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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Scott Proposes $400 Million Economic Relief Package

Posted By on Wed, May 20, 2020 at 3:15 PM

Gov. Phil Scott - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Gov. Phil Scott
Gov. Phil Scott on Wednesday proposed a $400 million economic relief package to help businesses hit hard during the coronavirus crisis.

Funded by Vermont's $1.25 billion share of the federal CARES Act, the first phase of the plan would allocate $310 million for "immediate relief ... to help businesses survive," Scott said at a press conference.

"I know there's too many small-business owners who are desperate right now," Scott said. "Family businesses that have been around for decades don't see a path out of the red. I know you're all scared, sad, and probably pretty angry."

The administration will detail how the remaining $90 million would be used in the coming weeks but hinted that it could include investments in broadband, housing and employee-training programs.

The plan is far from finalized: The House and Senate both have to sign off and could significantly revise the package before doing so.

"Hopefully they'll expedite this so that we can put it in the hands of Vermonters that need it right now," Scott said.

Scott's proposal would allocate $250 million for loans and grants to businesses, including:

  • $150 million in "restart grants" to the food, accommodations, retail, and agriculture sectors for fixed costs such as rent and mortgage payments
  • $80 million in "economic injury and disaster" grants and low- or no-interest loans for sectors not receiving restart grants
  • $20 million in loans and grants for small businesses and nonprofits with less than $1 million in revenues and five or fewer employees
Another $50 million would be distributed as cash payments to dairy farmers and processors. A $42 million slice would provide rental assistance for property owners whose tenants haven't been able to pay rent, and $8 million would create 250 housing units for homeless families.

The remaining $10 million would be spent on programs to help businesses apply for financial assistance and on marketing campaigns to encourage Vermonters to shop local.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Rutland Gym Owner Takes Battle With Vermont AG Outside

Posted By on Tue, May 19, 2020 at 6:06 PM

Club Fitness of Vermont parking lot in Rutland - COURTESY OF SEAN MANOVILL
  • Courtesy of Sean Manovill
  • Club Fitness of Vermont parking lot in Rutland
The owner of Club Fitness of Vermont has moved his Rutland gym outside to sidestep a court order that his business remain closed.

Sean Manovill said he wheeled cardio machines and free weights into the parking lot on Tuesday morning, arguing that a temporary restraining order handed down by a judge last week only applies to indoor activities.

"I'm definitely not in contempt of court," he said. "Absolutely not. I'm not doing anything that is wrong."

Attorney General T.J. Donovan sued Manovill last Friday following failed negotiations with the gym owner, who had opened the business in defiance of state mandates intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Just hours after the lawsuit was filed, a Rutland Superior Court judge sided with the state and prohibited Club Fitness from conducting "any in-person, indoor operations" so long as Gov. Phil Scott's executive order remains in effect.

Manovill's gym reopened in some capacity anyway, WCAX-TV reported Monday, citing the gym owner himself.

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Friday, May 15, 2020

Vermont Gym Owner Forced to Close After Defying Scott's Order

Posted By on Fri, May 15, 2020 at 7:33 PM

Club Fitness in Rutland - COURTESY OF SEAN MANOVILL
  • Courtesy of Sean Manovill
  • Club Fitness in Rutland
A judge on Friday granted the state a restraining order against a Vermont man who opened his indoor fitness centers in defiance of Gov. Phil Scott's executive order.

The ruling came just hours after Attorney General T.J. Donovan filed a civil lawsuit in Rutland Superior Court accusing Sean Manovill of illegally operating two Club Fitness gyms and not taking basic steps to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 at his businesses.

The judge's order forces the gyms in Rutland and Castleton to close until further notice. The state is also asking a judge to issue penalties of up to $1,000 for each day Manovill violated the order, and for him to reimburse the state for its investigative and court costs.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

People Without Virus Symptoms Can Get Tested at Pop-Up Sites

Posted By on Wed, May 13, 2020 at 5:19 PM

An earlier drive-up testing site in Essex Junction - FILE: COURTNEY LAMDIN
  • File: Courtney Lamdin
  • An earlier drive-up testing site in Essex Junction
Vermonters who feel fine but worry about recent exposure to coronavirus can get tested at a series of "pop-up" events scheduled over the next two weeks.

The Vermont Department of Health is hosting daylong testing clinics for asymptomatic residents in 11 cities and towns between May 14 and May 23.

