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Friday, February 28, 2014

The Weekly 7: This Week in Vermont News

Posted By on Fri, Feb 28, 2014 at 10:38 PM


Each weekday, Seven Days scans the news across the Vermont media landscape to find the smartest, best and most compelling stories. We bundle them up in an email and send them out to our subscribers early each afternoon. It's called the Daily 7.

So which Vermont news stories are you reading? And which should you be reading? Here are the stories you clicked on most from this week's editions of the Daily 7:


#1In Vermont, Even Righteous Anger Is Friendly
By Ethan de Seife, Seven Days Off Message — Saturday, February 22

A YMCA member in Burlington left an epic note to the person who stole his wallet from the locker room — and a few days later, he got the wallet back.

#2 Family of Slain 2-Year-Old Speaks Out; Stepfather Arrested
By Ali Freeman, WCAX — Tuesday, February 25

Police say a Poultney toddler died from blunt force trauma to her head. Her stepfather was charged with second-degree murder.

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Morning Read: NY Times Takes a Look at Rutland's Opiate Efforts

Posted By on Fri, Feb 28, 2014 at 11:37 AM

The national media just can't seem to get enough of the Vermont opiate addiction story. The latest installment comes from the New York Times, which today explored a topic Seven Days tackled earlier this month — Rutland's efforts to address its addiction problems and resulting neighborhood decline.

The Times' front page piece treads similar ground, exploring problems in multi-family units in the troubled Northwest section of the city and a data-driven collaboration between government agencies, non-profits, neighborhood groups and police.

"Since acknowledging the problem, the police have come to view addiction as a disease, not just a law enforcement issue, and have joined with social service providers to take a more data-driven, coordinated approach to homes with multiple problems," the Times reports. "City agencies and residents have joined forces to revitalize their neighborhoods and eliminate blight."

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Nease Tapped as Shumlin's Health Care Legislative Lobbyist

Posted By on Thu, Feb 27, 2014 at 2:04 PM

In this file photo from April 2007, then-majority whip Nease (second from right) chats with Rep. Bill Lippert (D-Hinesburg). - FILE: PETER FREYNE
  • File: Peter Freyne
  • In this file photo from April 2007, then-majority whip Nease (second from right) chats with Rep. Bill Lippert (D-Hinesburg).
Floyd Nease knows a thing or two about tough votes. 

When he was serving as House majority leader in 2009, Nease helped whip just enough Democratic votes to override then-governor Jim Douglas' vetoes of the legislature's budget and Vermont's historic bill to legalize gay marriage. Both were total nail-biters.

Now Nease is being deployed by Gov. Peter Shumlin to marshal support for yet another big kahuna: a vote expected next spring to finance the governor's universal health care plan.

"This is a heavy lift for the legislature," he concedes. "And, you know, it's not going to be an easy vote for anyone. We have to acknowledge that."

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IBM to Announce Job Layoffs, About One-Third the Size of Last Year's

Posted By on Thu, Feb 27, 2014 at 1:55 PM

It's déjà vu all over again.

On Thursday morning, Gov. Peter Shumlin confirmed rumors circulating for weeks: IBM is laying off an as-yet undisclosed number of workers at its Essex Junction plant, part of a global reduction in its workforce.

Although exact figures are unavailable, the Shumlin administration was told that this week's job cuts will be about one-third the size of Big Blue's July 2013 workforce reduction, when 419 Vermont employees were let go. That would mean 100-plus workers looking for new jobs. 

Shumlin issued the following statement Thursday morning:

"I have been advised by leadership at the IBM Vermont plant in Essex Junction of layoff notifications there as part of a global workforce reduction. This is difficult news for the affected workers and their families, as well as for the communities that also suffer the impacts of job reductions. I pledge to work with my team to help in every way we can. I understand the number of workers affected in this round of cuts is significantly lower than the last round of reductions, only about one-third the size, although we will not know the exact number of affected workers until the process is completed and a state notice is filed by the company next month. 

"While we never want to hear about employment losses, Vermont has diversified its economy in recent years, with recovery and job growth across many sectors. We also enjoy the 5th lowest unemployment rate in the country — the lowest rate east of the Mississippi. Companies in Vermont are looking for highly skilled, educated workers like those being affected by this reduction at IBM. We stand ready to offer all of our resources to help find good Vermont job opportunities as soon as possible for those who will face layoffs as quickly as possible."

