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Gannett Cancels Free Parking in Vermont 

Inside Track

"While people are angry," said one veteran journalist at Vermont's largest daily newspaper, this week "the prevailing mood is one of disgust."

"We feel absolutely frustrated and undervalued," said another reporter at the Gannett chain's Burlington Free Press on College Street in downtown Burlington. Gannett Inc. is the largest newspaper publisher in the United States. It publishes USA Today and 85 dailies including our beloved Freeps.

What these staffers were referring to was the announcement on Monday by Free Press management that ordinary working stiffs at the newspaper (excluding executives and the outside sales staff) would no longer have free parking provided by the newspaper. Depending at which downtown private lot they use - most are within two blocks of the office - Freeps employees began losing their free parking spots on Tuesday.

Free Press staffers, who spoke to "Inside Track" on the condition they not be identified, told us they were "stunned."

It gets worse. Management also removed the "bottled spring water" from the newsroom, our sources say. Instead, faucets on the bathroom sinks in the staff men's and ladies' rooms now have mesh filters over them.

Great!

"Morale was already bad," said one reporter. "I think everyone was stunned at first. It took awhile to sink in," he said. Free parking was part of the deal when he and his co-workers took the job and, he said, many are questioning "the legality" of removing it.

"The reason parking is provided," said our source, "is because we often need our cars to cover a story. It's part of our job."

Management made the announcement to individuals or to small groups. As Monday afternoon unfolded, we're told, "People were standing around, openly complaining. People were pissed and took it as a personal insult."

By Tuesday, employees at the newspaper were raising "personal safety concerns" about having to walk six to eight blocks late at night to reach their cars at distant locations. The cheapest lot found so far, one female staffer told us, was north of downtown and charges $50 a month. Closer parking lots or garages charge double or more, she said.

By Tuesday, longtime Publisher Jim Carey got wind of the grumbling and, we're told, met personally with employees.

"Essentially, Carey said the paper is not making enough money and they have to make cuts somewhere," said one Freeps journalist. Carey told workers that management is "trying to avoid layoffs, though that is under discussion."

But, sources added, Carey's real message was, "If you don't like it, find a new job."

The fact is, said one reporter, "We're spread too thin as it is."

"Inside Track" called Carey's office on Tuesday morning and requested an interview, but the publisher of Gannett's Vermont operation did not return our call, as usual.

Perfectly understandable.

"They've finally crossed a line," said one reporter. "They have no idea what we do in the newsroom."

"Our CEO makes $16 million a year," said another, "and our news operation has become unimportant - even locally."

***********

Statehouse Showdown - Next Wednesday's showdown under Montpeculiar's Golden Dome has all the signs of a dramatic head-on collision. Two gubernatorial vetoes are on the table, but only one is in the spotlight - H.520, the "global warming/climate-change bill," as supporters call it, or the "unfair tax on Vermont Yankee bill," as it's dubbed by its detractors, including Vermont's elected CEO.

Last week Democrats, led by Sen. Peter Shumlin of Putney, pulled a fast one by offering to withdraw the tax from the bill and instead just pass the meat of it. That's the part which establishes an all-fuels, statewide energy-efficiency utility. The funding mechanism - the Vermont Yankee tax and the tax on wind-power production - can wait until lawmakers return in January.

Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, expert political tactician that he is, immediately rejected Shumlin's offer and cancelled their supposedly "secret" meeting at the Woodstock Inn because Putney Pete had alerted the Vermont press.

Shocking!

The governor's talented mouthpiece, Jason Gibbs, was quick to open fire.

"We're canceling this meeting," said Gibbs, "because it's quite clear to us that Sen. Shumlin is not interested in negotiating in good faith. He's more interested in scoring political points and turning this issue into a media circus."

Good line, but stunned the handful of Vermont political reporters, who were surprised to hear there were enough of them to create a circus!

And Sen. Shumlin is not taking gubernatorial rejection lightly. This week he told "Inside Track" that, with the Yankee tax removed, he does not believe "Jim Douglas has any excuse left in his barrel to object to this bill."

Gov. Douglas, by the way, was not available for comment, because he's enjoying the Independence Day holiday with his wife and his parents at "a tiny little lake in the middle of nowhere in Maine."

Bet you didn't know Gov. Scissorhands is quite the water skier, according to his spokesman.

Asked why we've never seen photographs of Vermont's governor on water skis, Gibbs replied with a laugh and a "no comment."

Meanwhile, in Sen. Shummy's view, Vermont's current governor is turning into "a cross between George Bush and Dick Cheney in the public's eye."

And Shumlin is not mincing his words, as other Democratic leaders have. "Vermont has been an environmental leader. And Jim Douglas," charged Shumlin, "is the most regressive governor Vermont's had on the environment in recent history. He does not care about protecting the environment."

Pretty black and white, eh?

Gibbs responded to that one by describing the Senate Democratic leader as "a one-man walking cliché."

What does that mean?

"It means all barn and no hay," answered Jason the spokesman.

Another good line, eh?

When pressed on what he expects to actually happen under the Golden Dome next Wednesday, Gibbs told us, "If legislative leaders continue to refuse to reach a consensus, then the most likely outcome will be a vote to sustain the governor's veto."

And that vote will turn out how?

