Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Burlington's 10-Year Capital Needs Total $211 Million

Posted By on Tue, Apr 14, 2015 at 8:12 AM

Department of Public Works director Chapin Spencer and a row of city trucks - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN
  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • Department of Public Works director Chapin Spencer and a row of city trucks
Notice that many Queen City sidewalks seem subpar? They are — and the problem is probably worse than you think. Mayor Miro Weinberger's administration spent a year calculating what it would cost to properly maintain all the sidewalks and other capital needs during the next 10 years.

He presented the price tag to the city council Monday evening: $211 million. More than half of the costs are road and sidewalk repairs. City buildings, vehicles, parks and the bike path make up most of the rest.

During the same 10-year period, the city expects to bring in roughly $150 million in revenue devoted to these projects. In other words, there's a shortfall of more than $60 million.

Weinberger gave the councilors what they jokingly referred to as "the mother of all spreadsheets" — a document outlining costs and revenues on a line-item level. 

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Monday, April 6, 2015

Burlington Mayor and New City Council Sworn In

Posted By on Mon, Apr 6, 2015 at 10:20 PM

Mayor Miro Weinberger - ALICIA FREESE
  • Alicia Freese
  • Mayor Miro Weinberger
Burlington’s mayor and 12 city councilors officially took their seats Monday evening. Called “organization day,” it’s generally the shortest and most diplomatic meeting of the year.

The "new" council features 10 returning members, plus independent Adam Roof and Progressive Sarah Giannoni. As expected, Progressive Councilor Jane Knodell was elected president of the council. After the March 3 election, she quickly secured seven votes, and Democrats decided it didn't make sense to challenge her. In the end, every councilor voted for Knodell, who replaces Democrat Joan Shannon in that seat.

Elected to a second term in March, Mayor Miro Weinberger began his State of the City address on a familiar theme by recapping the “dramatic financial improvements” he oversaw during his first term. Among other signs of “progress and momentum,” he pointed to bike path upgrades, the opening of Burlington’s fourth hotel (the Hilton Garden), and the success of tech companies like Ello and Dealer.com.

Unlike Gov. Peter Shumlin, who's taken to single-theme inaugural speeches, the Democratic mayor touched on a myriad of topics. He identified three broad goals: addressing longer-term financial issues, modernizing city government and expanding opportunity for all residents. High on Weinberger's priority list, he said, is tackling Burlington's underfunded pension fund, collecting and analyzing more city data, and building more housing.  

Much of Weinberger's speech focused on plans already in the works, which were also discussed in detail during the months leading up to his reelection. For instance, he mentioned his early learning initiative, housing plan, diversity and equity plan, and his soon-to-be-unveiled 10-year capital plan.

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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Transit Groups Unveil Secure Bike Lockers in Winooski, Burlington

Posted By on Thu, Apr 2, 2015 at 2:51 PM

Local Motion executive director Emily Boedecker stands outside Champlain Mill during a press conference announcing the installation of bike lockers in Winooski and Burlington. - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • Local Motion executive director Emily Boedecker stands outside Champlain Mill during a press conference announcing the installation of bike lockers in Winooski and Burlington.
Local groups today unveiled two bicycle lockers in downtown Burlington and Winooski in hopes of encouraging the use of alternative transportation.

Go! Chittenden County, a partnership of government and nonprofit groups, has installed BikeLink lockers outside Champlain Mill in Winooski and at the Burlington Town Center. Each locker, accessed by a keycard for registered users, has space for four bicycles. They cost five cents an hour to use.

Go! Chittenden County leaders say the lockers will strengthen the region's burgeoning demand for alternative transportation methods. The Burlington-Winooski area is the most densely populated part of Vermont, supporters said.

The locations are both near Chittenden County Transportation Authority bus stops and in downtown locations where CarShare Vermont often has vehicles available for use. "Building roads is not going to be an option for walkable and really cool communities," Winooski city manager Katherine Decarreau said. "Hopefully, 'alternative transportation' will no longer have to bear that moniker 'alternative.'"

