Category Archives: Uncategorized

Doing the state worker shuffle

MONTPELIER – Gov. Peter Shumlin said Monday that he intends to have some state workers who were displaced from the office complex in Waterbury eventually stationed in Barre, which could be a boon to the Granite City.

At the Statehouse on Tuesday, Shumlin's promise drew a variety of reactions.

Rep. Alice Emmons, who chairs the House Institutions and Corrections Committee, said the Legislature has not reached the same conclusion as Shumlin, though Barre hasn't been ruled out as a location, she said.

“The Legislature is part of the discussion,” Emmons said.

Sen. Ann Cummings – a Washington County Democrat who represents the town that stands to lose (Waterbury) and the city that stands to win (Barre) in the equation – has to balance the interests of both areas.

Cummings likes Shumlin's idea to move state workers to Barre, and says it can be done in a way that doesn't hurt Waterbury.

How can that be done exactly? Cummings talked about bringing more state workers to Washington County overall, but said to wait until Shumlin's budget address later this week for more details.

“He'll have more to say Thursday,” Cummings said.

– Thatcher Moats

Shumlin’s veto of water-testing bill to stand

The Vermont Senate has sustained Gov. Peter Shumlin’s lone veto of the 2011 session, but supporters of the law, which would have imposed new testing mandates on residential water wells, say they’re already working on a compromise measure.

The bill, spawned by a case of arsenic poisoning in Addison County, would have required water testing on any newly installed wells. Shumlin’s surprise veto last May angered some lawmakers, who encountered little resistance to the legislation as it made its way through House and Senate committees.

“It passed from committee unanimously and by voice vote out of this body,” said Sen. Ginny Lyons, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources.

Lyons said the bill received similarly uncontroversial treatment in the House. But it met with a quick death at the hands of Shumlin, who said the mandate would add hundreds of dollars in unnecessary costs to residents ill-equipped to handle the testing fees.

Shumlin said Tuesday that only a small portion of the state’s groundwater reserves are vulnerable to contamination from arsenic.

“I want to see a bill passed by the Legislature that requires testing only in areas where a person is susceptible to arsenic, and that’s one-half of 1 percent of Vermont,” Shumlin said.

On the Senate floor, Lyons blamed the veto on a miscommunication between her committee and the administration. She said she now “understands the governor’s message to us.”

“While we may not completely agree with the governor’s reasoning in this case, we also understand the need to work closely with the governor as we find a solution,” Lyons said.

State is liable for abuse of elderly Vermonters, new lawsuit claims

The state of Vermont has failed to adequately investigate hundreds of alleged cases of elder abuse, according to a law suit filed this morning by Vermont Legal Aid.

The suit, which has backing from a former human services secretary as well as a number of disability-rights organizations, says the state’s failure to follow statutory mandates has resulted in the abuse of vulnerable adults.

Vermont Legal Aid said it filed the suit only after concluding that negotiations with the Division of Adult Protective Services would not rectify the shortcomings without some kind of formal intervention.

“It is unfortunate that we have come to this point, but it is painfully clear that APS is not protecting our most desperate elders and we must now look to the court to remedy this ongoing failure,” said Jim Leddy, a former state senator and state president of AARP.

 

 

   

State workers to get 2 percent annual raises under new labor contracts

MONTPELIER – The state employees union and the Shumlin administration have struck a tentative deal on new, two-year contracts that include 2-percent raises each year, the administration announced Friday afternoon.

The deal also includes the restoration of a 3-percent pay cut that Vermont State Employees Association members took for fiscal years 2011 and 2012, according to the administration. The pay cut will be restored at the end of June 2012.

In addition, previously “frozen” step movements will resume in July 2012, according to the administration.

Gov. Peter Shumlin said in a written statement that the agreement balances the need to reward Vermont's “hardworking state employees” and the need for financial prudence.

While these contracts provide a modest increase for state employees, they also reflect the fiscal constraints facing Vermont taxpayers and our responsibility to maintain fiscal discipline in the coming years,” Shumlin said.

The state employees made a few, seemingly minor, concessions. Employees in the Select Care health plan will pay an additional $5 co-pay for office visits, from $15 to $20 dollars, effective January 2013, according to the news release. And Columbus Day will no longer be observed as a state holiday, effective July 1, 2013.

VSEA President John Reese touted the agreement as a good deal for workers.

Certainly, VSEA members belonging to the Units that will soon vote on this tentative contract will welcome a return of the three-percent wage cut they graciously surrendered to help Vermont weather our state’s economic storm," Reese said in a written statement. "I also believe they’ll be very receptive to a small wage increase in the next two years, as the cost of living is rising just as fast for state employees as it is for all working Vermonters.”

The contracts are subject to ratification by the VSEA membership.

The two sides entered negotiations amid a heated labor dispute between the Shumlin administration and state workers over whether double pay was warranted for workers displaced by the flooding from Tropical Storm Irene.

But Reese said the tone of the negotiations was positive.

The fact that, for the first time in decades, VSEA bargaining units were able to reach a tentative agreement without having to resort to the use of a mediator or fact-finder should speak volumes about the tone of these negotiations versus previous bargaining sessions with the State,” said Reese.

The labor contracts cover three bargaining units: Corrections, Supervisory and Non-Management Units.

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

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

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.”