Thursday, October 30, 2014

Media Note: Free Press Lays Off Higher Ed Reporter

Posted By on Thu, Oct 30, 2014 at 11:57 PM

Tim Johnson covered a protest against sexual assault held at the University of Vermont in Thursday's Free Press. - SCREENSHOT OF BURLINGTON FREE PRESS
  • Screenshot of Burlington Free Press
  • Tim Johnson covered a protest against sexual assault held at the University of Vermont in Thursday's Free Press.
Burlington Free Press higher education reporter Tim Johnson on Thursday became the latest victim of a slow-motion round of layoffs at the paper, according to multiple sources close to the situation.

Management also announced new assignments for reporters and editors, sources say, though details of the reshuffling remain scarce.

The changes come three weeks after Free Press staffers were told they would have to reapply for new jobs at the paper. In recent months, corporate owner Gannett Company, Inc., has forced many of its 81 other daily newspapers to adopt its “Newsroom of the Future” strategy, which includes new job titles, a greater reliance on social media and slimmer budgets.

Johnson, who previously worked as an assistant metro editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, appears to be the fifth Free Press employee to leave the paper in recent months.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ann Taylor Wants to Save a Tree

Posted By on Wed, Oct 29, 2014 at 9:20 PM

Ann Taylor does not want this tree to be cut down. - JOHN JAMES
  • John James
  • Ann Taylor does not want this tree to be cut down.
Ann Taylor of Burlington was chained to a massive cottonwood tree on the waterfront when she leaned forward and called out to a couple of bicyclists passing by on the bike path.

"Hi! Do you like this tree? They're going to cut it down!"

Taylor said she learned earlier this week that the tree, at the bottom of King Street, was to be taken down as part of a plan to improve the bike path. It's huge, with a massive trunk that splits into three as it climbs to a crown.

So the physical therapist chained herself to it Wednesday afternoon — she said she'd stay a couple of hours — and tried to convince everyone who biked, walked or ran by to call the Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger. 

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Vermont's 2014 Gubernatorial Campaign Drinking Game

Posted By on Wed, Oct 29, 2014 at 6:31 PM

Vermont's uneventful election season has no doubt prompted many a political junkie to hit the bottle in despair. Only a handful of top office-holders face major-party challengers and, of those, fewer still could charitably be called "vigorous."

If you're not already four Gucci beers deep at the Three Penny Taproom, you've got at least one more opportunity to get sloshed on this year's low-key contests: tonight's final gubernatorial debate. Hosted by WPTZ-TV and taking place at 7 p.m. at the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center, it'll feature Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, Republican Scott Milne and Libertarian Dan Feliciano.

To help you along the path to political inebriation, Seven Days presents the 2014 Gubernatorial Campaign Drinking Game. 

The rules are pretty basic. Simply take a drink every time:

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Sanders and Striking Workers Decry FairPoint, Urge Concessions

Posted By on Tue, Oct 28, 2014 at 6:35 PM

  • Alicia Freese
Sen. Bernie Sanders has a number of nemeses, whom he frequently accuses of squeezing the middle class: Walmart, Wall Street and the Koch brothers among them. Tuesday, flanked by 10 striking workers from Vermont and New Hampshire, he added FairPoint Communications to that list. 

Referencing the ongoing labor dispute between the company and its workers, Sanders told reporters, "What this conflict is about is the 10 multibillion-dollar Wall Street hedge-fund companies that own FairPoint and want to slash labor costs by more than $700 million."

Roughly 1,700 workers in all three states, who belong to either the Communications Workers of America or the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, have been on strike since October 17.

FairPoint has requested $700 million in concessions, which would entail freezing pensions, requiring workers to help pay for health care premiums and getting rid of health insurance plans for retired workers. The unions offered a counterproposal amounting to $200 million in concessions, which FairPoint declined. Workers have also criticized the company's use of contract workers.

Vermont's Independent senator held a press conference Tuesday morning at his Church Street office to urge the communications company, which operates landline and internet services in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, to return to the bargaining table. And to make concessions when it does. "FairPoint cannot have it all," Sanders said. 

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Twitter Alias Links Scot Shumski to Tea Party Rhetoric

Posted By on Tue, Oct 28, 2014 at 5:05 PM

Scot Shumski - ALICIA FREESE
  • Alicia Freese
  • Scot Shumski
Scot Shumski, a Burlington school board member currently running for state rep, has adamantly denied claims that he has ties to the Tea Party. But a Twitter account linked to the Republican candidate has explicitly defended the Tea Party doctrine and consistently espoused views that align with it.

Shay Totten, a former Seven Days columnist, identified Shumski as the the owner of the Twitter handle, @slappywhyte, in a post on his personal blog Tuesday morning. Tweets like the one below suggest support for the Tea Party.

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Vermont Man Under 'Voluntary' Ebola Quarantine After West Africa Trip

Posted By on Tue, Oct 28, 2014 at 4:20 PM

Gov. Peter Shumlin at a press conference, acting Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan at back - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • Gov. Peter Shumlin at a press conference, acting Health Commissioner Tracy Dolan at back
A Vermont man is under a voluntary Ebola quarantine after returning to the United States yesterday from a monthlong trip to West Africa. He claimed to be helping to fight the deadly disease there, Gov. Peter Shumlin announced at an emergency press conference at the Department of Health in Burlington.

