Tuesday was the day the former CEO of Vermont's largest hospital had long tried to avoid. The day he would be treated like a common criminal, arraigned before a federal judge, charged with a felony, and asked the question, "Mr. Boettcher, how do you plead?"
As Seven Days reported back on December 8, January would be the month for criminal indictments in the gazillion-dollar Renaissance Scandal on Hospital Hill. Tuesday was Bill Boettcher's turn and, we're told, more arraignments will follow.
The combined federal and state criminal probe has been underway for more than two and a half years. The Fletcher Allen Renaissance Project, once billed at $173 million, will actually cost Vermont health-care consumers almost $200 million more than that.
Last fall, Thad Krupka, Big Bill's assistant in crime, copped the first plea and obviously has been singing like a bird.
Boettcher was charged with one count of fraud for lying to BISHCA, the state agency that runs the certificate-of-need process for hospital expansions. Big Bill pled guilty and agreed to forfeit the $733,000 going-away present the board of discredited trustees handed him when he resigned in July 2002. Big Bill faces a maximum two years behind bars under the deal and will likely get less. Can you say, "Martha Stewart?"
According to Mr. O'Neill, Boettcher's still got a few good years left and wanted to get his Vermont problem behind him.
Let's face it, there are those who say Bill Boettcher, like a U.S. Army prison guard in Iraq, was only doing his job. Only following orders from the board of trustees. And those orders were to get Fletcher Allen up to speed and heavily engaged in a competitive struggle for patients with the modern medical palace across the Connecticut River called Dartmouth-Hitchcock.
After all, health care is a cutthroat business. The Mary Fanny was losing customers to Dartmouth.
Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell told Seven Days a fine without jail time would not have been appropriate. That would have sent the message "that if you've got the money you can just buy your way out of this thing."
Sorrell described Boettcher as "a take-no-prisoners, my-way-or-the-highway kind of guy." He had no time for niceties. Boettcher didn't stop to think, said Sorrell, that "getting it done could have short-term benefits but long-term negative implications."
As for more arraignments of former Mary Fanny big wigs involved in the Renaissance Scandal, Sorrell said, "It's not over. We're starting to get there, but it's not over. This is not the end of the Fletcher Allen matter, but it's a huge step forward."
P.S. Since Reporters Cadence Mertz and Stephen Kiernan departed, the Freeps has pretty much ignored the ongoing criminal investigation.
So quite a surprise to see five -- count 'em, five -- Burlington Free Press journalists at Boettcher's arraignment, including Managing Editor Geoff Gevalt and Editorial Page Editor Susan Reid.
Does this mean the paper might take a hiatus from its recent string of "Everything's Wonderful at Fletcher Allen" stories and editorials?
Deaniacs Blog War! -- Yours truly finally delved into the blogosphere last weekend for the first time. The impetus was an Internet civil war between former stars of the Howard Dean for President Campaign.
It all started when former Deaniac Zephyr Teachout (an attorney whose mom is a Vermont judge and father teaches at Vermont Law School) posted a confession on her brand-new Zonkette Blog ( http://www.zonkette.blogspot.com ).
Ol' Zeph told the universe the Dean Campaign had hired two top bloggers in order to get them to promote Ho-Ho's candidacy among their faithful readers in cyberspace.
In a January 10 post, Zephyr wrote that Dean campaign hired Markos Zuniga ( http://www.dailykos.com ) and Jerome Armstrong ( http://www.mydd.com ) "as consultants, largely in order to ensure that they said positive things about Dean. We paid them over twice as much as we paid two staffers of similar backgrounds, and they had several other clients.
"While they ended up also providing useful advice, the initial reason for our outreach was explicitly to buy their airtime. To be very clear, they never committed to supporting Dean for the payment -- but it was very clearly, internally, our goal."
Teachout's declaration came three days after USA Today broke the news that black TV commentator Armstrong Williams had been paid $240,000 by the Bush administration to say nice things about the president's "No Child Left Behind" education initiative.
