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Through the Looking Glass 

Inside Track

There is no Santa Claus. No Easter Bunny, either. No Cinderella and no Jack in the Beanstalk and, most definitely, there is no power struggle at UVM between President Judith Ramaley and Joan Smith, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Pure fiction.

It’s just that everyone at UVM we talked to says everybody knows there is a power struggle between Judy and Joan, and they say it’s been under way for years. And now, with faculty members poised for a union vote in April and some circulating a “No Confidence in Ramaley” petition this week, the pot’s about ready to boil over. Please, stand back!

Veteran political science professor Garrison Nelson called the “No Confidence” petition a “pre-emptive strike” that has Smith’s fingerprints all over it. “Smith is trying to sandbag Ramaley before Ramaley sandbags her.”

Nelson told Seven Days that Smith and her husband, former gubernatorial candidate Peter Welch, “wanted to be the Democratic Snellings, with Peter holding the governor’s office and Joan holding high office at the university” — a reference to the late Governor Richard Snelling and wife Barbara Snelling, who served as a UVM vice-president for many years. Snelling defeated Welch in the 1990 governor’s race.

And Garrison noted, “Eyebrows were raised when it was learned that the architect of Corey LaTulippe’s multi-million dollar lawsuit was Joan’s daughter, Mary Kehoe.” LaTulippe’s 1999 lawsuit rocketed UVM’s ice hockey hazing scandal to the national airwaves. “It blackened UVM’s reputation nationwide, and the damage has not been undone,” he said.

But Dean Smith, in an interview conducted via e-mail Tuesday, discounted Nelson’s charges. According to Smith, “There is no clash of personalities between myself and the President.” They enjoy what she called “a good working relationship.” To suggest otherwise, wrote Smith, “is a fabrication.” She has “no other plans than to stay on as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.”

Well, if it’s a fabrication, it’s one that everyone we spoke with buys into — including administrators and faculty members in both camps. All acknowledged the campus-wide perception of a cut-throat rivalry between the president and the dean.

Hilary Kornblith, a philosophy professor, claims authorship of the “No Confidence” petition. While he describes himself as a “friend” of Smith’s, he insisted “Joan Smith had nothing to do with this.” He charged “the values Ramaley brings are foreign to the College of Arts and Sciences.” Ramaley, he said, had failed to solve UVM’s budget problems and “enhance academic quality.” “It would be delightful,” he said, “if President Ramaley resigned.” Kornblith said he hoped the petition would “complement” the union drive.

However, a number of pro-union faculty we spoke with are fearful Kornblith’s petition may do the opposite. They worry that, if Ramaley were to step down, the trustees could effectively argue that the union should back off and give a new president, whoever that might be, a chance to address faculty concerns.

History Professor Mark Stoler, a leader of the union effort, told Seven Days, “the petition has nothing to do with the union. Nothing.” Acknowledging the feud between Ramaley and Smith, Stoler emphasized, “We are not concerned with personalities. We are concerned with structure.” The problems will remain, he said, regardless of who is president.

Stoler admitted he’s a little worried. “It could be damaging to the union,” he said, “if the petition passes.”

President Ramaley declined to discuss her relationship with Joan Smith. She referred us to her statement prepared in response to the “No Confidence” petition. In it she referred to the petition as an “expression of concern.” She called it “a natural stage in the campus adjustment to the realities of the need for change.”

How sweet.

Civil Unions, Canadian-style — “The Editors,” the weekly PBS talking-heads show produced in Montréal, took up civil unions and gay marriage last weekend. But despite the fact that Gov. Howard Dean is a regular on the program, we’re told he didn’t want any part of this one. Instead, Republican State Rep. George Schiavone of Shelburne, a leading opponent of civil unions, represented Vermont. Joining George and a few Canadian politicos was the openly gay mayor of Platts-burgh, New York, Dan Stewart. Stewart opposes civil unions.

“I was so glad to meet him,” Schiavone told Seven Days. “What a good guy he is. He’s against gay marriage for other reasons than I am. I told him,” said George, “‘You’re a breath of fresh air!’”

Sounds like love at first soundbite.

Along the Thin Green Line — There was quite the little buzz in the Statehouse last Friday — a buzz aroused by some very partisan and factually challenged testimony given by a prominent business-sector leader at a public hearing on Act 250. The environmental committees from both chambers wanted to hear what, if anything, should be done to improve Act 250, Vermont’s landmark development-control law.

Frank Cioffi, president of the pro-development Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation (GBIC), devoted most of his testimony to trashing the tactics and integrity of the leading anti-sprawl environment organization in Vermont, the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF). Mr. Cioffi knows these tree-huggers quite well.

GBIC and CLF went to war a couple years ago. The issue was Frankie’s desire to extend the town sewer line in Milton four miles out of the village, connecting to GBIC’s Catamount Industrial Park. In the end, CLF won. Extension denied. It was clear from his testimony Friday that Frank hasn’t gotten over it.

Cioffi (pronounced coffee) went on to accuse New England’s oldest environmental group of implementing a tactical strategy designed to gum up the wheels of development. Mr. Cioffi testified CLF was delaying “hundreds” of storm water discharge (SWD) permits by filing appeals at the last minute, “usually on the 29th day at the 12th hour of the public comment period.”

Cioffi, once Howard Dean’s Commissioner of Economic Development, said the office at the Agency of Natural Resources is understaffed and overworked. “CLF has been filing appeals,” he said, “on just about every storm water discharge permit that goes into that office… In essence,” he charged, “they’re locking up the process.”