IBM spokesperson Doug Shelton issued the following statement but provided no additional specifics on Vermont's IBM workforce:

"IBM continues to rebalance its workforce to meet the changing requirements of its clients, and to pioneer new, high value segments of the IT industry. To that end, IBM is positioning itself to lead in areas such as Cloud, Analytics and Cognitive Computing and investing in these priority areas. For example, already this year we have committed $1 billion to our new Watson unit and $1.2 billion to expand our Cloud footprint around the world. In addition, just this week IBM announced a $1 billion investment in platform-as-a-service Cloud capabilities, as well as investments in areas such as nanotechnology which will bring hundreds of new jobs to New York State. This also creates new job opportunities at IBM. At any given time, IBM has more than 3,000 job openings in these and other growth areas in the US. IBM's total workforce has remained stable over the past three years, and IBM now employs more than 400,000 people worldwide."

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For Shumlin and Legislature, a Potential Choice Between Gun Rights and Local Control

Posted By on Thu, Feb 27, 2014 at 8:48 AM

Gov. Shumlin speaks at a Montpelier press conference Wednesday. - PAUL HEINTZ
  • Paul Heintz
  • Gov. Shumlin speaks at a Montpelier press conference Wednesday.
The most interesting test for Burlington's three gun-related charter change proposals could come well after voters have their say next Tuesday.

That's because, like any change to the city's charter, all three measures would require affirmative votes by the legislature and the signature of Gov. Peter Shumlin. And while Vermont lawmakers have studiously avoided any debate of gun-related matters since a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school 14 months ago, Shumlin has made perfectly clear that he opposes new gun regulations of any kind.

So what would happen if Burlingtonians approve the measures, which would ban guns from bars, require them to be locked when stored and allow the police to confiscate them from those suspected of domestic abuse?

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Vermont Public Television Board Defends Leadership, Releases Report on Closed Meetings

Posted By on Wed, Feb 26, 2014 at 4:48 PM

  • Vermont Public Television Screen Capture
  • The VPT Board at today's meeting
Vermont Public Television's board of directors affirmed its support for board chairwoman Pam Mackenzie and vice chairman Rob Hofmann Wednesday after board member David Taplin called on the pair to resign.

The leadership discussion came after a board committee released the findings of an internal review of whether the station's volunteer leaders violated federal open meeting laws. The review was triggered by an anonymous letter sent to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting two months ago alleging that the board held at least 22 meetings in secret. 

Board member Tom Pelletier, who helmed the internal review, said that while the board and its committees had occasionally met behind closed doors, it did so for legally permissible reasons — for instance, to discuss "confidential personnel matters."

"In short, none of the meetings were improperly closed to the public," Pelletier said.

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Middlebury Gears Up for Heated Town Offices Vote

Posted By on Wed, Feb 26, 2014 at 8:02 AM

click image An architectural rendering of the proposed town offices. - COURTESY OF TOWN OF MIDDLEBURY
  • Courtesy of Town of Middlebury
  • An architectural rendering of the proposed town offices.

A week out from Town Meeting Day, opponents of a hotly debated proposed building project in Middlebury are accusing the town of peddling false information to town voters. Pointing to a flyer sent out at the cost of nearly $3,000, the opponents believe the town is trying to convince voters to OK a $6.5 million bond to build a new town office and recreation center — but say the town isn’t being upfront with its residents.

“I am disappointed that my taxpayer dollars have been spent on what comes off as a flagrant attempt to mislead the voter,” said selectboard member Craig Bingham, addressing his fellow members of the seven-member board on Tuesday evening. “How can the voters trust the information that has been given to them when the town produces and mails a document to each voter that contains deceptive information and glaring falsehoods?”

But what opponents of the project call “glaring falsehoods,” other town officials describe as a good-faith effort to educate voters about the upcoming ballot item.

“Nowhere on [the flyer] does it say how to vote,” said Nancy Malcolm, who chairs the steering committee for the town office project. “It just is straight information.”

