The members of the Senate Appropriations Committee appeared dumbfounded. In the witness chair sat Adjutant Gen. Martha Rainville, the boss of the Vermont National Guard.
I can tell you, said the first woman adjutant in National Guard history, there is still a threat to the environment. We are not at normal operations. Its easy to look out the window and [see] everything is beautiful outside and not understand we cant assume a pre-September 11 posture.
And that, in Gen. Rainvilles opinion, means hundreds of Vermont kids will remain barred from National Guard armories in Burlington, Vergennes and Bennington. It means the vital and vibrant after-school programs that kept them off the streets and out of trouble are kaput. It means weve got little victims of Osama bin Ladens terrorist strike right here in our own back yard.
Since the state of Vermont owns the armories and pays for their upkeep, the members of the Appropriations Committee wanted to know just why Vermont kids were still being locked out by Gen. Rainville.
At the end of January, the Department of Defense downgraded the nations alert status two steps from Threatcon Delta to Threatcon Bravo, passing through Threatcon Charlie along the way.
Committee members said Threatcon Bravo gave the adjutant general discretion. But Rainville stuck to her guns.
I cant, in any way thats responsible, open the armories back to normal operation, said Rainville. Based on intelligence briefings, she said, there is still a threat. The general insisted she was just following army regulations.
Its my job to make the hard decision to say to a number of youth groups around the state that you need to find somewhere else to have your activities, she told them.
A few senators appeared stunned by Rainvilles tough stand. One, a Naval Academy graduate and Central Intelligence Agency veteran, told Rainville point-blank, With all due respect, I have to disagree strongly with your decision.
In Sen. Gerry Gossens Addison County district, the Vergennes armory, located across the street from the elementary school, remains off limits to the local Boys and Girls Club.
We understand, Gossens told Rainville, judgment has to be brought into this, and to think that a National Guard armory without weapons in it is a target for Al Qaeda, to me, defies logic!
Sen. Gossens suggested the general wake up to the fact that there is a Vermont mindset as well as a military mindset at play. The former CIA officer scoffed at the suggestion that if the kids were ever let back into the armory, Vermont Guard personnel would be on duty searching the school kids backpacks.
What target is there in Vergennes, for crying out loud, and really in Vermont for this kind of thing? Youve lost a lot of respect for the common sense of the military, said the senator who came in from the cold. Youre going to bring down ridicule.
When are we going to get the kids back in? was the question from the senators. Rainville started to backpedal.
I think we can, on a case-by-case, armory-by-armory basis, work out procedures, said Gen. Rainville. I agree some of the stuff doesnt make sense.
Sen. Jim Leddy (D-Chittenden) questioned the general about the now-closed-to-the-public Burlington armory in the New North End. At first, he noted, Rainville said the kids got the boot because of security concerns, then she switched stories and said it was really because the Guard needs the space to park 14 desk jockeys.
The committee wasnt buying it.
Then Rainville, politely but firmly, cautioned the committee. She told them that if armories are no longer used by the Guard for their primary purpose of training, the Guard units could be decertified.
Sen. Leddy called that threat almost laughable.
In a follow-up letter to the committee this week, Rainville noted that her only discretion is whether to increase, not decrease, security.
And Gov. Howard Dean added his two cents to the controversy this week. While acknowledging the Guards principal mission of security, Ho-Ho told reporters, They really do need to reconsider the use of some of these armories. I would like to see the after-school programs go back into the armories, which are, after all, owned by the state of Vermont.
Sen. Leddy told Seven Days, There has been damage done to the Guard and its neighbors. If Rainville really had been considering moving full-time personnel into the Gosse Court armory for more than a year, he wondered why no notice was given to the kids program before they got the boot.
Thats not how a landlord treats a tenant, said Leddy. The sad part, he said, is that there is no alternative site in the densely populated New North End.
Nobody wants the Guard to look bad in this, said Leddy. Especially now.
I feel like Im between a rock and hard place, Gen. Rainville told Seven Days.
Independent Fever Congratulations to Jim Douglas for his early victory in the Vermont GOP gubernatorial primary! With zero percent of precincts reporting, Seven Days gives Slim Jim the nod.
As everyone knows, Cornelius Hogan, the ex-state bureaucrat, shifted gears last week and decided the Republican Party didnt want him. King Con is now running under the Independent label.
As Vermont Democratic Party chairman Scudder Parker noted, The Republicans have succeeded in dismantling the big tent. Now theyre setting up pup tents.
Hogan, a virgin in the alleyways of electoral politics, has gotten that old-time Independent religion. He told Marselis Parsons and Anson Tebbetts on You Can Quote Me Sunday morning that in his travels around the state hes found that Jim Jeffords Declaration of Independence last May has resonated with the populace much more than he imagined.
For me to feel it, said Hogan, was really important.
The former state government policy wonk is now positioning himself as the anti-establishment candidate.
And he did impress with his ability to simultaneously answer both yes and no to the question about closing the Woodstock Jail.