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Friday, March 20, 2015

Thousands Turn Out for Ticket Amnesty Day

Posted By on Fri, Mar 20, 2015 at 3:58 PM

Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan talks with some of the estimated 1,000 people waiting to walk into the Edward J. Costello Courthouse in downtown Burlington on ticket amnesty day.
  • Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan talks with some of the estimated 1,000 people waiting to walk into the Edward J. Costello Courthouse in downtown Burlington on ticket amnesty day.
One relatively minor traffic ticket from 2006 has badly complicated Jennifer Jennison’s life. She ran a stop sign and didn’t immediately pay the fine. A dumb mistake, she now knows. Penalties kicked in. Her driver's license was eventually suspended. She had three kids and little money. She kept driving, got pulled over a few more times and was issued more tickets — for driving without a license.

For the past few years, Jennison — unable to pay off several hundred dollars in fines — has made only occasional trips from her Colchester home, for fear of accruing additional tickets.

“It’s completely isolating,” Jennison said. “You feel awful because you can't do much. My kids always complain that they’re bored because we can’t go out. It’s degrading. I made the bad choice, but if I could have done it, I would have taken care of it. It’s not that easy.”

Jennison was one of more than 1,000 people who waited in line for several hours in downtown Burlington Friday morning to take advantage of Driver Restoration Day, during which suspended drivers could pay $20 for each unpaid ticket and get on the road to license reinstatement.

The event, the first of its kind in Vermont, was the brainchild of Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan, who said he wanted to stop low-income people from having to choose between regaining their license by paying off tickets and other daily necessities.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Burlington Police Chief Schirling to Retire in June

Posted By on Tue, Mar 17, 2015 at 4:45 PM

Burlington Police Chief Michael Schirling, with Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger in the background, announces his retirement. - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • Burlington Police Chief Michael Schirling, with Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger in the background, announces his retirement.
Burlington Police Chief Michael Schirling, who started with the department as a 19-year-old auxiliary officer, announced Tuesday that he will retire in June after spending his entire career in the Queen City.

During a news conference attended by more than a dozen officers and a smattering of city councilors, Schirling, 45, said he is leaving after seven years as chief. 

"It's not the years that get you, it's the miles," Schirling, 45, said. "I want to be able to have a long life, and there's no question that this work takes a toll."

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Monday, March 2, 2015

Morning Read: The New York Times Says Feds Deporting Bosnian War Criminals

Posted By on Mon, Mar 2, 2015 at 9:32 AM

Even after they obtained a conviction in January against a Bosnian refugee accused of lying about his involvement in war crimes, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Burlington remained tight-lipped about the origin of their case.

Federal prosecutors would say only that they had learned of Edin Sakoc, who settled in Vermont in 2001 after he was granted refugee status, while investigating other offenses during the Bosnian War. 

The New York Times on Sunday provided some vital context to the case. The Times reported that the Department of Justice has initiated a wave of cases across the country against Bosnian immigrants who may have lied about their involvement in the early 1990s Balkans conflict.

Officials have identified 300 Bosnians living in the United States who participated in war crimes or ethnic cleansing during the conflict, and the suspect list may eventually grow to 600 people, the Times reported. "The effort to identify suspects included an appeal broadcast to Bosnians around the world in February, urging witnesses to come forward with any information about war crimes," the Times reported.

Kathleen O’Connor, a human rights prosecutor at the Justice Department, said in a message translated into Bosnian on the Voice of America network that "justice can be served in the United States despite the fact that many years have gone by and that the conduct occurred overseas, far away."

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Monday, February 2, 2015

Weinberger Raises $93,000 for Reelection Bid

Posted By on Mon, Feb 2, 2015 at 10:41 PM

Mayor Miro Weinberger at a November 2014 press conference at Burlington's Outdoor Gear Exchange - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Mayor Miro Weinberger at a November 2014 press conference at Burlington's Outdoor Gear Exchange
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger has raised $93,057 — and spent $63,817 of it — since he won his first term three years ago, according to a new filing with the secretary of state's office.

Those numbers far exceed the $3,175 raised and $2,334 spent by Progressive rival Steve Goodkind in his campaign to unseat the incumbent Democrat. Neither of the other two candidates in the race, Libertarian Loyal Ploof or independent Greg Guma, filed fundraising reports by Monday's deadline.

Unlike Goodkind, who accepted his first contribution — a $35 loan from himself — in December 2014, Weinberger has been raising and spending campaign cash for years.

