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Friday, July 21, 2017

Vermont Officials Prepare for Lower Revenues, Budget Cuts

Posted By on Fri, Jul 21, 2017 at 5:28 PM

Gov. Phil Scott and legislators who make up the Emergency Board meet Friday in Montpelier to discuss state revenues. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Gov. Phil Scott and legislators who make up the Emergency Board meet Friday in Montpelier to discuss state revenues.
Gov. Phil Scott and Vermont legislative leaders who make up the state’s Emergency Board agreed Friday afternoon to lower expectations for state revenues in the coming year and to plan for $12.5 million in budget cuts.

The action came after economists — one hired by the governor's administration and another hired by the legislature — warned that all is not rosy with the economy, nationally or in Vermont.

The state is expected to see $28.8 million less in general fund revenue this fiscal year, economists Tom Kavet and Jeff Carr said.

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Monday, July 17, 2017

South Burlington School District Fights Suit Over Rebels Petition

Posted By on Mon, Jul 17, 2017 at 6:44 PM

Rebels banners at South Burlington High School - FILE: OLIVER PARINI
  • File: Oliver Parini
  • Rebels banners at South Burlington High School
School's out, but the South Burlington Rebels saga is still in session.

The school district on Monday sought the dismissal of a lawsuit brought in June by supporters of the controversial Rebels moniker who want a public vote on the name change. In the filing, school district attorney Pietro Lynn argued that the school board had every right to make its decision, despite a successful petition drive by Rebel Alliance members who demanded the name change be decided by residents.

The "elected school board, not the electorate, has the authority to make operations and budgetary decisions and properly exercised its discretion in declining to put the Rebel name articles before the voters," reads the motion filed in Vermont Superior Court.

The school board voted unanimously to drop the name on February 1 after critics called it divisive and tainted by racist associations with the Confederacy. Supporters saw it as a harmless and unifying tradition.

That group founded an advocacy group — the Rebel Alliance — and launched the petition drive as part of their bid to retain the name.

One petition asked for a vote on the name itself, while a second called for a prohibition on spending public funds to change the name. Students, and later the school board, voted on and approved the new mascot: the Wolves.

The board announced at a May meeting it would not put the questions to a vote, which triggered outrage. Rebel Alliance leaders called the decision cowardly and argued that it violated due process.

Four Rebels supporters filed the June lawsuit: Robert A. Skiff Jr., Benjamin E. Nye, Stacey Savage and Marcy Brigham.

"South Burlington Rebels were taught to fight for what they believed was right and to never give up, and we are continuing that proud tradition," Savage, who serves as the Rebel Alliance spokeswoman, wrote in a press release shortly after filing the suit.

Savage on Monday did not immediately return a request for comment.

The district's motion argued that the lawsuit asks the school district to hold a vote about a symbol that "many consider racist." To retain such a symbol could alienate students and families, and put the district in violation of state and federal laws designed to prevent racism, the motion said.

On Monday, South Burlington High School principal Patrick Burke unveiled images of new sports jerseys, bearing the Wolves name, on Twitter.

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Top Vermont Dems Praise Scott’s Opposition to Obamacare Repeal

Posted By on Mon, Jul 17, 2017 at 6:44 PM

Sen. Bernie Sanders, Gov. Phil Scott and Congressman Peter Welch at a press conference Monday at the Statehouse - STEFAN HARD
  • Stefan Hard
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, Gov. Phil Scott and Congressman Peter Welch at a press conference Monday at the Statehouse
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) campaigned across the state last fall against Republican gubernatorial candidate Phil Scott. But at a press conference Monday morning at the Vermont Statehouse, the trio tripped over one another in praise of the first-term governor.

What changed? Scott has become one of a handful of Republican governors to oppose congressional efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“You’re not getting compliments from all your colleagues for doing this,” Welch told Scott, who flashed a sheepish grin. “But you’re getting a lot of compliments from the Vermonters you represent.”

Added Vermont House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero), whose budget Scott vetoed last month, “I want to thank the governor, as well, for speaking up, because it’s not an easy thing to speak up and go against the prevailing will of your party.”

Scott did, indeed, voice forceful opposition to repeal legislation U.S. Senate Republicans hope to bring to a vote in the coming weeks, arguing that it would “leave our state with a budget deficit we could not absorb” without cutting services or raising taxes.

“The consequences for Vermonters would be severe,” the governor said of the bill.

Scott called it “imperative” that Republicans and Democrats work together to improve the ACA, but he was hazy on the details of what he sought. Asked whether there was an approach that might satisfy him and Vermont’s left-leaning congressional delegation, the governor retreated to his talking points.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Vermont Delegation Reacts Cautiously to Trump Jr. Meeting

Posted By on Tue, Jul 11, 2017 at 8:29 PM

Vermont's congressional delegation and their spouses. - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN
  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • Vermont's congressional delegation and their spouses.
A cascade of revelations about a meeting between President Donald Trump's son and a Kremlin-connected lawyer has drawn the attention of Vermont's congressional delegation. But despite the rush of new developments, the delegation's three members appear to be reacting cautiously.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) both called for further investigation Tuesday. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has refused Seven Days' interview requests for more than 26 months, did not respond to a request for comment.

The New York Times has reported in recent days that the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., and other top advisers met with a Russian attorney in June 2016 to discuss information that could damage Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. On Tuesday, the Times published emails suggesting that Trump Jr. knew the information came from Russian officials and was comfortable with that.

Leahy spokesperson David Carle said Vermont's senior senator "believes that Donald Jr.'s meeting raises exceedingly serious and troubling issues." He did not go as far as Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Clinton's 2016 running mate, who called Trump Jr.'s actions "beyond obstruction of justice" and "potentially treason."

