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Fair Game

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The financial troubles facing Burlington Telecom, and the City of Burlington, have caught the attention of legislators in Montpelier.

Just days after Moody’s downgraded the city’s credit rating a couple of notches, two city councilors and one councilor-elect met with top lawmakers to determine if Burlington was going to be able to come up with a plan to salvage BT so it doesn’t further deteriorate the city’s credit rating, or negatively affect the state.

It’s clear that top lawmakers want to see more consensus and less partisan bickering coming out of the state’s largest burg.

Friday’s half-hour special meeting, hosted just before midday in House Speaker Shap Smith’s office, included Speaker Smith; President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin (D-Windham); Sen. Vince Illuzzi (R-Essex/Orleans); Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden), himself a former Burlington city councilor; City Council President Bill Keogh (D-Ward 5); Councilor Karen Paul (I-Ward 6); and Councilor-elect Kurt Wright (R-Ward 4), who is a state representative. Also in the meeting was State Treasurer Jeb Spaulding.

Two weeks ago, Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss and Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold met with Illuzzi, Shumlin and Ashe.

State lawmakers say they are open to helping Burlington solve BT’s financial troubles — but only if the administration and council can speak in one voice. And only if there’s no cash involved.

Illuzzi said the state could allow the city to seek voter-approved bonding as one option to help finance BT. Currently, state law prohibits the use of taxpayer-backed bonds to fund finance municipal telecom projects. Of course, in BT’s case, taxpayers are on the hook for $17 million as a result of money loaned to BT by the Kiss administration over the past two years when it could not secure other financing.

“From all available information that we can see, Mayor Kiss inherited BT when it was already losing money,” said Illuzzi. “How they handled that situation has been a main concern, but that’s for the council to deal with, not the legislature.”

Illuzzi said the credit downgrade could impact a state-planned investment in an aviation technology center at the Burlington International Airport, as it would require some investment by the airport — which is a city enterprise much like BT and its ability to borrow money is tied to the city.

The downgrade will cost the city roughly $3700 more for every $1 million in new, general obligation bonds. The city may issue $4 to $8 million in the coming year, so the impact could be $15,000 to $30,000, Leopold told “Fair Game.”

That said, everyone knows BT is on a short leash as it faces another $380,000 lease payment coming due in May, which is roughly when Moody’s “negative credit watch” ends. The city could face another downgrade if a solution to BT isn’t in the works by then. It also needs to move quickly to secure any legislative help. The session will likely be over by mid-May.

Illuzzi said the enormity of the task argues for putting partisan differences aside.

“The damage has been done to the Kiss administration,” said Illuzzi, “but I think it’s time to move beyond that. We need to ensure there is not future damage to the credit rating of the city, or the state.”

Keep on Floatin’

The recent flap over Sen. Peter Shumlin’s “spontaneous” parade piracy — where he jumped aboard the Vermont Public Interest Research Group’s Mardi Gras float — took another twist this week.

The person who invited Shumlin on board was his former Senate colleague Elizabeth Ready. VPIRG hired Ready to help with its campaign to shut down Vermont Yankee as scheduled in 2012.

“It was my idea to have the float, and my fault that Shumlin jumped on it,” Ready told “Fair Game.” “I doubt Peter would have jumped on if I hadn’t been there. I don’t want VPIRG to get whacked for my own lack of mindfulness. So all I can say is mea culpa, and I am sorry.”

In several pics forwarded to “Fair Game,” Ready can be seen holding one of Shumlin’s political signs.

Whoops.

VPIRG Executive Director Paul Burns said Ready decided to end her contract with VPIRG earlier than expected. She’ll keep her day job, though, running an Addison County homeless shelter.

Burns is doing his best to get beyond the float fracas — and Democratic candidates’ concern over VPIRG sharing some Yankee poll results with Shumlin. Burns and VPIRG Board President Duane Peterson said they never intended to help Shumlin’s political career.

VPIRG’s goal, Peterson says, is to shut down Vermont Yankee despite the combined efforts of Gov. Jim Douglas and Entergy to keep the plant running. Peterson keeps a photocopy of a Brattleboro Reformer newspaper clipping at his desk as a reminder of VPIRG’s long-term stake in the battle against VY. The headline: “VPIRG Wants Plan for Closing Yankee.”

The date? 1979.

Campaign Notes

Last week was a big one for gubernatorial fundraising: Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie hauled in a whopping $115,000 at his 51st birthday bash; Democrat Deb Markowitz raised $25,000 the same night, just a few miles away, as part of her official campaign kickoff tour.