The incumbent's latest report covers his fundraising activity between August 2013 and the end of January 2015, during which time he took in $74,307. In a July 2013 filing, Weinberger's campaign reported raising $6,750 from others and $12,000 in loans from the mayor himself.

Since he began campaigning in earnest this year, the mayor has collected $27,350.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Bosnian Refugee Sakoc Convicted; Prosecutors To Seek Deportation

Posted By on Fri, Jan 23, 2015 at 6:43 PM

  • Courtesy of Elizabeth Tailer
  • Edin Sakoc
This afternoon a jury convicted a refugee accused of rape during the Bosnian war of lying to immigration officials in order to gain U.S. citizenship. 

After 12 hours of deliberation, a jury of eight women and four men found Edin Sakoc guilty on a charge of unlawful procurement of naturalization. He now faces a potential prison term and deportation. 

Sakoc sat stone-faced as the verdict was read in U.S. District Court in Burlington, just as he had throughout his two-week trial. After jurors left the courtroom, he exchanged handshakes and hugs with his attorneys and shrugged his shoulders.

Afterward, prosecutors said they will seek to deport Sakoc, 55, who does not have a prior criminal record. The conviction can also carry a 10-year prison sentence.

Judge William Sessions III released Sakoc to live with friends in Essex Junction while he awaited his sentencing later this year.
He's told his lawyers he hasn't committed any crime, and his family and those who know him believe in him, defense attorney Steven Barth said afterward.

“It is an important case because we have laws that govern immigration into this country, and when we receive information that raises questions about whether a person has abused that system in coming in there’s an obligation to investigate it and follow through,” Acting U.S. Attorney Eugenia Cowles said.

Sakoc’s attorneys said they would file an appeal.

“It would be a tragedy for him to be deported,” attorney David McColgin said. “It would have a terrible impact on him and his family.” Sakoc has a wife and 7-year-old daughter in Vermont. He also has an adult son and a grandchild in Bosnia.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

'Burn, Burn': Balkans Killings Described in Court

Posted By on Fri, Jan 16, 2015 at 1:35 PM

U.S. District Court in Burlington - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • U.S. District Court in Burlington
Prosecutors this morning began their final day of presenting evidence against a Burlington man charged with concealing his involvement in a rape and two murders in Bosnia when he applied for U.S. citizenship.

Prosecutors played video testimony from another Bosnian who claims to have witnessed a kidnapping and two murders in 1992, when brutal ethnic fighting roiled Bosnia. Authorities say that Edin Sakoc, who settled in Vermont more than a decade ago, and a fellow soldier identified only as "Boban" stormed a home where a family was sheltering three Serbian women.

The men kidnapped a woman whom Sakoc later raped, prosecutors allege, and then Boban fatally shot the other two women.

Nilokina Ljubic, who lived with her parents in the home, recalled that Boban was more aggressive, while Sakoc consoled her.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Victim of Alleged Rape in Bosnia Testifies in Burlington Man's Trial

Posted By on Thu, Jan 15, 2015 at 2:00 PM

U.S. District Court in Burlington. - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • U.S. District Court in Burlington.
Updated at 5:53 p.m. with additional testimony.

A Bosnian Serb woman testified via a pre-taped video in federal court today, saying that she was raped in 1992 by a masked man during an ethnic conflict. 

Prosecutors allege that man is Edin Sakoc, a Burlington resident who is on trial this week on charges he lied about his actions in wartime Bosnia when he applied for American citizenship.

The woman, 49 years old at the time she says she was assaulted, was one of a few ethnic Serbs who remained in her tiny village of Pocitelj as brutal fighting broke out across Bosnia. Other Serbs, fearing violence from ethnic Croats and Muslims, had fled, but the woman's mother didn't want to leave.

In July 1992, she said, two armed men stormed the house where they were staying. They took the woman, saying they would interrogate her and bring her back. Instead, they took her to a prison camp.

One of the men raped her twice, once inside a home where they stopped, and again in the backseat.

"He cursed my mother, pushed me down, and raped me," the woman testified. "Did whatever he wanted, and that's it."

After the first assault, she said, the man kicked her, leaving a scar below her right knee that she showed to the attorneys.

As a general practice, Seven Days does not identify the victims of alleged sexual assaults.

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