"[Leahy] continues to believe that it's crucially important to gather all the facts … so determinations can be made about whether and what crimes were committed," Carle said.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

State Official Refutes Report That Feds Sought Grand Jury Testimony in Sanders Investigation

Posted By on Mon, Jul 10, 2017 at 9:15 PM

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Jane O'Meara Sanders - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN
  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders and Jane O'Meara Sanders
Updated at 9:48 p.m.

The Washington Post reported Monday that a federal investigation involving Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) wife, Jane O'Meara Sanders, "has accelerated in recent months" and is "gathering steam." In what appeared to be a previously unreported development, the Post wrote that prosecutors had subpoenaed a Vermont state official "to testify before a grand jury" about the matter in April.

"That is the first public confirmation that prosecutors have sought to present evidence to a grand jury," investigative reporters Shawn Boburg and Jack Gillum wrote.

But according to the state official in question, Vermont Educational and Health Buildings Finance Agency executive director Robert Giroux, and VEHBFA general counsel James Foley, prosecutors never asked Giroux to testify before a grand jury. And the subpoena itself, which Foley provided to Seven Days, makes clear that federal officials were seeking documents from the state agency — not testimony.

"A personal appearance is not required and the subpoena may be complied with a CD/DVD or Documents by certified mail," Acting U.S. Attorney Eugenia Cowles wrote in an April 17 cover letter accompanying the subpoena. The federal request makes no reference to Giroux or any other state official.

The distinction is important because federal prosecutors often use grand jury subpoenas to obtain documents at an earlier stage of an investigation. They typically do not call witnesses before a grand jury until they are seeking an indictment.

After Seven Days questioned Boburg and Gillum about their reporting late Monday, the Post corrected its story and retracted the claim.

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

Child in DCF Care Dies in Apparent East Montpelier Drowning

Posted By on Thu, Jul 6, 2017 at 2:56 PM

  • Courtesy of University of Vermont Medical Center
  • UVM Medical Center
A 2-year-old boy in the custody of the Department for Children and Families died after he was found unresponsive in an East Montpelier swimming pool, Vermont State Police said Thursday.

Alexander James Lowell-Henry died late Wednesday as he was receiving medical care at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, state police said.

The toddler was in the care of a foster family at the time of his apparent drowning, state police said.

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Friday, June 30, 2017

Vermont GOP Official Disputes Claim That Sanders Pressured Bank

Posted By on Fri, Jun 30, 2017 at 7:46 PM

  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Rep. Don Turner
Citing an unnamed source, Vermont Republican Party vice chair Brady Toensing alleged in a federal complaint last year that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) "pressured" a bank to approve a loan application submitted by the senator's wife, Jane O'Meara Sanders.

But in an interview with Seven Days Friday, that source — Vermont House Minority Leader Don Turner (R-Milton) — disputed Toensing's characterization of their May 2016 conversation and called into question Toensing's allegation. Turner described the information he provided Toensing as nothing more than "hearsay" — and hardly evidence of wrongdoing.

"There's no way I'd file a complaint or anything like that," said the Milton Republican, who has not previously been identified as Toensing's source.

Turner's remarks appear to undercut the most explosive charge that Toensing, a Charlotte attorney, has leveled in recent years at the senator and his wife. But they don't directly contradict another of the Republican official's allegations: that O'Meara Sanders committed federal loan fraud by overstating fundraising commitments when applying for a $6.5 million loan on behalf of Burlington College, the now-defunct school she once ran.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Vermont Marijuana Legalization Stalls in the House, Fails Again

Posted By on Wed, Jun 21, 2017 at 9:52 PM

  • luke eastman
Vermont lawmakers once again came close — but once again failed — to pass legislation to legalize marijuana Wednesday during a one-day special veto session.

The legal weed bill passed the Senate easily, as it has the past two years. But the bill hit a wall in the House, where an effort to suspend rules to bring the bill to the floor fell far short.

“It is our best chance to pass legalization of small amounts of marijuana,” Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears (D-Bennington) told fellow senators before their vote early Wednesday evening.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Auditor: Government Construction Projects Blow Budgets, Deadlines

Posted By on Tue, Jun 20, 2017 at 1:59 PM

  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Doug Hoffer
State construction projects frequently go over budget, sometimes by millions of dollars, and drag on for longer than expected, according to a report released Monday by the Vermont state auditor’s office.

Auditor Doug Hoffer and his staff examined 10 construction projects led by the Department of Buildings and General Services between 2012 and 2016.

One project is ongoing and under budget, but the nine finished projects went over budget cost by a median of 31 percent and collectively cost $24.6 million more than expected. All 10 missed their completion deadlines.

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Montpelier Widow Remembers USS Fitzgerald’s Namesake — Her Husband

Posted By on Tue, Jun 20, 2017 at 10:18 AM

The damaged USS Fitzgerald - COURTESY: U.S. NAVY
  • Courtesy: U.S. Navy
  • The damaged USS Fitzgerald
From 6,500 miles away, Betty Ann Fitzgerald has closely watched the news out of Japan, where the USS Fitzgerald was involved in a fatal crash at sea.

The 74-year-old Montpelier woman is closely connected to the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. She’s the ship’s “sponsor” — the person chosen by the secretary of the Navy to help christen and launch the vessel. And it bears the name of her late husband, Lt. William “Bill” Fitzgerald, who was killed on August 7, 1967, while defending his compound near Co Luy, Vietnam.

The military posthumously awarded the Vermont native the Navy Cross — the branch’s highest honor. He was 29.

The collision over the weekend, again a world away, “just brings it back to day one,” Betty Ann told Seven Days on Monday.

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