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Greyhound Bus of Revolt

Posted By on Tue, Feb 25, 2014 at 2:42 PM

Montréal student Natalia Bustamante sounding off to WCAX's Gina Bullard - CORIN HIRSCH
  • Corin Hirsch
  • Montréal student Natalia Bustamante sounding off to WCAX's Gina Bullard

I usually drive to Montréal  to report stories. Today — with a foodie experience at the Montréal en Lumière festival awaiting me up north — I figured it would be both relaxing and productive to take the bus instead. I rushed from work to catch the 12:01 from the Greyhound terminal at Burlington Airport, huffing and puffing my way into a seat just before the scheduled departure time.

About 10 minutes later, a Greyhound rep stepped onto the bus with an announcement. "We do not have a driver for this bus. You will have to wait for the 3:35," she told us. The other passengers immediately erupted with tremendous passion. "No! No! No!" one woman shouted repeatedly, her o's clipped in the French way and her hands cutting the air. "No! You need to find a driver!" yelled the woman behind me, while others echoed her. "You need to find a driver! This is outrageous!" shouted the man across the aisle.

A three-hour wait was certainly a nuisance, I thought, but the deep upset among the passengers was almost shocking. They continued to shout for a full minute until the rep — her face set in stone — curtly told them, "If you want to talk to me anymore, you can come inside. But I will not be shouted at."

Turns out, many of the 15 or so passengers on the bus had boarded in Boston around 11 p.m. the previous night. They arrived in White River Junction on time around 2 a.m., when their driver got off the bus — and never came back. A rep there told the passengers they would have to wait until the next morning to leave. The bus' door was left wide open, some of the passengers told me, so that they had to hunker down in their seats to stay warm. They had been scheduled to arrive in Montréal at 6:45 a.m., but the bus didn't pull out of White River until 10 a.m. the next morning.

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Two Political Newcomers Face Off in Ward 7 Burlington City Council Race

Posted By on Tue, Feb 25, 2014 at 12:18 PM

Bianka Legrand, the Democratic candidate running for the open city council seat in Ward 7. (Her Republican opponent, Tom Treat, did not respond to a request for a photo.) - ALICIA FREESE
  • Alicia Freese
  • Bianka Legrand, the Democratic candidate running for the open city council seat in Ward 7. (Her Republican opponent, Tom Treat, did not respond to a request for a photo.)

Updated March 2 to correct an earlier error in the final paragraph.

When residents in Ward 7 head to the voting booths next Tuesday, they will choose between two political fledglings — Democrat Bianka Legrand and Republican Tom Treat — to fill their open city council seat.

Treat, 47, has lived in Ward 7 for 17 years, along with his wife and three children. An engineer at Koffee Cup Bakery, Treat said he’s followed national politics more closely than local politics, but he’s “kept on ear to the ground” on issues like school spending and the city’s pension system. Treat adds that his candidacy offers a chance for voters to keep at least some GOP representation on a council dominated by Democrats and Progressives. 

The Democrats’ hopes rest with Legrand, who has lived off and on in Ward 7 since moving to Burlington in 1997. She and her family came to the city as refugees, fleeing the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Legrand didn’t speak English when she arrived in Vermont as a 17-year-old. Now 33, she’s fluent, and she holds a B.A. in psychology from the University of Vermont and a master's in organizational leadership from Norwich University. 

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Monday, February 24, 2014

Morning Read: In D.C. for the Weekend, Shumlin Makes His Mark

Posted By on Mon, Feb 24, 2014 at 11:11 AM

Gov. Peter Shumlin's star turn in Washington, D.C., continued over the weekend as he mixed and mingled with the nation's governors — and the press.

Shumlin was in town for the winter meeting of the bipartisan National Governors Association. As we noted on Friday, he also spent plenty of time attending Democratic Governors Association fundraisers, though his aides declined to elaborate on his schedule. 

For the second time in three weeks — and in his entire career — Shumlin appeared on a Sunday morning talk show, this time going head to head with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Fox News Sunday. Host Chris Wallace focused his toughest questions on Walker, who's currently battling accusations that his staff used public resources for political purposes.

But Wallace also pushed Shumlin on Vermont Health Connect's troubled rollout. 

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