Rep. David Zuckerman Responds
First and foremost, I believe serving in the Vermont legislature is a privilege, not a right. I also want to thank Andy Bromage for trying to write a complete article regarding legislative pay [“Vermont Legislators Admit to Cheating the System. Are They Justified?” February 3]. However, my main points and some important details were not in the article. As legislators, our compensation is not set up equally for our work, the pay cut disproportionately hit some legislators more than others, and this privilege should be accessible to all Vermonters so we can have more voices at the policy-making table.
Many years ago our pay was set up with mileage, meals and rooms as a part of our compensation. Weekly pay was set, but the others adjust with the federal rate. When I started in 1997, our weekly pay was $536 per week. It did not change until 2005. With inflation, $536 would be $716 per week in 2009. But our actual pay was $625 per week.
At that rate, legislators were authorized pay of $10,000 for the 2009 session. According to a Snelling Center report, we work 1180 hours per year: 16 weeks at 40 hours (the session) and 36 weeks at 15 hours (off session), about $8.50 an hour. By taking a 5 percent cut, our pay will be reduced by $500. This brings us to about minimum wage.
By 32 V.S.A. Ch.15 sec. 1052 we are “entitled to receive expenses as follows”; an allowance for distance traveled (regardless of whether we drive), a daily meals allowance and a lodging allowance (if we stay over).
Therefore, those who live in the far corners of the state receive total compensation of as much as $23,000 for the session, while a legislator from Montpelier only receives about $13,500. Those who live within 50 miles of the capital pay taxes on 100 percent. Those beyond 50 miles only pay taxes on the $10,000 base pay (federal law).
For those who live too far away, I wholeheartedly agree that overnight accommodations should be covered. However, one round trip a week and renting an apartment for four months does not cost $9500.
In summary, we exist in a system that creates a net pay differential that is quite extreme. We have also failed to keep the privilege accessible to many ordinary Vermonters.
We should not be overcompensated, but it should be clearer. Set our pay as a percentage of the state hourly average. Mileage and meals should not be compensated, and legislators who stay overnight should receive actual reimbursements for their lodging. That would be more equal, clear, accessible, and reflect more closely private-sector compensation. While it is a privilege, we should make it possible for any Vermonter to serve so we can have all perspectives at the table.
I am willing to answer others questions and concerns. Please email me at email@example.com.
Great coverage of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant controversy in your latest edition [February 17]. Like they say, if you only have lemons, then make lemonade.
The claim has been made that the low levels of tritium found in the VY test wells pose no threat to the public health. VY should arrange a special press conference to prove the point about the safety of the water. An Entergy official can drink a whole pitcher of lemonade made from test well water during the highest reading for tritium.
This drinking the Kool-Aid — oops, I mean lemonade — stunt could be done to raise money for a charity. I would suggest the American Cancer Society.
Luke T. Bush
Bridal Is Boring
Few things non-food-related trigger my gag reflex. But I admit, when I saw the words “Romance and Bridal Issue” on the cover of Seven Days [February 3] while exiting the co-op with an armload of groceries in one arm and my daughter in the other, I wretched. Unwilling to believe that 7D’s edge could be so dull, I capitulated to my own optimism and nabbed a copy from the pile.
Alas, I scoured high and low for some incisive piece: something on art and love, love and science, love and life, the V-day chocolate industry, anything; but all for naught. Instead, as I tried to satiate my reader’s appetite on coverage of weddings and cakes, and a fluffed-up story on divorce (unchanged for last decade — not much to this scoop), I felt hungry and slightly sick.
Amazingly, despite Vermont’s lead in the gay marriage debate, same-sex couples got virtually no coverage this week. Apparently gay love is not romantic enough (or heteronormative enough) for the Valentine’s issue of Seven Days. I suppose gay folks must wait until election-time again — sorry, my gay homies. I did have a good laugh at the company trying to create “new traditions” by selling gay wedding tchotchkes. Still, that you couldn’t even produce a token image of a same-sex Vermont couple to include in “Hitched on Film” proves that in the “Romance and Bridal” issue, you weren’t even trying to hone your edge.
I repeat, Barf!
