Friday, May 31, 2013

The Scoreboard: This Week's Winners and Losers

Posted By on Fri, May 31, 2013 at 4:00 AM

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The news of the week may turn out to be today's release of a new Air Force report weighing the relative impact of basing F-35 fighter jets in Burlington and elsewhere. But, um, we haven't had a chance yet to read all 3000 pages, so we'll wait for the dust to settle before we throw it in our weekly list of winners and losers in Vermont news and politics.

Don't worry. There are still plenty of contenders for this week's Scoreboard. Without further ado, here it is for the week ending Friday, May 31:

Winners:

AFSCME — In its fight to represent 7000 Vermont homecare workers, AFSCME got out ahead of the SEIU this week with a nice little PR stunt: marching 4000 signatures down to the Vermont Labor Relations Board to preemptively file for a yet-to-be-scheduled election. That provided reporters with an AFSCME-centered hook to write about what could become an interesting union-on-union fight.

Steve Goodkind — The iconic Burlington Public Works director announced this week he's retiring 32 years after becoming then-mayor Bernie Sanders' first City Hall hire. That means plenty more backwoods skiing, motorcycle touring and banjo pickin' for the dude, which definitely earns him a spot on our list of winners.

Ties and losers after the break...

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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Morning Read: Sen. Bernie Sanders, King of Reddit

Sanders continues to be tech savvy, becoming the first effective Senate adopter of Reddit.

Posted By on Thu, May 30, 2013 at 12:23 PM

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Reddit! It's not just for underage girl "creepshots" and failed amateur detective work anymore. Just kidding — the so-called "front page of the Internet" is one of the web's top aggregators of whatever's interesting. (It's also BuzzFeed's favorite place for, um, inspiration.)

Reddit's anything-goes attitude and meme-centric culture might not seem a natural fit for a 71-year-old politician. But Sen. Bernie Sanders, always internet-savvy, is making it work. Take it away, Business Insider:

Sanders has taken to the Vermont "subreddit" to invite constituents to a showing of Lincoln in St. Johnsbury and a hangout session afterward.

He has also asked young Redditors for stories of unemployment that he later incorporated into floor speeches and a running YouTube channel. 

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ag Agency Loosens Rules for On-Farm Slaughter — Slightly

Posted By on Tue, May 28, 2013 at 5:34 PM

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On-farm slaughter has long been a contentious issue in Vermont.

Vocal consumers, farmers and their advocates have campaigned hard for the right to raise an animal, then slaughter it and buy and sell its meat all on the same farm. But Vermont's Agency of Agriculture has resisted that pressure, contending that farmers needed to provide a "custom" slaughter facility if they wanted to process animals close to home.

The fear, agency meat inspectors explained, was that the state could lose out on U.S. Department of Agriculture funding if Vermont ran afoul of federal food safety standards.

Well, meat inspectors have changed their tune — slightly. And thanks to new language in this year's ag housekeeping bill (H. 515), farmers will be allowed to butcher and sell a small number of animals directly from their farms. 

Is it a big win for farmers? Not exactly, says Rural Vermont executive director Andrea Stander. 

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Steve Goodkind, First of the Sanderistas, Set to Cycle Into the Sunset

Posted By on Tue, May 28, 2013 at 4:02 PM

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An era will end when Burlington Public Works director Steve Goodkind hangs up his hard hat next month. Mayor Miro Weinberger announced on Tuesday that Goodkind will retire on June 30 — 32 years after being hired by Bernie Sanders as the socialist mayor's first appointee.

Soon to turn 62, Goodkind was a member of the original inner circle of Sanderistas that included John Franco, David Clavelle, George Thabault and Doreen Kraft. Only Kraft, who runs Burlington City Arts, is still working as a city official.

"A fortuitous series of events, mostly financial" led to Goodkind's decision to step down now, he said in an interview in the driveway of his home in Burlington's New North End. "It's working out now probably as good as it's ever going to work out."

With the weather warming, Goodkind has the added incentive of being able to spend unlimited hours riding his custom-built motorcycle around Vermont and likely to Newfoundland, too, on a road trip he's planning with his wife. He says he's heading for "the Wild East" this summer after a 25-year series of cycle trips out West that have included stops at the annual rally that draws hundreds of thousands of bikers to Sturgis, South Dakota.

Goodkind has been a biker since getting his driver's license at age 17. "I wanted to be a motorcycle mechanic long before I ever heard the term 'public works,'" he reminisces. It's an ambition put into practice by his son, Ethan Goodkind, who runs Moonlight Cycles in Winooski.