The man, whom officials did not identify, is not showing any symptoms of the virus and is considered "low risk," Shumlin said. He is in a "rural" community in housing arranged by state officials. Health department workers are visiting him twice a day. 

"The person has no signs or symptoms of illness and isn't a high risk to anyone at this time," Shumlin said. "This is extremely low risk in my judgment. However, we're going to take every reasonable precaution to keep the public safe."

The man reportedly said he is a doctor and was traveling to Sierra Leone and Guinea to help in the Ebola outbreak. But he does not have a medical license in Vermont, and aid groups operating in West Africa turned him away, Shumlin said. He was apparently traveling alone.

After the press conference, Rutland Mayor Chris Louras released a statement confirming that the man is a resident of his city.

"On October 27th, a Rutland resident returned from West Africa and due to the uncertainty surrounding his intentions while there, officials have determined that the right thing to do was to offer the opportunity to voluntarily self-quarantine for the disease’s 21-day incubation period," Louras said. "Over the last several days, the City of Rutland and the State of Vermont have been working tirelessly and collaboratively to find a safe, secure location for this Rutland resident, and we have been successful."

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Media Note: Free Press Reporter Laid Off After Refusing to Reapply for Job

Posted By on Mon, Oct 27, 2014 at 12:40 PM

Lynn Monty interviews Sally Young of Milton as she sits with Jane Lafayette (center) and Ruth Marcoux, all of Milton, last September. - COURTESY OF ANTHONY BOCCIO
  • Courtesy of Anthony Boccio
  • Lynn Monty interviews Sally Young of Milton as she sits with Jane Lafayette (center) and Ruth Marcoux, all of Milton, last September.
Like most of her colleagues at the Burlington Free Press, Lynn Monty was scheduled to interview for her own job last week. But shortly before the interview was set to take place Tuesday, Monty told a human resources executive from Freeps owner Gannett Company, Inc., that she wouldn't go through with it.

"The facts are that I opted out of the interview process and they laid me off," Monty said Monday in written responses to questions posed by Seven Days. "I loved my job, but I don't love Gannett. I will make a new way for myself that doesn't compromise my integrity."

After six years at the Free Press, she said, "Interviewing for a job I already held was degrading and demoralizing ... It compromised my integrity. And for the first time I couldn't see a future there for me."

According to Monty, the human resources executive notified her Wednesday morning that she no longer had a job.

"None of my local editors spoke to me of my decision or met with me at all," she said. 

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Burlington School Board Admonished Over Resignations

Posted By on Sun, Oct 26, 2014 at 10:37 PM

Bob Abbey speaks at Sunday's emergency board meeting. - ALICIA FREESE
  • Alicia Freese
  • Bob Abbey speaks at Sunday's emergency board meeting.
On Friday, the Burlington school district's three top administrators unexpectedly resigned their positions out of frustration with the school board, which they described as disrespectful and distrusting. At an emergency board meeting Sunday, it quickly became clear they weren't the only ones fed up.

Superintendent Stephanie Phillips, assistant superintendent Paul Irish and chief administrative officer Nikki Fuller announced in a public letter that they will leave their interim positions effective November 10. Approximately 70 people showed up at Sunday's meeting, and nearly all of the roughly two dozen people who spoke expressed support for what one resident called a "courageous step."  The crowd included parents, teachers, city councilors and former school board members. 

Bob Abbey, president of the teachers' union, Burlington Education Association, accused the board of fostering a "culture of fear and intimidation" and engaging in a "relentless campaign to silence the experts." He continued, "This board is plagued by the following: unprofessional behavior during public and private meetings, questionable decisions around personnel decisions, a continued lack of transparency and simply a lack of understanding for the work we do."

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Friday, October 24, 2014

Interim Burlington School District Leaders Resign Over Conflict With Board

Posted By on Fri, Oct 24, 2014 at 12:56 PM

Burlington School Board members shown earlier this year in Contois Auditorium. - ALICIA FREESE
  • Alicia Freese
  • Burlington School Board members shown earlier this year in Contois Auditorium.
This story was updated at 4 p.m. 10/24/2014 to include comments from Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger and Vermont Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe and at 5:30 p.m. with remarks from school board leaders.

Burlington's interim superintendent, assistant superintendent and chief administrative officer resigned their positions Friday morning, citing an untenable relationship with the school board.

In a scathing letter to board chair Patrick Halladay, the interim leadership team wrote, "There are board members who regularly make email and public meeting comments that malign central office administrators. This behavior only serves to expand the 'us against them' culture which has led to the departure of many directors in the last ten months."

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House Democrats "Finding Religion" on Money in Politics

Posted By on Fri, Oct 24, 2014 at 8:26 AM

Rep. Willem Jewett (D-Ripton) at a House Democratic press conference last week at the Statehouse. - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Rep. Willem Jewett (D-Ripton) at a House Democratic press conference last week at the Statehouse.
When House Democrats held a rare Statehouse press conference last Wednesday promising to confront rising property taxes, their Republican opponents rolled their eyes.

"It's kind of interesting that a couple weeks before the election, after having done nothing for years, they're finally finding religion on property tax reform," Rep. Kurt Wright (R-Burlington) said at the time. "I welcome that, but I think voters should always be wary of near-election-time conversions."

This week, House Democratic leaders appear to have found religion on another subject: the influence of money in politics. 

After spending the last two years raising campaign cash from out-of-state corporations and in-state lobbyists, House Dems issued a press release Thursday complaining about the sudden influx of such money in support of Republican candidates.

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