In an announcement Wednesday, the department encouraged health care workers, first responders, childcare providers and people returning to Vermont to sign up for the events, but anyone who doesn't have flu-like symptoms can make an online appointment.

No doctor's referral is necessary, but appointments are required. Anyone with symptoms should contact their health care provider for a testing referral, according to the Health Department.

Until now, most asymptomatic residents could not get tested for COVID-19, but the clinics are part of Gov. Phil Scott's plan to expand testing as one way to suppress future outbreaks. Their goal is to eventually test 1,000 people per day.

More than 400 tests were conducted at recent pop-up clinics for essential workers in Bennington and Colchester, according to the Bennington Banner and WCAX.

"We are expanding our testing capability quite aggressively in this state," Human Services Secretary Mike Smith told reporters Wednesday. "The objective is that everybody who wants a test, will get a test."

Thursday's clinic at Brattleboro Union High School already has a wait list, according to the state registration portal.

Future clinics include:

Saturday, May 16
  • White River Junction: Upper Valley Aquatic Center, 100 Arboretum Lane
  • Colchester: Vermont Public Health Laboratory, 359 South Park Drive
Monday, May 18
  • Rutland: Rutland High School, 22 Stratton Road
Tuesday, May 19
  • Barre: Barre Memorial Auditorium, 16 Auditorium Hill
Wednesday, May 20
  • Middlebury: American Legion Post 27-49, 49 Wilson Road
  • St. Albans: Collins Perley Sports Complex, 890 Fairfax Road
Thursday, May 21
  • Newport: North Country Union High School, 209 Veterans Avenue
Friday, May 22
  • Springfield: Springfield High School, 303 South Street
  • Morristown: Capstone Community Action, 250 Industrial Park
Saturday, May 23
  • Lyndonville: Lyndon Town School, 2591 Lily Pond Road

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Vermont Family Harassed Over New York Plates, Scott Says

Posted By on Wed, May 13, 2020 at 3:31 PM

Gov. Phil Scott - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Gov. Phil Scott
Updated at 9:01 p.m.

Gov. Phil Scott issued a call for unity on Wednesday following an incident in which a father and son were harassed while driving a car with New York State license plates.

The family is from New York City and owns a second home in Hartford, Vermont Public Radio reported later Wednesday. In a press release about the incident, Vermont State Police said  the man, who is black, and his 11-year-old son were driving near their house last Friday when two vehicles flagged them down.

A white man then told the victim "that he was not wanted in Vermont and told to leave," police said. "There were significant racial undertones to the interaction."

At the press conference Wednesday, Scott said the man also told the victim that "the governor" didn't want him in Vermont, either.
"I have no tolerance for this kind of thing," Scott said. "It's unacceptable. It does not represent my views, or who I believe we are as a state."

Scott said he called the family this week to apologize "on behalf" of the state. He said he also told the family he was glad that they decided to move here and that Vermont is a "much more welcoming" place than was shown on that day.

The incident comes as some Vermonters have expressed concerns that the state's suppression of the coronavirus could be jeopardized by an influx of out-of-state arrivals. Vermont reported just two new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and has averaged about three new cases daily over the last week.
From the start of the pandemic, state officials have tried to discourage travel into Vermont, asking tourists to stay home and shutting down lodging facilities to everyone but essential personnel.

Scott is expected to loosen some of those restrictions Friday by allowing lodging facilities to take in guests from Vermont and those from out-of-state who can verify they have completed a two-week quarantine. But the governor said he still believes that tourists should stay home for now.

Asked Wednesday whether he thought his comments could have given rise to the Hartford incident, Scott referred back to a statement he made six weeks ago, when he encouraged Vermonters to avoid adopting an "us versus them view of the world."

"I've consistently made the argument that we cannot let this be about us versus them, whether they're from another state or not," Scott said.
At the same time, a state-run online tool allows Vermonters to report those that they suspect of violating Scott's stay-at-home order. Some of the more than 270 complaints filed on the portal so far have been aimed at people believed to be from out of state. Police, in many cases, follow up on the complaints.

Scott noted that Vermonters have made immense sacrifices since he declared a state of emergency exactly two months ago. He said he understands that many people may be frustrated, anxious or angry at the situation. But he said the pandemic cannot be an excuse for "hate, bigotry or division of any type."

"This virus knows no border, and it doesn’t discriminate," he said. "We’re all in this together, and human decency will get us through this.”