Editor’s note: The cover couple was meant to be androgynous! Also, we published a special gay-marriage issue in April 2009, after the law passed.
In Defense of Barton
I love the media issue mostly [Seven Days, January 27], but I must object to your characterization of Darren Perron’s hometown of Barton as “not known as a hotbed of journalistic enterprise.” As an editor at the Chronicle, in Barton, I had to wonder if [reporter] Lauren Ober had ever read our paper or had ever taken a look at our free website: www.bartonchronicle.com.
If she had, she would have found the entire series of articles we did about Safe Choices, a program designed to protect the public from mentally disabled men who have not been convicted of anything at all but just gave someone in power an idea they might be dangerous. The series recently won an award for investigative reporting at the New England Newspaper and Press Association convention in Boston.
And while the Burlington Free Press has been doing nothing but cheerleading for wind turbines, we have also been looking into that story a little deeper by traveling to Mars Hill, Maine, and towns in Ontario and New York to get the full story, firsthand. It’s not all good news. So, yes, Barton is actually a “hotbed of journalistic enterprise.” Come on, Seven Days, you can do better. You can be sexy, funny and accurate.
Can I just say: enough with the Twitter, already? When you wrote about it last summer or fall, explaining its relevance as a social phenomenon, it was informative and interesting. Now could we maybe give it a rest? You’ve gone from hinting that it’s pretty neat in a feature to blatantly slobbering over it. Need I remind you that Twitter is a private company and that it’s journalistically unethical to continually endorse a profit-driven product?
Also, has anyone else mentioned to you yet that not everyone prefers “microblogging” to find out “what’s new”? I’m barely 27 and I’d much rather read about a band I like, dig the music, then find out when and where it’s playing than impulsively respond to a couple of rushed sentences about where I should be or “what’s hot.”
C’mon, guys, is this an alternative weekly or MTV?
One more thing: Remember how popular MySpace was circa 2005? You probably don’t hear as many people talking about it now. I think you’d be wiser to let web trends play themselves out without overly attaching yourself. You might not know what to do with all the free advertising space you’ve been providing them when the tables turn.
Where’s the Money?
Since many suspect that Seven Days is the print mouthpiece for the Progressive Party, we were surprised by the October 21 issue when Shay Totten wrote about “ongoing speculation that Kiss is clueless and Leopold really is running the city.” Wow. Shay went rogue.
The “Fair Game” guy must have been taken to the woodshed by the big Progs in city hall and Seven Days. For weeks “Fair Game” has been the Kiss spin doctor for the biggest scandal in Burlington’s history. Shay somehow blamed the Democrats because the mayor hid audits and kept information from the city council.
Because no one was informed that Burlington Telecom is millions of dollars in arrears and the mayor authorized illegal fund transfers, any councilor who asked about it was “political.” It really is time to expect more from Seven Days and Shay. The City of Burlington is in a major crisis and there are issues much larger than helping Progressives retain power.
Seven Days should be asking why the mayor wants the city to borrow millions from a financial firm that has a serious history of financial fraud and has paid millions in fines to the federal government. Does Comcast invest with Piper Jaffray?
Shay should wonder why the mayor has isolated himself from intelligent Progressives like Jan Schultz, who have knowledge of communications financing and regulation.
Any good reporter would ask just what is this “pool” that Burlington Telecom borrowed from? What “streams” feed this pool?
If it is the airport or the light department, we are looking at major state and federal violations.
I am looking forward to future issues of Seven Days.
[Re: “Vermont Yankee Changes Ad Message Midstream,” January 27]
Please drink the water:
if your name is John Dreyfuss,
Director of Nuclear Safety Assurance at Entergy Nuclear Vermont Yankee;
or if your name is Michael Colomb
Site Vice President for Entergy;
or if your name is Beth Bristol
financial analyst at Vermont Yankee;
or if your name is George Crowley
Chemist at VY;
or if your name is Erica Moore
Systems engineer at the reactor;
or if your name is Neil Sheehan
spokesperson for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission;
and even if your name is
returning to the PR team at Entergy to replace
the newly released Jay Thayer...