Zephyr's blog bombshell was quickly picked up by the Wall Street Journal, and hit the national political talk-show circuit as evidence that what Bush did wasn't so bad, since Democrat Dean was buying off bloggers to get favorable "press."
The bloggers themselves dispute Zephyr's claim, as does former Dean Campaign Manager Joe Trippi. And many readers have called Zephyr very nasty names for allegedly helping the Bush cause.
As it turns out, Zephyr is currently a fellow at Harvard's Beekman Center for Internet, Law and Society. She just started her blog and posted her "revelation" about the Dean campaign's blog ethics to promote an upcoming conference on "Blogging, Credibility and Journalism" at the Beekman Center.
Ol' Zeph couldn't have promoted it any better.
Circ Update -- As everybody knows, Gov. Jim Douglas' 2002 election promise to build the Chittenden County Circumferential Highway has gone the way of President George W. Bush's promise to bring freedom to the people of Iraq.
The fact that Gov. Scissorhands' promise was based on the Bush administration's decision to put our Circ on Dubya's fast track indicates that great minds often think alike.
Like Bush on the road to Iraq, Gov. Douglas refused to entertain any criticism. None. Didn't want to hear it.
The lawsuit brought by Circ opponents was regarded by Gov. Douglas as hopeless folly. He considered an update of the Circ's 1986 Environmental Impact Statement a waste of time.
President Bush considered putting armor on Humvees a waste of time, too.
When a federal judge ruled the evidence showed Gov. Scissorhands and crew had violated the nation's oldest environmental law, there weren't enough faces around to carry all the egg.
Currently the Douglas crew has hired a new consultant firm that is producing a new EIS, but it won't be completed until the spring of 2006.
One of the legal requirements is serious consideration of alternatives. If the problem is traffic congestion, how does one relieve congestion?
Take a pill?
If the goal is moving people quickly and efficiently, is the individually operated automobile the smartest way?
After all, according to the government's experts, a built-out Circ would only cut 11 seconds off the cross-county drive time between Colchester and Williston.
That's right -- the time it took you to read that sentence!
Is that worth $223 million to you and yours?
Brothers and sisters, are we talking congestion on the roads or congestion in the brain?
While you're contemplating that one, would you believe our esteemed leaders still haven't learned their lesson? Still haven't realized that our transportation future is about less, not more, gridlock?
Unfortunately, the Draft 2025 Chittenden County Metropolitan Transportation Plan, set for adoption any day now, continues to march in lockstep with the bumper-to-bumper policy of relieving congestion by building more roads!
Circ critic Wayne Senville, a former Burlington Planning Commission chairman, called the proposed plan "a seriously flawed document." In fact, the current Burlington Planning Commission realized that and unanimously recommended the city council oppose it. Unfortunately, at its January 3 meeting, the city council unanimously supported it!
Senville emailed Burlap's 14 city councilors this week, scolding them for backing the draft MTP.
While it contains "good rhetoric about transportation goals," wrote Wayne, "in reading through the draft Plan, and looking at how it proposes to allocate funds, you'll realize that the rhetoric is largely empty, and, in fact, almost seems designed to divert attention from the fact that the plan is largely a blueprint for highway construction and other roadway expansion projects."
Mr. Senville, by the way, is no amateur at this stuff. He takes planning very seriously. So seriously that he's the editor/publisher of the Planning Commissioners Journal ( http://www.plannersweb.com ), which has about 7500 subscribers nationwide.
One section of the draft MTP Senville described as "amazing." Not only does it promote more roads through more Chittenden County open space, it also promotes, that's right, promotes increased congestion on Burlington city streets as a good thing.
According to the plan, Burling-ton "is the region's primary activity center and congestion is a condition of its vibrancy and vitality."
Good ol' Burlap may be the only city in America where a driver can experience the "vibrancy" and "vitality" of Vermont while sitting through successive red lights.
"It's remarkable," noted Senville, "that the City Council could endorse a plan that says congestion on the city's principal arterials is good for Burlington, but bad everywhere else in Chittenden County!"
That, he said, is "a radical environmental position."
He's got a point, eh?
Late word Tuesday is, a few city councilors want to revisit their support for the county transportation plan.