"Well, I don't want to reveal all of our intelligence," he replied, "but we're quite confident that the legislature will vote to sustain the veto."

Maybe Shummy should take up water skiing?

**************

More Gibbs Talk - As you probably already know, Gov. Douglas has not seen, nor does he have any intention of seeing, Al Gore's Academy Award-winning movie about the global-warming crisis, An Inconvenient Truth.

His press secretary, however, has seen the Gore flick. (Yes, Republicans are apparently allowed to go to any movies they want.)

What did Mr. Gibbs think of it?

"Interesting and provocative," he replied. He declined to elaborate.

Also, there's lots of behind-the-scenes buzz about the Democratic Party's lack of a "qualified" candidate interested in running against Landslide Jim in 2008. What about a third-party type? Or an "Independent?"

We raised the matter with the current guv's motor-mouth.

"I'm not going to comment on the 2008 election as the official spokesperson," said Jason. "I'll leave that to the political staff and the pundits."

"And who is the political staff?" we inquired.

"We don't really have one right now," he said, unable to control his laughter. "We're busy governing."

Confidence is not in short supply these days on the Ol' Fifth Floor.

**************

Sanity on Drugs? - That's what it sounded like on Ch. 3's "You Can Quote Me" Sunday as an experienced elected law enforcement official called for a rethinking of Vermont's drug laws and the decriminalization of marijuana.

That's right - a law enforcement official. We're talking about Windsor County State's Attorney Bobby Sand. For several years, Sand has courageously been promoting a public dialogue on our current failed drug policy. This year he's starting to get some serious attention.

Finally.

Sand told Marselis Parsons and crime reporter Brian Joyce and whoever tunes in on Sunday morning (unfortunately, "Vermont's Own" does not post video or audio - or even transcripts - of "Quote Me") that there are three reasons the War on Drugs hasn't been effective.

"First," said the prosecutor, "prohibition just doesn't work. You can't tell people to stop taking a substance and that's going to happen. We should have learned that lesson back in the '20s and '30s."

Smarty pants.

Secondly, said Sand, by imposing punishment on users and addicts, "We've effectively criminalized addiction. Instead of bringing users into a system that might help them address their addiction, we push them away, we push them into the arms of the black market."

That's a rather sobering way of looking at it, eh?

And thirdly, said the straight-talking Vermont state's attorney, "We leave distribution of these highly addictive dangerous substances in the hands of criminals - criminals who have a financial incentive to develop new customers."

Even if we pump money into more "compassionate" treatment of drug addicts, said Sand, "we still have people out there who have a financial motive to develop new customers. I think we're working at cross purposes."

A lot of folks publicly agree with him.

Very few, however, are members of the current Vermont Legislature.

Few politicians, so far, have demonstrated the guts Sand has demonstrated, to risk losing an election by "appearing soft on drugs."

**************

Catching the Crooks - The noose is tightening on the crooks and liars in charge of America's White House. That was demonstrated this week by President George Bush's commutation of the 30-month jail sentence of Scooter Libby, the convicted perjurer who aided in blowing the cover of Valerie Plame, a covert CIA agent.

Why?

Because her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, had told the truth about a Bush administration scam to find yellowcake uranium in Africa that Saddam Hussein was supposedly using to make nuclear weapons, a.k.a. WMDs.

Turned out neither the yellowcake nor the WMDs existed.

Meanwhile, Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is in the thick of it these days.

Tim Russert pitched him this question on "Meet the Press" the other day.

"Let me ask you about two words that you used on a statement you put out on Thursday," said Russert. "I'm 'even more disappointed now by this Nixonian stonewalling.' What is Nixonian stonewalling?"

"They have taken the attitude at the White House," replied St. Patrick, "that somehow they're above the law. That if they make a decision, that there's something they want to do, nobody should question them on it. The vice president's even been quoted as saying, 'The courts can't question it. The Congress can't question it.' That's a Nixonian attitude, and it's wrong."

The bald guy from Vermont is sure right about that, isn't he?

It didn't get much press coverage, but Leahy also expressed his deep disappointment with the recent decisions of the conservative majority on the United States Supreme Court. Leahy had voted to confirm the appointment of Mr. Bush's new Chief Justice John Roberts, who has led the tilt to the right. Russert asked, was he still pleased with that vote?

Leahy said he did not want the chief justice confirmed on a party-line vote. He was hoping Roberts "would understand that many of us wanted to see him make the Supreme Court less divisive, have more unanimous opinions."

Fat chance, eh?

"I am extraordinarily disappointed when I find that, in almost a cavalier way, they've thrown aside Brown vs. Board of Education. What does that say to minorities in our country? I think it's a slap in their face," said the senior senator from Vermont.

OK. So does St. Patrick now regret his "yes" vote?

"No, I regret the nomination," answered Leahy. I think that I have a great deal of admiration for the chief justice's legal ability. I do wish he could reflect more the plurality of our country. Because if he doesn't, we're all hurt."

Yes, indeed.

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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Bio:
Peter Freyne, 1949-2009, wrote the weekly political column "Inside Track," which originated in the Vanguard Press in the mid 1980s; he brought it to Seven Days in 1995. He retired it shortly before his death in January, 2009. We all miss him.

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