Retirement will also give Goodkind more time to devote to his banjo picking.

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Friday, May 24, 2013

A Neighbor in Need: Jeremy Dodge Hopes to Stay Put on Shumlin's Land

Posted By on Fri, May 24, 2013 at 11:33 AM

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Everyone around him says he got screwed, but Jeremy Dodge still doesn't have an unkind word to say about his neighbor to the east.

"He is a fantastic person, don't get me wrong," Dodge says of the neighbor, Gov. Peter Shumlin. "He's helped me a lot, at different times, when no one else would."

Dodge, a stick-like man with kind eyes, no teeth and a stutter that renders him nearly incomprehensible, pauses for a second.

"I would like to just say I've had more time to think about what I did," Dodge continues. "I screwed up. I should've found a way to find somebody, somehow, to help."

On a drizzly Thursday evening in East Montpelier, Dodge once again explained to an uninvited reporter what led him to sell his family's 16-acre property to the governor last fall, just days before it was scheduled to go to tax sale. He's been doing this since late last week, when a WCAX-TV van arrived at his house unbidden to ask about a real estate deal Dodge says he didn't fully understand and now regrets.

"A guy and girl hopped out. I immediately thought they were Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons," Dodge says with a chuckle. "They said they received an anonymous call."

On Wednesday, Dodge's story hit the front page of the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus and the Rutland Herald. That night, WCAX ran its first report on the saga. Vermont's political world has been atwitter ever since, with the Democratic governor's tongue-wagging critics suggesting — mostly off-the-record — that the multimillionaire businessman and real estate collector had taken advantage of a neighbor in need.

"I hope that he's able to account for what happened, because it doesn't appear to be something we would do here in this state of Vermont — not to one of our vulnerable citizens," Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, said Thursday. "I just feel that we, as elected officials, have to hold ourselves to a higher standard — and I hope the governor can defend his position."

The situation even attracted the attention of federal agents, though it is unclear precisely what they were investigating and whether they are continuing to do so. An FBI agent who interviewed a friend of Dodge's earlier this week declined to comment Thursday. A spokeswoman for the bureau's Albany division, which covers Vermont, directed inquiries to U.S. Attorney Tristram Coffin.

"What I can confirm is that the FBI followed up on a tip and there's no active investigation in our office," Coffin said Thursday.

After defending the deal in a series of written statements earlier this week, Shumlin moved Thursday to quell the controversy. In yet another statement, he indicated he would allow Dodge to remain in his house past their mutually agreed-upon deadline.

"As I have said, I was saddened and disappointed that Jerry Dodge now regrets our agreement. I see and talk with Jerry frequently, and yet first heard about this from the press," Shumlin said. "When Jerry asked for my help to avoid the tax sale, I agreed, and I want to see this through to a good resolution. If that means Jerry stays in the house beyond July 15, that's fine with me."

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The Scoreboard: This Week's Winners and Losers

Posted By on Fri, May 24, 2013 at 4:00 AM

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Each week when we compile The Scoreboard, we send out anemail to a number of friends, sources and other assorted scofflaws asking their help in identifying the week's winners and losers in Vermont news and politics. 

This week, every single person who replied suggested thesame name for our loser column: Gov. Peter Shumlin.

We’ve never seen that kind of uniformity.

So this time we’re going to switch things up a bit and startwith the losers. Without further ado, here’s The Scoreboard for the week endingFriday, May 24:

Losers:

Gov. Peter Shumlin — Politics and shady-looking land deals just don't mix. Ask Bill Clinton. Worse yet are rumors of FBI investigations. But the biggest problem for the governor in his dispute with neighbor Jeremy Dodge is that it reinforces the notion that he's a cold-hearted capitalist with little regard for poor Vermonters. Whether there's more to the story than meets the eye — and we suspect there is — this has simply been a terrible week for Peter Shumlin.

Chittenden County — It is one soggy mess.

Magic Hat — Wait, aren't Vermonters supposed to be the good guys in trademark disptutes

Winners after the break...

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

'Rock-Star' Richards Gets Top Post at BTV

Posted By on Thu, May 23, 2013 at 4:06 PM

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Gene Richards is a mortgage broker and landlord, and he looks the part. But at a news conference Thursday announcing his designation as aviation director of Burlington International Airport, he was lauded as a rock star. Richards, 52, has been holding BTV’s top post on an interim basis for the past 10 months.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger led a chorus of local business leaders and city officials in praising Richards’ work in stabilizing the airport’s finances and initiating improvements in its services and facilities.