What a mean, wicked, bad and nasty bunch of tree-hugging lawyers are they, eh?

Maybe not. You see, about a half-hour later, CLF’s point man in Vermont took the witness chair. As you might expect, Mark Sinclair testified to the glories of Act 250. Then Sen. Barbara Snelling asked how many SWD permits CLF had appealed. She said they’d been told the number was in the hundreds.

Sinclair was dumbfounded. “Hundreds?” he laughed aloud. “I don’t have a staff that could do that.” The CLF lawyer told the panel he could think of “three” SWD permit appeals filed by his outfit. They appealed, he said, because they believed “the permits were issued illegally.” One on the giant Mary Fanny Hospital expansion, another on a pending Taft Corners Big Box project, and a third on the proposed Lowe’s Home Center on Shelburne Road next to Potash Brook.

Sinclair told Seven Days Tuesday that “Potash Brook is trashed. You can’t drink it. You can’t swim in it and you can’t fish in it.” In the cases cited, he said, CLF is only asking the state to enforce the federal Clean Water Act requirement that new developments have SWD cleanup plans. Sinclair charged there is a “double standard” at play. “The ski areas and utilities are required to comply,” he said, “while Big Box stores and suburban development have gotten off scot-free.”

Sinclair said CLF will also oppose sewer-line extensions in areas that are “sprawlish.” Frank Cioffi is “miffed,” he told Seven Days, “because CLF successfully opposed the use of state funds to finance a sewer line to GBIC’s Milton industrial park.”

The battle on this new environmental front is just heating up. And as long as there’s “no political will by the governor” to make developers play by the rules, said Sinclair, this one won’t go away soon.

By the way, the president/publisher of The Burlington Free Press, James Carey sits on GBIC’s board and is a member of its executive committee. Congratulations, Jim! One might think more sewer-line extensions would translate into more subscribers for Boss Carey’s newspaper?

Louie and Jim Are Back! — They became a fixture for many early risers way back in 1985 when when they signed on as the wild and wacky new morning radio team on Q99 FM. Later, Louie Manno and Jim Condon switched over to WKDR. But last summer their mikes were turned off for good by that station’s new management.

Today the only place to catch Louie and Jim in the morning is behind the counter of the brand new Radio Deli on lower Pearl Street in Burlap. With partner and chef Pasquale Amadore, they’ve gone into the mom-and-pop store business, refurbishing the old Merola’s Market.

When we stopped by Monday, Jim was working the cash register and Louie was whipping out the meatball subs. “It’s really been going well,” said Louie. And, they’re talking to an unidentified local FM station about getting back on the afternoon airwaves this spring — live from the Radio Deli!

No “IRISH” Need Apply Update — The Wallingford postal worker fighting Big Brother in Vermont’s premier political correctness flap has attracted the services of a “celebrity” lawyer. Well, the Vermont version of a celebrity lawyer. And the celebrity lawyer argues the law invoked to deny Carol Ann Martin an “IRISH” vanity plate has, itself, got to go!

Coincidentally, the lawyer is a lawmaker. State Sen. John Bloomer of Rutland, the Senate minority leader, tells Seven Days he’s offered his legal talents pro bono to represent Ms. Martin and the forces of common sense.

Last June, the Department of Motor Vehicles denied Ms. Martin’s request for an “IRISH” vanity plate. DMV Commish Bonnie Rutledge ruled that under the brand-new administrative rules that had gone into effect the day Martin filed her request, it would be “offensive” to issue such a plate because the term “IRISH” refers to “ethnic origin.”

Martin appealed, but a DMV hearing examiner ruled against her. Now her Irish was really up, as they say. Ms. Martin knew something was very wrong, so she took the case to the county courthouse in Montpeculiar all by herself, and sued the DMV.

Now she’s got Young Bloomer on her team. Things are looking up.

In a memorandum filed with the court, the Rutland Rocket argues the DMV’s decision “does not make sense to a reasonable person” and the court should exercise its authority to invalidate it.

Let’s face it, we’re living in an increasingly politically correct world. It was back in 1977 that the legislature gave the Motor Vehicle Commissioner the specific power to refuse to honor vanity plate requests “that might be offensive or confusing to the general public.” Back then, the DMV came up with what’s called an “administrative rule” that clarified what “offensive or confusing” actually means. Twenty-three years ago it meant a phrase that suggests “anything of a vulgar nature,” or of an “ethnic” or “religious” connotation. Also prohibited were plates that “suggest a government or government agency… or suggest the use of regulated drugs.”

In the never-ending quest to keep up to date, the DMV revised and updated the rule last year. The new one prohibits vanity plates that refer to “a race, religion, color, deity, ethnic heritage, gender, sexual orientation, disability status or political affiliation.”

Because “IRISH” denotes “ethnic heritage,” noted Commissioner Rutledge, it’s verboten. A better mousetrap had been built. And Carol Ann Martin has the distinction of being the first captured mouse. Only Ms. Martin is the mouse that roared.

Her lawyer, Sen. Bloomer, says the new rule “ignores legislative intent,” is “arbitrary” and “overbroad.” If applied in the manner Rutledge has chosen to apply it, argues Bloomer, words like “Mom, Dad, Boy, Girl, USA, Canada, English and French” are just as “offensive.”

A hearing is scheduled for Washington County Superior Court next month. This one’s a nice little gem for the 21st century. Time to rally the supporters of French kissing, going Dutch and eating Chinese!

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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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