The public has been repeatedly told that there is “no threat to public health or safety.” Please prove it to us by drinking the water on TV from one of your test wells. And have your kids drink it, too.
Then our confidence may be restored ... but I doubt it.
Nothing Against Cuba…
The Cuban Missile Crisis was in the early 1960s, and I am appalled that almost 40 years later, we have not patched up our differences with Cuba [“A Seven Days Reporter Finds Getting to Cuba Easier Than Returning,” January 27]. We seem to have made friends with and support countries from WWI and WWII … The Japanese did attack us and killed many people. The Cubans have not done that.
I am a pensioned military veteran with a valid passport and travel all over this planet. I served this country honorably and feel my civil liberties are violated when I am not allowed my full freedom of travel. Being able to go to places such as Cuba is important.
Maybe I would like to go there and see the cows that are from Vermont and see how they are being treated.
Sexual Identity Is No Big Deal
Imagine my surprise while reading Lauren Ober’s January 27 profile of Darren Perron [“Anchor Aweigh”], the new chief news anchor at WCAX-TV, when I read this little tidbit:
“Perron, who lives in Burlington with his partner Peter Jacobsen, says the new anchor job ‘came a lot sooner than expected.’”
My reaction upon reading that sentence was immediate. What? I thought to myself. Channel 3’s new chief news anchor is gay? I was momentarily dumbfounded. Without using the G-word even once, Ober had just “outed” him.
A decade ago, that would have made headlines. It probably will still make headlines in the gay media outside Vermont. But the matter-of-fact way in which Perron’s same-gender partnership was revealed in my mind speaks volumes about how far Vermont has come away from the sexual-identity politics that still flares in other parts of the country.
It’s certainly a far cry from my years living in San Francisco (1982-1994), when asserting one’s sexual identity was practically de rigueur for virtually everyone who lived and worked there — whether you were a lesbian, a gay man, a bisexual, a transgender or even a heterosexual.
I find it highly ironic that in the 15 years since I moved from San Francisco to Vermont, I’ve felt far freer to be myself — without putting a label on myself — here than I ever did in “Baghdad-by-the-Bay,” as the late San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen called his beloved hometown…
I long for the day when the whole country is as comfortable with our diversity as Vermonters are.
Vote “Yes” on #5 to repeal IRV and return to the voting system that served Burlington well for decades. Burlington tried IRV, and now we are one of the textbook examples of failed IRV demonstrating “perverse outcomes or voting paradoxes that are not majoritarian.” Advocates of IRV are forced to argue hypotheticals, like “avoid a runoff” and “50% matters,” when Burlington never needed a mayoral race runoff until we had IRV, and then the IRV mayor was elected by 48 percent of voters.
Six hundred and six ballots were not counted on the third round because those voters didn’t make enough choices. In a real runoff, those voters would have been able to reevaluate the top two candidates, thinking things over and taking new information into account. In the 2009 election, that would have served the city very well.
The irony of all this is that the person hurt the most by IRV was the mayor who was elected by this system, because he was deprived of a clean win in a real runoff election. Repeal IRV. Vote “Yes” on #5.
I will be voting “No” on Burlington’s ballot Question #5, the proposal to repeal Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) and to redefine a majority as 40 percent. Although I was skeptical at first, I have become a big fan of IRV after being able to use it in two consecutive mayoral elections. It allows me, as someone who wants to encourage parties besides the big two, to vote with both my heart and my brain. IRV has been consistently upheld by the courts as fully complying with the Supreme Court’s “one person, one vote” mandate. Just as in a traditional runoff election, every IRV voter is entitled to a single vote, for a single candidate, in every round of the vote tally. Implying that IRV gives some voters more votes than others is misleading at best.
Some people have the mistaken idea that the proposal is to just get rid of IRV and use a separate runoff election instead. Not so. The current proposal also lowers the winning threshold in the first round of voting from a 50 percent majority down to just 40 percent. This means that when there are three or more candidates splitting up the vote, a candidate that a majority of voters like the least could win. The idea that Burlington should go backward by repealing the 50 percent majority requirement for electing our mayor is misguided. I urge voters to vote “No” on the proposed charter change.
Ralph J. Montefusco