“Gene has the eye of a businessman,” Weinberger said. In addition to saving $300,000 a year through refinancing $24 million in airport debt, Richards “has found a way to make substantial investments in this facility,” the mayor added, pointing to a new roof being installed on the airport terminal. Richards has also landed “the first new service in years” at BTV — daily Delta Airline flights to and from Atlanta starting next month, Weinberger noted.

The mayor said he will ask the Burlington city council to approve Richards’ appointment at its June 3 meeting.

“Things are going in the right direction,” Richards commented while taking a brief turn at the podium. “We have a bright tomorrow. It’s a new day for us.”

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On Gay Rights and Immigration, Leahy Sticks it to Fellow Democrats

Posted By on Thu, May 23, 2013 at 9:41 AM

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As the Senate Judiciary Committee wrapped up its weeks-long debate over comprehensive immigration reform late Tuesday, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) did a rare and remarkable thing: He forced four Democrats who generally support gay rights to publicly acknowledge they would vote against a controversial gay rights measure.

In the backslapping world of the U.S. Senate, in which members of the same party typically look out for one another's political interests, that ain't how it usually works.

"It's courageous," former Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank tells Seven Days. "The hardest thing to do is to have to break with some of your friends."

The issue at hand, as we touched on briefly in this week's Fair Game, was a pair of amendments Leahy authored that would extend to gay Americans the right to request green cards for their foreign-born partners.

Leahy's been pushing the idea for a decade — first as a stand-alone bill called the "Uniting American Families Act." When its provisions weren't included in the comprehensive immigration bill drafted by the bipartisan "Gang of Eight," Leahy filed two amendments to the bill that would accomplish the same.

But the pushback from Senate Republicans was fierce — and even Democratic members of the Gang of Eight warned that if offered and accepted, Leahy's amendments could topple the delicate balance of immigration reform yet again. Those Democrats were so nervous Leahy would force a vote on the matter, they asked the White House to intervene — which it did Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

"The real question was, 'Will Leahy buck the pressure and offer this?' Not even will he call for a vote, but will he offer it?" says Heather Cronk, co-director of the LGBT social justice group GetEqual, who attended Tuesday's mark-up.

Sure enough, after dispensing with nearly 300 other amendments to the immigration bill, the Judiciary Committee chairman called up one last amendment late Tuesday: his own.

"I don't want to be the senator who asks Americans to choose between the love of their life and the love of their country," Leahy said. "Discriminating against a segment of Americans because of who they love is a travesty and is ripping many American families apart."

Then, without indicating whether he would force a vote on it, the senator from Vermont said, "I know this issue is important to many who serve on this committee. Before I speak further, I'd like to hear from other members — especially from those who drafted this bill — who, for whatever reason, decided not to remove discrimination from our current immigration system in their legislative proposal."

Translation: If you're against this, speak up now and explain yourself. I won't let you quietly dodge the issue.

Four Democrats did.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Vermont Life Wants You!

Posted By on Wed, May 22, 2013 at 5:17 PM

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In case there was any doubt remaining that Vermont Life is in the middle of a reboot, don't miss this ad in this week's issue of Seven Days. It's been no secret that the state-owned quarterly, now 67 years old, is trying to recruit new, younger, and in-state subscribers.

And apparently Seven Days readers fit the bill. The magazine is inviting you bold, hip, edgy lot to try the magazine for two years for the price of one

Drumming up new subscribers is crucial for the magazine, as we reported in January. As of this winter, paid circulation was at its lowest point in the magazine's history. Vermont Life has reported deficits for 17 of the last 28 years, putting the magazine in the hole for a cumulative $1.3 million. And while the magazine's aggressive changes are an effort to dig out from that hole, only time will tell if the quarterly once most popular among out-of-state, silver-haired vacationers will win over a new demographic.

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This Week's Issue: Unions, Gramma and the Changing New North End

Posted By on Wed, May 22, 2013 at 3:32 PM

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This week's dead-tree edition of Seven Days is the summer preview issue!

Inside, you'll find stories about a brewery tourphotographing every Vermont town, the new state entomologist and summer art tripping (not that kind of tripping).

And in the news pages, you'll find a smorgasbord of stories.

 

Continue reading »

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