Each Friday here at Scoreboard headquarters, we take a look back at the week's news to see who came out ahead and who came out behind.
But this week — still drunk on tryptophan and gravy, no doubt — we're taking a different approach. Like the pilgrims of yore, gathered around the turducken and marshmallow-covered sweet potatoes at Plymouth Rock, we're taking a moment to reflect on all that for which we are thankful.
And, to be sure, there is much in this great state for which a political reporter and columnist must give thanks. For instance:
Gov. Peter Shumlin — Yes, we've spilled plenty of ink documenting his many trials, tribulations and boneheaded comments. But let's face it: The guy is a gift to political reporters that just keeps on giving. Nobody's got the gov beat in the chutzpah department, nor in pure, unadulterated political skill. And say what you will about Shummy, the guy works harder than anyone else around. You may question the way he runs this state, but there's no questioning his commitment to it.
In an uncharacteristic rebuke of one his own, Gov. Peter Shumlin said Monday he was "tremendously disappointed" with his chief health care reform administrator for misleading a legislative committee about a security lapse in the state's new health insurance exchange.
The official, Department of Vermont Health Access Commissioner Mark Larson, sent a letter of apology Monday morning to members of the House Health Care Committee. Larson said that after listening to a recording of his testimony at a November 5 committee hearing, he had come to the conclusion that he had been insufficiently candid with committee members.
The Associated Press' Dave Gram reported Friday that Larson's department had reported what it believed to be an isolated security breach to federal authorities prior to the commissioner's appearance before the committee. But Larson told committee members that DVHA had investigated only one complaint and believed it to be unfounded, according to Gram.
In his letter to legislators, Larson wrote that he "failed to disclose" the security breach to legislators, a lapse he said violated his responsibility to be fully transparent with his fellow public servants.
Budget cuts resulting in the loss of four faculty and staff members at financially shaky Burlington College are sparking protests by students who say they're worried about their school's viability.
Two department chairs at the 41-year-old college — Anna Blackmer (humanities) and Emily Schmidt (fine arts) — recently resigned after being offered contracts that would have made them half-time employees and terminated their health benefits. Blackmer, 63, has been working full-time at the college for 25 years.
Web administrator and veterans' liaison Erin Elliott, who is eight months pregnant, saw her position eliminated.
A third academic program head, Gordon Glover (film), was not offered a new contract. And Mary Arbuckle, a professor in the film department, had her hours cut in half and her benefits terminated. That scale-back sharply constricts the one department for which Burlington College has achieved a degree of recognition beyond its North Avenue campus.
Burlington Town Center, the 230,000-square-foot Church Street shopping mall, is being sold to New York City real-estate investment firm with Vermont ties, two sources tell Seven Days.
Both persons requested anonymity because neither the prospective buyer, Devonwood Investors, nor the seller, Chicago-based General Growth Properties, has announced the deal, which is scheduled to close on December 15.
Mayor Miro Weinberger said in an interview this weekend that he could not provide details on the transaction, including its price, because “it needs to be understood as preliminary.” The purchasers have "not put forward a detailed plan of what they intend to do,” the mayor added.
Weinberger did say that one of the principals in the deal “has spent a considerable amount of time in Burlington.”
The two Burlington police officers involved in the shooting death of a mentally ill man wielding a shovel earlier this month had not fired or even pointed a weapon at a suspect in the years before the shooting, according to department records.
Officers Ethan Thibault and Brent Navari used force in the line of duty a combined 14 times since 2010, according to Burlington Police Department records. The officers' use of force reports were obtained by Seven Days under a public records request submitted to the police department.
During his 38 years in the U.S. Senate, Patrick Leahy has spent plenty of time in the minority. So it's no surprise that, like many senior Democrats, he's looked warily over the years at proposals to empower the majority at the expense of the minority.
On Thursday, that changed.
Along with 51 other Democrats and independents — including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — Leahy voted to curtail the use of the filibuster by a minority faction to block most presidential appointments. The historic rules change means that a simple majority will suffice to confirm nominees to federal district and circuit courts and to the president's cabinet.
"I believe in using the rules. I don't believe in abusing them," Leahy told Seven Days Thursday afternoon. "I have enough experience under both Democratic and Republican leadership to know that you have the rules, but you don't abuse them."
Another week, another Wednesday, another Seven Days. Here's this week's lineup of news and politics stories:
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Spectacular views of Lake Champlain, a short stroll to Church Street and little in the way of traffic or noise combine to make Lakeview Terrace one of Burlington's most desirable residential streets. But it can also be one rough neighborhood — for developers.
The Committee on Temporary Shelter could soon find that out. COTS has scheduled a briefing for local residents on Thursday evening about its plans to open a daytime services facility for homeless Vermonters and to build up to 16 low-income housing units at a site steps from the southern end of Lakeview Terrace.
Neighbors will be holding their own meeting Wednesday evening to discuss the project and to prepare questions for COTS director Rita Markley. If past experience is a reliable guide, she can expect to encounter a certain skepticism — and possibly protracted opposition.
Updated at 2:59 p.m.
Two Burlington police officers who were placed on administrative leave following the fatal shooting of a shovel-wielding man earlier this month are returning to duty tomorrow, Burlington Police Chief Michael Schirling said, as preliminary investigations have showed they did not violate any rules or laws.
While the Vermont State Police and the Burlington Police Department are still reviewing the shooting death of Wayne Brunette in the New North End on November 6, early indications are that Cpl. Ethan Thibault and Cpl. Brent Navari acted appropriately, Schirling said.
'They don't see any red flags," the chief said in an interview.
The officers are at a training today and will return to regular duty tomorrow, Schirling said.
Brunette was shot four times, the Vermont State Police announced this afternoon, and died of wounds to his torso.
Thibault fired all four shots, Vermont State Police said. The rounds recovered from Brunette, 49, who had a history of mental illness, will be sent to the Vermont Forensic Lab for ballistic analysis.
Navari did not fire.
The Vermont Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled Brunette’s death a homicide — a medical definition, not a legal one. The formal autopsy report will be incorporated into the ongoing Vermont State Police investigation, which will be submitted to Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell and Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan for review.
Gov. Peter Shumlin kicked off a criminal justice reform conference at Vermont Law School Friday morning by calling current criminal justice practices a "miserable failure" in reducing opiate use and making communities safer.
Speaking to a crowd of lawyers, judges and law enforcement officials, the governor urged them to develop alternatives to arrest and incarceration that can be implemented across the state. Building new prison beds to handle an inmate population that has spiked in the past 20 years, Shumlin said, is not the answer.
'If we don't get it right soon it will change the quality of life in Vermont. We've got the smartest minds in the state here working on a problem that we are botching pretty bad," Shumlin said. "We can't build our way out of it. No way. I am open as a governor to taking risks, to change the parameters and assumptions we have always made so we can turn this around, not tomorrow, not next week, but right now."
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