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The Colodny Spin Factor 

Inside Track

You may have noticed there's been little coverage lately in The Burlington Free Press about contract negotiations between Fletcher Allen Health Care (FAHC) and the nurses' union. Couldn't have anything to do with the fact that the Freeps is owned and operated by Gannett, a multinational anti-union media giant?

However, you may have caught the self-serving spin from FAHC Interim CEO Ed Colodny in his op-ed article on Sunday's editorial page.

Mister Ed proudly declared he has directed management negotiators "to negotiate a fair contract and do so as expeditiously as possible."

Mister Ed denied management is "stalling." He also denied management is pumping patient dollars into its scandalous $374 million Renaissance Project.

"We are not exaggerating our financial problems. Nor are we diverting money from patient care to 'bricks and mortar,' as the union says," wrote Colodny.

You sure about that, Mister Ed?

We ask because Seven Days has obtained an internal FAHC document that appears to debunk Colodny's claim.

According to the three-page April 15 memo to FAHC's "Financial Committee," from Interim Chief Financial Officer Ken Fisher, the hospital's "financial plan" for the Renaissance Project "calls for a portion of the project to be funded by excess cash generated from operations, which currently is not occurring."

Then, in an apparent contradiction, Fisher's memo states that the new Ambulatory Care Center -- the jewel of the Renaissance Monster -- "currently requires about four days of cash per month." (One day's cash on Hospital Hill amounts to $1.4 million, according to FAHC spokesperson Maria McClellan.)

According to the memo, the hospital had 77 days of operating cash on hand at the time. "Our bond covenant," he wrote, "requires no less than 70 days of cash on hand. At this rate, we will likely violate the bond covenant by fiscal year end, which would likely exclude us from capital markets."

That means no more borrowing. Already FAHC's bond rating has been downgraded due to the Renaissance scandal.

We called Mr. Colodny twice on Tuesday, but he was "in a meeting" and unavailable to discuss his op-ed piece. Instead, Ms. McClellan called. She denied any patient dollars are currently paying for construction. But then she admitted patient dollars have been used to pay Renaissance legal fees and consultants. And she added, "We have always said we would use bond money and cash from operations and philanthropy" to pay for the bricks and mortar of the massive Renaissance Project.

Somebody please tell Mister Ed before he writes another op-ed.

P.S. Two items:

First, Seven Days has learned that representatives of the nurses' union met last week with former Gov. Howard Dean. They asked him for two favors. One, call Ed Colodny and urge him to settle the contract negotiations quickly. And two, attend this Saturday's "community rally" supporting the nurses.

Sources say Ho-Ho agreed. Our favorite presidential hopeful is in "be-nice-to-unions" mode. He called Ed as promised, we're told. But he can't make the Saturday rally. Duty calls in Iowa. Dean's scheduled to attend the Iowa City GLBT Pridefest.

Funny. In 20 years, Mr. Civil Unions never once attended the annual Gay Pride March in Burlington.

Second, hospital sources tell Seven Days that Colodny and Co. have been in contact with U.S. Nursing, a national firm that provides replacement nurses to hospitals with labor problems. The Web site promises "the highest wages in the industry, in addition to overtime and bonus pay."

FAHC's McClellan confirmed Tuesday that, indeed, they have been in contact with U.S. Nursing.

You know, sometimes the obvious can be so difficult to see. Why doesn't Mr. Ed just pay the excellent, dedicated nurses he's already got, rather than pay "the highest wages in the industry" to out-of-state scabs?


DeanWatch 2004 -- Our favorite presidential hopeful continues his steady climb up Mt. Everest. Candidate Howard Dean is the rabbit that's setting the pace and the straw that stirs the drink.

Speaking of straws, there was jubilation at Dean HQ Saturday when word arrived that the candidate from little Vermont had won the straw poll at the Wisconsin Democratic State Convention. Sponsored by Hotline and, the poll drew just 352 participants. All the campaigns and the Democratic National Committee pooh-poohed it in advance as an insignificant distraction.

But Howard Dean clobbered the competition, getting 203 votes. His closest rival was Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who got just 50 votes.


We'd bet dollars to donuts that six months ago few, if any, of those 203 Deanocrats in Badger Country could have picked Howard Dean out of a police lineup.

The buzz this week is all about Ho-Ho's $300,000 TV blitz in Iowa, site of his first presidential test on January 19, 2004. Dean went on the tube Tuesday with a powerful 30-second spot. Standing in front of a big Ford tractor, Ho-Ho eyeballs the camera and says:

"I'm Howard Dean. It's time for the truth. Because the truth is that George Bush's foreign policy isn't making us safer. His tax cuts are ruining our economy and costing us jobs, and too many Democrats in Washington are afraid to stand up for what we believe in. Well, I believe it's time to put our people back to work. To provide health insurance for every American. A time for Democrats to be Democrats again. That's why I'm running for President. That's why I approve this message. I'm Howard Dean, and it's time to take our country back."

"Time for the truth," eh?

Can't recall a politician ever daring to use the "T" word so boldly.

The upper crust of national media pundits went into a lather assessing Dean's Iowa strategy. Going on TV early sure didn't help Bruce Babbitt in 1987, they note. Folks, these guys are forever living in the past.

Whatever happened to striking while the iron is hot? 'Cause right now, Howard is hot.

Next up: Ho-Ho's big Monday "declaration" of his presidential candidacy in downtown Burlap. Unless George W. Bush invades Iran that day, Dean should get great national play.

Of course, everybody knows Ho-Ho's running, so why declare it?

The calendar is the key. June 30 marks the end of the second quarter. The candidates will have to report how much money they've raised. The results will be released July 15.