Woodstock needs to be closed, said the former head of the Agency of Human Services (which includes the Department of Corrections). It was built in 1927. Its not a very humane place.
But he didnt stop there.
The timing of the closing, said King Con, is awkward and could present safety problems. He said he was keeping his fingers crossed that Corrections Commissioner John Gorczyk has this really well planned. He wondered aloud whether the departments strong community-based system, i.e., the furlough program, can handle the wave of early releases a Woodstock closure would bring.
King Con tried to have it both ways. Lets shut it down, but for right now, lets keep it open.
Maybe the dudes got better political skills than most observers imagine?
St. Chainsaw? My goodness, you can hardly pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV news anymore and not see or hear about the tireless battle for truth and justice being waged by Vermonts rookie state auditor Elizabeth Ready.
Location, location, location Ms. Ready, a Democrat with a future, has been elbowing her way into the middle of more dust-ups lately than a junkyard dog.
Chainsaws even won kudos from Republicans for putting the bite on Gov. Deans technologically challenged tax department. Shes investigating how Ho-Hos environmental agency lost track of four million bucks. Shes pronounced Vermont Yankee woefully behind on paying for plant security. And shes declared the states restitution program for crime victims a joke.
And just the other day, Auditor Ready was on the front page of the local daily and the lead story on the WCAX-TV news. This time, Chainsaw whacked the Dean administration for dropping the ball on the security of state government computers.
Nice darts. You might say Readys on a roll. Shes a whirring bundle of energy, a combination of street smarts mixed with a sharp mind, a blistering wit and a zest for battle.
And recently, yours truly got a tip from a Republican source that Chainsaw Liz had visions of sainthood! No kidding.
The tipsters son had been part of the captive audience at Mater Christi School, where the owners of some of the largest, most expensive SUVs in Chittenden County drop off and retrieve their offspring. (Its on our regular bike route).
Auditor Liz had told the younguns that when she was their age, the only thing she wanted to be when she grew up was a saint.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph!
True story. Chainsaw Liz is a bona fide Mater Christi graduate.
I told the students, said Ready, that when I was a little kid, I aspired to be a saint. She said she told the kids that when she was a little Catholic schoolgirl, she prayed for the strength, the visions in the grove, the miracles that go with it.
St. Elizabeth the Auditor told Seven Days she fancied combining the naturalist sanctity of St. Francis with the warrior sainthood of St. Joan of Arc.
I do owe a debt of gratitude to the Sisters of Mercy, said Ready, for their example and work on issues of literacy, hunger, poverty and housing. No greater calling than to work for the poor is what they taught.
Our source sent the auditor an e-mail. He informed her, tongue in cheek, she was in the wrong political party if sainthood is her goal.
Ready replied that shed be happy to be written in on the GOP side, too, in the next race.
Now, that would take a miracle!
But saints, remember, are human, and so is our St. Eliza-beth. Frankly, theres some concern that Chainsaw may be spreading herself a little too thin. The evidence was her awkward appearance before the Senate Natural Resources Committee the other day.
Auditor Ready had been called in Thursday to testify by the committee chairman, Sen. Dick McCormack. Why?
She had expressed some chagrin, said McCormack, that the committee was dealing with an energy bill and not paying enough attention to what she perceived as problems with Vermont Yankee.
Ready showed up, but she wasnt prepared.
I got a call and was asked to come, she said as she slid into the witness chair. Im not sure what you want me to talk about.
Whatever it was you had in mind to talk about when you complained that I hadnt called you, replied McCormack.
Ready was anything but her talkative self. In fact, she told the committee she had nothing to say.
Thats fine, answered the chairman, I guess we can adjourn.
News of Readys silent performance shot through the Statehouse hallways. A miracle Liz Ready speechless!
If we correctly remember the Vaticans rules for sainthood, proof of three miracles is a requirement. In that case, file this one away for future reference. A tongue-tied Liz Ready is indeed miraculous.
Media Notes WVNY-TV has changed the online bio of its new investigative reporter. Ruth Dwyer, an Ohio native, is no longer described as a native Vermonter.
Hey, everybody makes mistakes. Its not easy to remember where you were born, especially if it was far away and a real long time ago.
Meanwhile, Ruths station deserves the Cheese Award of the Year. On Valentines Day, Ch. 22 News hyped the you-know-what out of a live on-air marriage proposal during their 6 p.m. broadcast. Sure enough, live from a Church Street eatery. Reporter Jenny Rizzo was on the scene. On cue, the young man got down on one knee, pulled out the diamond ring and did his thing.
What was left out of this bastardization of an alleged news report was the fact that the groom-to-be is a Ch. 22 employee. What a set-up! Where will WVNYs desperate quest to improve ratings take them next?
Nude at Eleven?
On another matter, turns out Wilson & White, the lobbying firm with an online publishing arm, keeps archives of its interesting Monday Briefings. Thats www.wilsonwhite.com.