Board last month. On Thursday, administration officials announced that Georgia Maheras, deputy commissioner for health care administration, will leave her administration post to become executive director of the new panel.

“The Board has to do an extraordinary amount of work to do in a short time; we are lucky to have the help someone with Georgia’s energy and expertise,” Rader said in a statement.

Maheras will be the senior staff person at the board, supporting the work of board members. 

Before taking a position with the Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities & Health Care Administration earlier this year Maheras worked as a health care attorney and advocate, according to an administration release.

David Martini, a BISHCA attorney, will assume the role of acting deputy commissioner for health care administration. 

“We are sorry to be losing Georgia’s services at BISHCA, but fortunate to have David Martini available to step into the HCA role,” Kimbell said in a statement. “This change is a good example of the flexibility we will be using to put the right people in the right positions to best achieve health care reform for Vermont.”   

 

Olsen out in 2012

A junior Republican known for bringing some intellectual firepower to the House minority caucus announced in a letter to constituents today that he won’t seek reelection in 2012.

Oliver Olsen, appointed by Gov. James Douglas in 2010 to replace the seat opened up by the death of Rick Hube, said the “profound impact” of Tropical Storm Irene has shifted his priorities.

Olsen’s five-town district was among the worst-hit regions of the state.

“Given the magnitude of issues facing us, and the increased demands on my time, I simply cannot commit to an election next year or another term in office,” Olsen wrote. “So, after a great deal of soul-searching and careful consideration, I have decided that I will not seek re-election in 2012.”

Olsen has been something of a thorn in the side of the Shumlin administration, firing off critical missives to the governor and CCing members of the press. He isn’t formally a member of the minority’s leadership team, but since Irene hit, Olsen has raised a number of issues that later became Republican talking points.

He was the first to publicly call for the freezing of VHCB appropriations. He said he’ll continue to play the role of gadfly as the 2011 session nears.

“As a member of the Minority – some might say ‘Super-Minority’ – I also have a responsibility to ask the tough questions and hold the Governor's feet to the fire, as well as those of his legislative allies who control the legislative process,” Olsen wrote. “An effective Minority is critical to the health of any democratic process; by holding the Majority accountable, we end up with better outcomes from our government.”

Shumlin criticizes state workers union over double-pay demand

MONTPELIER – Gov. Peter Shumlin wasted little time at a Wednesday press conference before leveling harsh criticism at the state workers who are seeking double pay for work performed after Tropical Storm Irene caused massive flooding on Aug. 28.

Just after asking people to continue donating to Irene relief funds, Shumlin said he was appalled that the Vermont State Emloyees Association filed a grievance with his administration last week, arguing that workers were entitled to twice their regular wages because they hadn't received official relocation notices after the flooding displaced them from their normal work space.

“And I just can't express enough my dismay at the 90 state employees who are doing an extraordinary disservice to the rest of our hard working employees by asking for double time when they don't deserve it,” said Shumlin, at his first press conference since the union made the demand. “The notion that we would have hardworking transportation workers rebuilding our roads and bridges and then someone who is displaced from their office space in Waterbury would be getting paid double time while the transportation worker would be getting paid as they normally would – a lower wage – just seems extraordinarily unfair.”

Shumlin said he met with the president of the Vermont State Employees Association on Wednesday morning and urged the union to withdraw the grievance.

The union says the administration is violating its collective bargaining agreement by not awarding the double pay.

A union official could not immediately be reached for comment.

– Thatcher Moats