Monday's noontime Church Street extravaganza is essentially "free media" for Ho-Ho. Coupled with the Dean Campaign's Internet mastery, the event will provide a last-minute push to get Deanocrats to put their money where their mouths are.

In the first quarter, Howard raised $2.6 million. Less than the well-heeled Senate trio of Kerry, John Edwards, Joe Lieberman and Rep. Dick Gephardt.Our bet is, Ho-Ho needs $5 million in second-quarter contributions to keep 'em worried.

One sign of Dean's traction is the recent "incoming." Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana opened fire on Dean last week for his opposition to legal "medical" marijuana.

Hey, we never said he's perfect. There's certainly room for improvement.

And the Rutland Herald went after Ho-Ho Monday for supporting the death penalty for terrorists. Tracy Schmaler's front-pager painted Dean with the same executioner's brush as President Bush. Murderer!

From here on in, folks, the nitpicking will only increase.

Circ Update -- Despite the big push that Gov. Jim Douglas and his pal President Bush have given the controversial Circumferential Highway project, the Circ is facing a minefield of legal problems. Opponents filed their comments Monday on the new, revised federal Environmental Assessment (EA) released last month.

The Friends of the Earth, Conservation Law Foundation, Vermont Sierra Club, Vermont Natural Resources Council and the Vermont Public Interest Research Group all agree the new "revised" EA is a joke!

In their 75-page response, the opposition declares the new EA violates crucial provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Department of Transportation Act of 1966. Opponents also argue the law requires a supplemental environmental impact statement.

The previous EA was written way back in in 1986. Oppon-ents say the new one is flawed because it neglects to consider the impact of new information related to air and water quality as well as the road's potential to spark urban sprawl in Chitten-den County.

The big surprise in the new 1000-page federal study is the revelation that the Circ will not add one single job to the county's employment base. All it will do, according to the EA, is move jobs from Burlington and South Burlington out to the suburbs.

Gov. Douglas ridiculed that finding in his talk to the Colchester Rotary the other day. The Guv jokingly asked whether reporters had read the entire 1000 pages of the revised EA. Gov. Jimbo has always insisted the Circ means jobs.

Administration spokesman Jason Gibbs tells Seven Days, "The economic assessment of the Circ can be found in the overwhelming support of the business community." According to Gibbs, "All empirical economic development data indicates clearly that improved infrastructure is a vital component of economic development."


But that's an entirely new spin on the need for building the Circ. Originally the highway was proposed to ease traffic congestion.

Brian Dunkiel, lawyer for Friends of the Earth, notes that if the administration wants to use the economic development argument for the Circ, the law requires it be up front about it and put it on paper.

"If there are hidden benefits that are not in the EA," says Mr. Dunkiel, "the law requires they be disclosed to the public."

In a case of try-any-spin-that-might-work, the Guv increasingly plays the IBM card. The Circ, he argues, is vital to Vermont's largest private employer. Douglas says IBM has let him know it needs the Circ to improve accessibility for shipping and receiving at its sprawling Essex Junction facility. Keeping IBM happy is Job #1 for Jimbo.

Obviously, Big Blue has a lot of clout in Vermont political circles. Remember how Democratic candidate Doug Racine flip-flopped on the Circ and transformed himself from Circ opponent to Circ supporter? It appeared the Quiet Man bought into the scenario that if the Circ isn't built, Big Blue will pull up stakes and throw the Vermont economy into ruin.

IBM's John O'Kane tells Seven Days, "One can understand why politicians have that view." The Circ, he says, "has become a symbol of the friction between those who want economic growth and those who want to see Vermont unchanged."

Mr. O'Kane insists the Circ "is not directly linked" to IBM's future in Vermont.

"The road will not cause us to grow or to leave," says O'Kane. "It's one part of a complex set of decisions. It's a gross oversimplification to say that the road will make the difference."

Interesting, eh? Somebody tell the Guv.

Here Comes Jack! -- The Dean-Bush race won't be the only one attracting attention in Vermont next year. Sen. Patrick Leahy's up for reelection and Republican Jack McMullen (the dude who lost to Fred Tuttle in the 1998 primary), is taking him on. Jack's hired a press secretary -- Shelburne native Noah Pollak -- and he's putting out fundraising letters. But according to Mr. Pollak, Jack hasn't spent or taken in $5000 yet, so he hasn't filed an official statement of candidacy.


McMullen's four-page direct-mail fundraising piece went out around June 1, said Pollak. It trashes St. Patrick for opposing Dubya's right-wing judicial nominees.

"I realize you may not live in Vermont," writes Mr. McMullen, "but Pat Leahy is a national menace."

Pollak refused to tell us the name of the firm McMullen hired to produce the mailing, or even what state it's located in. He also refused to reveal the number of fundraising letters sent out or the cost.

"It went to a select list of potential donors who are interested in the issues raised in the letter," said Noah.

The problem is, veteran political operatives tell us, such a letter costs many thousands of dollars to produce and mail.

But Pollak insisted it cost the McMullen Campaign "nothing."

"It's not a [campaign] expense. It's 100 percent free," said Pollak. He said the direct-mail firm that produced and mailed the fundraising pitch takes "a percentage" of the money raised as payment. Pollak said the campaign does not have to report it to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

That certainly was news to FEC spokesperson Kelly Huff. Huff told Seven Days, "Anything a campaign gets of value is considered a contribution." If a direct-mail firm is paid with a percentage of the money it brings in, she said, "it still has to be reported."

Somebody better tell Mr. McMillion, er, sorry, McMullen. Screw-ups like this might bring Fred Tuttle out of retirement.

Got something to say? Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

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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