Better late than never.
Wedding Bells -- Remember Progressive Gov-Lite hopeful Steve Hingtgen?
Real nice guy, but he still got only 7 percent of the vote in November. That was with public financing, too.
Still, there's good news on the Hingtgen front.
Steve the Prog may not have gotten the job he wanted, but he did get the girl.
Hingtgen told Seven Days he's now officially engaged to sweetheart Michelle Childs.
It's a rather sweet Golden Dome love story, folks. One that started from seed several years ago in -- of all places -- the House Judiciary Committee.
Steve was a state representative from Burlington. Michelle, a legislative counsel attorney, was assigned to the committee.
House Judiciary, you'll recall, was the committee that in 2000 wrote the landmark civil-unions law extending marriage rights in Vermont to same-sex couples.
You might say, love was in the air that year.
Stevie the Prog told Seven Days they haven't set the date, but it'll be this summer.
Dubie's Rising Star? -- As for Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie's possible new job as ambassador to the International Civil Aviation Organization, Mr. Hingtgen said he's pulling for Dubie to get the post. And if it works out that the lieutenant governor vacancy can be filled by gubernatorial appointment, Steve said to let Gov. Douglas know that he's available.
Hear that, Jim?
Last week we reported that, according to the the Vermont Constitution, a Dubie resignation would leave the seat open until the next election. Maybe, maybe not. Turns out it's not that clear.
Gov. Douglas believes he has the right to appoint a replacement. Democratic Secretary of State Deb Markowitz agrees with him.
But research by the Legislative Counsel's office indicates wording in other sections of our constitution that can be interpreted to nix a gubernatorial appointment. And as you know, it's all about the interpretation of the moment.
The research shows that, unlike for the office of governor, there's no constitutional language specific to filling a Lite-Gov vacancy.
It sure would be fun to see the matter resolved soon, but only George W. Bush can facilitate it by making Brian Dubie an ambassador.
The Caledonian-Record in St. Johnsbury enthusiastically endorsed Doobie-Doo for the ambassador job, never mentioning that he was interviewing for the position within weeks of getting reelected to his second two-year term.
The Caledonian-Record editorial was so popular in Doobie Country that one of Brian's sisters emailed it to us... three times!
Surprisingly, while Democratic members of the Senate had nothing but praise for Lt. Gov. Dubie and wished him well, veteran GOP State Sen. Bill Doyle had a different take.
Doyle, the highly respected leader of the Senate Republican Caucus, said, "Brian signed a two-year contract with the voters of Vermont when he ran for the lieutenant governor's position and he ought to honor that contract."
Not words that Dubie and his fans wanted to hear.
And no one's holding their breath waiting for Brian to respond to the letter from Democratic Party chairman Peter Mallary asking essentially, "What did Dubie know and when did he know it?"
Assuming Dubie is chosen by the Bush White House, and assuming Gov. Douglas gets to fill the vacancy, who would be our governor's pick of the litter?
Under the Golden Dome last week, the hallway chatter was filled with the name of Martha Rainville. She's currently employed as General Rainville and runs the Vermont National Guard. The two words that shot through the building like an echo describing Marvelous Martha were "very ambitious."
Certainly Rainville would be a choice that few, if any, would criticize. But would she give up her general's pay to take the part-time post of lieutenant governor? And, is she ready to come out of the closet as a Republican?
Of course. It could be a nice stepping stone for Martha on the way to bigger and better things.
Surely the first requirement for Gov. Douglas in making the selection is the ability of the selectee to get reelected in 2006.
Former State Sen. John Bloomer of Rutland has been mentioned. Bloomer would make Rutland happy, but could he win statewide?
Dicey at best.
Nope. The smartest choice to replace Ambassador Dubie is already serving in the State Senate: Chittenden County's only Republican, Diane Snelling of Hinesburg.
Being Lite-Gov is, after all, in her blood. Princess Di's mother, Barbara Snelling, held the post for two terms in the 1990s, and everybody knows her dad, Richard Snelling, was elected governor in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
Talk about a winning Republican tradition, eh?