Officer Tests Positive at Vermont's Women's Prison, Prompting Mass Testing

Posted By on Wed, May 13, 2020 at 10:16 AM

Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility - FILE: LUKE AWTRY
  • File: Luke Awtry
  • Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility
Updated at 3:16 p.m.

The coronavirus has been detected at a third Vermont prison, the Department of Corrections announced Wednesday.

During a round of staff testing Monday at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington, one of 84 corrections officers who volunteered to be tested was found to have contracted COVID-19, the department said. That triggered a new round of mandatory testing to take place Thursday at Chittenden Regional, Vermont's only prison for women. It will include the remaining 47 staff, as well as 74 inmates.

According to department spokesperson Rachel Feldman, the officer who tested positive had direct contact with inmates. None have yet been isolated, she said, though Chittenden Regional and all Vermont prisons have been in modified lockdown for weeks, limiting interaction between inmates. "We are actively conducting contact tracing now," Feldman said, adding that those found to have interacted with the infected staffer would be separated from others.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

As Controversies Mount, St. Albans Police Chief Gary Taylor to Retire

Posted By on Tue, May 12, 2020 at 5:29 PM

St. Albans Police Chief Gary Taylor - FILE: DEREK BROUWER
  • File: Derek Brouwer
  • St. Albans Police Chief Gary Taylor
Longtime St. Albans Police Chief Gary Taylor plans to retire following a series of misconduct allegations involving his officers and a recent no-confidence vote by the officers' union.

Taylor, who is also the chief of the city fire department, will retire from both positions on December 31. The transition plan calls for division commanders to begin assuming some leadership duties in the months ahead, city manager Dominic Cloud told Seven Days on Tuesday. If the city is able to hire a new chief before the end of the year, Taylor will assume other duties until his retirement date.

"This was very much a voluntary transition on the chief's part," Cloud said. "I think in his gut, he began to see it was time to bring in new leadership."

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Friday, May 8, 2020

Media Note: Community News Project Kicks Off in Waterbury

Posted By on Fri, May 8, 2020 at 9:02 AM

Waterbury Roundabout home page - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • Waterbury Roundabout home page

A new online community journalism project has emerged to fill the void left when the Waterbury Record folded in March as coronavirus restrictions gripped the state.

The Waterbury Roundabout is a collaboration between area journalists, University of Vermont students and the Valley Reporter in Waitsfield.

The volunteer effort aims to cover the kinds of community news that made the Waterbury Record, a free weekly paper, a popular though financially troubled publication, said Lisa Scagliotti, a former Burlington Free Press reporter spearheading the effort.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Vermonters On the Move Again After Weeks Under Stay-Home Order

Posted By on Wed, May 6, 2020 at 12:19 PM

Oakledge Park in Burlington - FILE: CALEB KENNA
  • File: Caleb Kenna
  • Oakledge Park in Burlington
Soon after Gov. Phil Scott declared a state of emergency on March 13, Vermonters dramatically reduced the distance they traveled each day.

Mobile device data show that movement in the Green Mountain State dipped considerably — and steadily — until March 24, the day Scott issued his "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order. By that point, Vermonters had reduced their movement by nearly 100 percent compared to a pre-coronavirus baseline.

And movement in Vermont stayed low for the next four weeks: 97.5 percent, on average, below normal, according to data released by Descartes Labs, a geospatial data processing company. Descartes has been releasing daily data on how movement throughout the U.S. has changed since early March.

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Monday, May 4, 2020

Woman Punched by St. Albans Cop Sues City

Posted By on Mon, May 4, 2020 at 4:03 PM

Jason Lawton, right, with his attorney, Rebecca Otey - FILE: COLIN FLANDERS
  • File: Colin Flanders
  • Jason Lawton, right, with his attorney, Rebecca Otey
A woman who was punched by a former St. Albans police officer while handcuffed is suing the city for civil rights violations.

Amy Connelly, of Highgate, was in a holding cell at the police station on March 14, 2019, when then-sergeant Jason Lawton pushed her into a wall, then delivered an uppercut to her right eye. Two other officers, Zachary Koch and Michael Ferguson, helped Lawton restrain her on the floor.

Connelly's civil lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court of Vermont, names all three officers, Chief Gary Taylor and the city. She contends that the police department subjected her to illegal detention and excessive force, violating her constitutional and statutory rights.

The complaint also charges that the city failed to properly screen officers during its hiring process and that Taylor did not "adequately control, train, supervise and discipline police officers under his command."

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