Thursday, December 8, 2016

Burlington Solicits Feedback for Redesign of City Hall Park

Posted By on Thu, Dec 8, 2016 at 6:59 PM

  • Courtesy City of Burlington
  • City Hall Park design
A new proposed design for Burlington's City Hall Park is making the rounds to a host of committee and board meetings. City officials want input for upcoming renovations.

A citizens' group is meanwhile promoting a competing vision for the downtown green space.

City officials say a full renovation is needed. The central fountain is choked with leaves, grass has thinned and walkways have deteriorated. "Grass seed isn’t the solution. Because we've tried that over the years ," said Jesse Bridges, Burlington's director of Parks, Recreation and Waterfront. "It needs a reboot."

The city's conceptual plan, designed by the Burlington-based Wagner Hodgson Landscape Architecture, has been five years in the making. The design includes an informal performance area and an interactive fountain for children to play in. The plan includes widened pathways and open green space.

The central fountain would be removed and additional trees would be planted. The city is scheduled to break ground in 2018.

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Ashe Hires Liberal Health Care Lobbyist as Chief of Staff

Posted By on Thu, Dec 8, 2016 at 6:33 PM

  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Peter Sterling
Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) hasn't formally been elected president pro tempore of the Vermont Senate, but he's already named a future chief of staff.

The role will go to Peter Sterling, a liberal activist who ran a labor-backed super PAC and lobbied in the Statehouse for single-payer health care reform.

"Peter's skill set is very well-rounded for the job," Ashe said, highlighting what he called a "comfort level with policymaking" and an ability to "draw a connection" between lawmakers and constituents. "I know he's an extremely high-energy person, very resilient."

Like Ashe, Sterling previously worked for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), managing his 2002 congressional campaign. Sterling got his start as an environmental advocate in New York, but he is best known for his work fighting for health care reform in Vermont. As director of the Vermont Campaign for Health Care Security, he lobbied for single-payer — and he later served as a paid Statehouse advocate for a tax on sugary beverages.

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Gov. Shumlin Offers Pardons for Marijuana Possession Convictions

Posted By on Thu, Dec 8, 2016 at 3:33 PM

  • Gov. Peter Shumlin
Updated at 4:20 p.m.

Puff, puff — poof.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin wants to make your pot conviction go up in smoke.
The outgoing Democrat will consider pardoning people convicted of possessing up to one ounce of marijuana, given applicants don’t have violent convictions in Vermont or a felony record.

Applications can be submitted online beginning Thursday and will be accepted through December 25 — Christmas. Shumlin leaves office shortly after that; Republican Phil Scott will succeed him.

There’s no guarantee of a pardon, the governor’s office said in a statement announcing the policy.

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Walters: Conservative Operative Wins Influential Post in Scott Administration

Posted By on Thu, Dec 8, 2016 at 12:21 PM

Tayt Brooks’ biography on American Majority’s website - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Tayt Brooks’ biography on American Majority’s website
When governor-elect Phil Scott announced five new hires on Tuesday, most of the attention focused on Al Gobeille and Susanne Young, his first two cabinet nominees.

But the last of the five names should not be overlooked: Tayt Brooks will take a newly fashioned position on the fifth floor of the Pavilion Building. The hire is notable both for the job itself and its future occupant.

His title will be “director of affordability and economic growth initiatives.” Those were the cornerstones of Scott’s gubernatorial campaign — and remain his oft-repeated top priorities.

Brooks will be Scott’s point man on both. In an interview Wednesday, Jason Gibbs, the governor-elect’s choice for chief of staff, tried to downplay Brooks’ role as “a nuts-and-bolts job.” But those are the very nuts and bolts that hold the entire vehicle together.

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Court Case Could Clarify Doctors’ Obligations in End-of-Life Law

Posted By on Thu, Dec 8, 2016 at 11:44 AM

Vermont legislators debating the end-of-life law - FILE: TERRI HALLENBECK
  • File: Terri Hallenbeck
  • Vermont legislators debating the end-of-life law
Are Vermont doctors obligated to tell their terminally ill patients that they can request a prescription to hasten their own deaths? That question is at the core of a federal court case.

Three-plus years after a Vermont end-of-life law went into effect, the legal challenge unfolding in Rutland could decide how involved medical professionals have to be in informing patients of the law.

The suit was filed last July by opponents of the 2013 law. It has revealed that the state Attorney General’s Office disagrees with advocates of the law over whether a doctor is obligated to inform patients of the option.

U.S. District Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford ruled last week that two terminally ill Vermont patients and two advocacy groups may be heard as interveners in the case.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Sorrell to Serve as Visiting Scholar at Vermont Law School

Posted By on Wed, Dec 7, 2016 at 6:19 PM

Attorney General Bill Sorrell - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN
  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • Attorney General Bill Sorrell
After nearly two decades as Vermont's top prosecutor, Attorney General Bill Sorrell will leave Montpelier in January and head to — China.