A total of 431 people donated to Dubie’s party at the Doubletree Hotel in South Burlington, while 117 contributed to Markowitz at a Burlington fundraiser at Coffee Enterprises.

Aside from the $51 entry fee, Dubie donors could shell out an additional $2000 to be listed as “Eisenhower” sponsors, since Republican Dwight David Eisenhower was president in 1959. Other sponsorship levels included “Ben Hur,” at $1000, “Mack the Knife” at $500, and “Gunsmoke” at $250. All of those “entertainments” were popular in 1959.

Markowitz, too, came up with clever categories to attract campaign support. In keeping with the coffee theme, and her latte-liberal base, she offered: “Tall Cup” for $100; “Grande” for $250; “Venti” for $500 and $1000 to be a “host.” A total of 117 people contributed to Markowitz, who continues to be a formidable fundraiser among her Democratic colleagues.

Last July, Markowitz revealed she had raised nearly $200,000 — more than all of her challengers combined at the time.

For a breakdown of each event’s major donors, check out the Seven Days staff blog, Blurt.

The next official filing deadline isn’t until July. That’s when we’ll get another look inside everyone’s campaign coffers.

Meanwhile, a recent WCAX poll found that of all the Democratic candidates, only Markowitz could beat Dubie in a head-to-head matchup. It showed Sen. Doug Racine was the next best contender, but would lose to Dubie, followed by former State Sen. Matt Dunne and Sen. Susan Bartlett.

Last week Dunne released an analysis by UVM prof Anthony Gierzynski predicting statistical dead heats between either Dubie and Markowitz, Dubie and Racine or Dubie and Dunne — if you take into account the poll’s 5-point margin of error. Only Shumlin and Bartlett came out looking like undisputed losers.

“We thought it was an interesting analysis,” said Dunne, “especially since some would like everyone to believe the poll shows that the primary is already over.”

Something tells me it’s just getting started.

Media Notes

Longtime journalist Sue Allen is leaving the profession, and this time it may be for good. She’s taking on the role of executive director at Renewable Energy Vermont.

Allen’s last day at the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus is Friday. The paper’s editor — Steven Pappas — called Allen a mentor and friend. “I loved working for and with her.”

Allen was given a fond farewell on last week’s “Vermont This Week” TV show on Vermont Public Television.

Allen started in journalism in 1982 as an assistant to the executive editor at USA Today, and came to Vermont in 1986 to work for the Burlington Free Press. She later joined the Associated Press and left journalism in the 1990s to work for Gov. Howard Dean. She continued on with Dean when he ran for president.

Allen reentered journalism as an editorial writer for the Freeps and later became editor of the Times Argus. She left that role about six months ago to become a reporter.

“This job came along and it was just too appealing,” said Allen. “I get to work in an industry that is creating green jobs and is really exploding and expanding.”

Unlike the daily print industry, which seems to be imploding.

“I have absolute faith that the media will thrive and survive in the future — I may not hold it as a piece of paper in my hand, but it will be here in some form,” Allen predicted.

Recount Redux

It’s official: Burlington’s Ward 2, a Progressive stronghold, will not be represented by its preferred political party since 1981, the year Bernie Sanders was elected mayor.

Burlington city councilors gathered Monday night inside City Hall Auditorium to conduct a requested recount of two council races from Ward 2.

The recounts confirmed the Town Meeting Day results, giving incumbent Democrat David Berezniak a 10-vote victory over Progressive Jonathan Leavitt for a two-year seat.

In the other race, Democrat Bram Kranichfeld’s victory held over Progressive Maxwell Tracy. In the recount, Kranichfeld picked up one vote, making the final tally 308-294. This race was to fill the remaining year of Progressive Emma Mulvaney-Stanak’s two-year term. Mulvaney-Stanak resigned in December after moving from Ward 2 to neighboring Ward 3, to buy a house.

Mulvaney-Stanak wasted no time winning a Ward 3 seat — currently occupied by fellow Prog Clarence Davis — and will return to the council next month. She’ll be one of two Progressives — along with Marrisa Caldwell — on the city’s governing body, the fewest number of Ps since 1982.

Got a news tip? Email Shay at shay@sevendaysvt.com

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About The Author

Shay Totten

Shay Totten

Bio:
Shay Totten wrote "Fair Game," a weekly political column, from April 2008-December 2011.

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