Vermont Law School announced Wednesday that the 69-year-old Democrat, who chose not to run for a 10th full term, has been named an honorary visiting scholar at VLS and will join its U.S.-Asia Partnerships for Environmental Law. The yearlong gig will involve a stint in February and March working with schools and legal advocates in China, according to VLS spokeswoman Maryellen Apelquist.

Founded in 2006, the partnership works to "promote environmental governance in Asia," according to Apelquist, and includes projects in Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

"Attorney General Bill Sorrell is a familiar and respected face on the Vermont Law School campus, and we are honored that he has agreed to work with us to advance environmental issues and advocacy," VLS assistant professor and partnership director Siu Tip Lam said in a written statement.

Sorrell, who declined an interview request, said in his own statement Wednesday, "While I'm contemplating what to do longer term, I'm pleased to spend up to two months in a country I've never visited, sharing some of my knowledge and experiences relating to environmental, public health, prosecution and [genetically-modified organisms] issues at several different law schools and universities in five different cities and regions of China."

Replacing Sorrell as attorney general will be fellow Democrat T.J. Donovan, who plans to step down from his post as Chittenden County state's attorney. Sorrell's top deputy, Susanne Young, was named Tuesday as governor-elect Phil Scott's administration secretary.

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Sinex Picks Local Firm to Construct Burlington Town Center

Posted By on Wed, Dec 7, 2016 at 2:05 PM

  • Katie Jickling
  • Don Sinex
Developer Don Sinex has tapped a South Burlington construction firm to head up development of the Burlington Town Center.

At a press conference at the downtown mall on Wednesday, Sinex announced that PC Construction will build the $250 million project, which he hopes will break ground in the spring. He also introduced a dozen additional contractors, many of them based in and around Burlington, responsible for landscaping, parking, engineering and art projects.

In front of the mall's Christmas array and a Santa Claus, Sinex highlighted the local roots of those he had picked. "Buy local — that's what I've done," he said. It's just the first step in "transforming and strengthening the local economy," he said.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Walters: Down the Center Lane With Phil Scott

Posted By on Tue, Dec 6, 2016 at 8:58 PM

Governor-elect Phil Scott at Barre’s Thunder Road SpeedBowl - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • Governor-elect Phil Scott at Barre’s Thunder Road SpeedBowl
Editor’s note: John Walters, Seven Days’ next political columnist, will take over “Fair Game” in January.

Even as governor-elect Phil Scott appears to lean right in his early choices for top administration posts, he hewed a cautious, centrist line Tuesday morning in an interview with Seven Days.

“I believe that there are many coalitions,” the Republican lieutenant governor said, referring specifically to the housing policy arena. “I seek to find areas where we can agree. And if we all have the goal of more housing — more affordable housing — then how we get there is going to be the challenge.”

Indeed. Scott brought up the issue of affordable housing unbidden, after discussing the overarching theme of his pending administration: affordability and economic opportunity. He was clear in making the issue a priority but noncommittal about how he would address it. Government grants, tax incentives, guided zoning, easing the permitting process?

“It’s probably a combination of all of the above,” he declared.

As Scott continued to speak, that issue of permit reform quickly returned to center stage. “Why is it that it takes so long to get a permit through the process, even for those who are trying to do good?” he asked, before descending into rhetorical swampland:

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Phil Scott Appoints Susanne Young, Al Gobeille to Top Admin Jobs

Posted By on Tue, Dec 6, 2016 at 4:40 PM

Governor-elect Phil Scott - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Governor-elect Phil Scott
Nearly a month after Election Day, governor-elect Phil Scott on Tuesday named his first two cabinet appointees — both well-known public servants with experience in state government.

Scott, the Republican lieutenant governor, named Deputy Attorney General Susanne Young to serve as his secretary of administration — essentially his chief cabinet officer. Young spent a dozen years working for the last GOP governor, Jim Douglas, first as his deputy state treasurer and then as his legal counsel. The 60-year-old Northfield resident has spent the past five years as Attorney General Bill Sorrell's No. 2. Sorrell, a Democrat, is retiring.

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New UVM Aid Program to Help Limited-Income Students

Posted By on Tue, Dec 6, 2016 at 4:30 PM

Ira Allen Chapel, UVM Campus - SEVEN DAYS
  • Seven Days
  • Ira Allen Chapel, UVM Campus
The University of Vermont gave prospective students who live in the Green Mountain State an early Christmas present Tuesday.

Under a new program that will start for the class entering in the fall of 2017, students could benefit from a fill-in-the-gap financial assistance program directed at Vermonters who qualify for federal Pell Grants.

Their UVM tuition would already be covered by financial aid, but that does not cover fees that amount to a sizable sum — about $2,750 annually.

Now that part of the bill will disappear.

The Catamount Commitment guarantees that all Vermonters receiving Pell grants pay no tuition and no comprehensive fee — expected to be $17,732 in the 2017-18 school year.

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