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Thursday, July 22, 2021

Essex Police Change Course After Charging Black Man Involved in Fight

Posted By on Thu, Jul 22, 2021 at 10:52 PM

  • Alain Lacroix | Dreamstime
Following public scrutiny, the Essex Police Department on Thursday apologized to a Black man and withdrew a felony assault citation it had issued him for his role in a brawl last week.

In a lengthy written statement Thursday, released an hour after activists were scheduled to protest outside the police station, Chief Ron Hoague said his officers were too quick to cite Brandon Williams.

The department "has been working with community members this past year in an effort to better serve everyone in our community, especially those most impacted by racism and inequity," Hoague wrote. "We have engaged our public in conversation and efforts like never before and we realize that incidents such as this indicate we have more work to do."

Williams was the only one charged of at least four people involved in the July 13 fight, which police said took place at the home of a man who Williams had hired to repair a motorcycle. Police had previously said their investigation was not over and that additional charges could follow.

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Music Festival to Buy Marlboro College, Ending Ownership Dispute

Posted By on Thu, Jul 22, 2021 at 5:31 PM

  • Calebjc / Wikimedia Commons
Marlboro Music will buy the former Marlboro College campus from Democracy Builders, the higher ed nonprofit whose former leader was arrested earlier this year.

The deal puts the scenic hillside campus, known as Potash Hill, under the control of its longtime summer tenant, which hosts the annual Marlboro Music Festival there. It also resolves a legal dispute between Democracy Builders and a mysterious cryptocurrency entrepreneur who had laid his own claim to the property.

“We are delighted to announce this historic agreement enabling us to protect Potash Hill and our use of the campus,” Christopher Serkin, Marlboro Music’s president, said in a press release.

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Friday, July 16, 2021

Brian Boland, Renowned Hot Air Balloonist, Dies at 72

Posted By on Fri, Jul 16, 2021 at 7:21 PM

  • Courtesy of Jim Block
  • Brian Boland
Brian Boland, a hot air balloon pilot with an international reputation for do-it-yourself balloon building, died on Thursday after falling from his balloon near the Connecticut River in Bradford. He was 72.

Boland and four passengers took off  on Thursday evening from Post Mills Airport in Thetford, where Boland lived with his partner, Tina Foster. Some time later, the balloon touched down in a field. The basket tipped over, causing one of Boland’s passengers to fall out. As the balloon rose again, Boland became entangled in the gears below the basket, fell to the ground and was killed, according to Vermont State Police.

The balloon drifted across the Connecticut River, landing in a copse of trees, where the remaining three passengers climbed out unharmed.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident.

Boland had been building and flying his homemade aircraft for more than five decades. In 1971, he constructed his first hot air balloon for his master’s thesis at the Pratt Institute in New York City. After graduating from Pratt, Boland became an art teacher at Farmington High School in Connecticut, where Paul Stumpf, a balloon mechanic and builder who now lives in Andover, was one of his students. Under Boland’s tutelage, Stumpf found his own passion for ballooning.

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Monday, July 12, 2021

Scott Names Former Political Rival Hallquist to Lead Broadband Expansion

Posted By on Mon, Jul 12, 2021 at 4:27 PM

Christine Hallquist - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Christine Hallquist
Gov. Phil Scott has appointed a former political rival, Christine Hallquist, to lead Vermont’s latest push to expand broadband access.

Hallquist will be the first executive director of the Vermont Community Broadband Board, a new entity created by lawmakers to coordinate and accelerate the rollout of high-speed internet services to the 23 percent of Vermont households that lack it.

A veteran of the electric utility industry, Hallquist ran against Scott in 2018. She made history as the first transgender major party gubernatorial candidate in the country. She won just 40 percent of the vote to Scott’s 55 percent.

Hallquist made broadband a major platform in her campaign. She argued that her experience as CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative positioned her well to help expand the service. She currently works for two communications union districts rolling out broadband in Lamoille County and the Northeast Kingdom.

In a press release, Scott framed broadband as an economic equity issue and praised Hallquist for her years of work advancing the issue.

“I cannot think of a better person to lead this important effort than Christine,” Scott said. “Her experience as a cooperative executive and most recent experience with two CUDs as well as her long-standing commitment to expanding broadband in Vermont will be valuable to this work.”

Communications union districts are a type of municipal entity designed to bridge the digital divide in the state. There are now nine such districts, which can build broadband infrastructure themselves or work with private internet providers to expand service. They cover more than 200 towns and are managed mostly by volunteer boards.

The five-member Vermont Community Broadband Board was formed to help these fledgling districts design, fund and manage the rollout of broadband networks. Future state grants will flow almost exclusively through such districts. Board members have yet to be appointed.

Hallquist compares the challenge of expanding broadband to the rural electrification effort of the 1930s and 1940s that gave birth to the electric co-op that she headed from 2005 to 2018.

In an interview Monday, Hallquist said she was honored to be appointed and learned she'd been selected during a “gracious” call from Scott last week. She said she’s been impressed with Scott’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and told him so.

"I think he did a better job than I could have done,” Hallquist said.

Hallquist will work in the Department of Public Service. Her first order of business will be to get the five board members appointed and ready for the board’s first meeting on August 9, she said.

The state has set aside $150 million for broadband expansion, and Hallquist will be largely responsible for helping the board direct those dollars to fiber-optic projects serving all residents, she said.

“I’m very excited and looking to get to work helping CUDs maximize the value of those grant funds,” Hallquist said.

She will make $120,000 annually and begin work July 26.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Burlington Airport Director Gene Richards Placed On Leave Following Complaint

Posted By on Tue, Jul 6, 2021 at 12:37 PM

  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • Gene Richards
Updated at 4:25 p.m.

Burlington International Airport aviation director Gene Richards is on administrative leave pending an investigation, Burlington city officials confirmed Tuesday.

The city's human resources office received a complaint against Richards and began investigating "immediately," a city spokesperson said in a brief email response to an inquiry by Seven Days. He was placed on paid leave June 30.

The city would not provide any information about the nature of the investigation until it concludes, said Samantha Sheehan, a spokesperson for Mayor Miro Weinberger. Richards did not return several requests for comment. A bounce-back message from his government email address said he would be out of office without access to phone or email from July 1 to July 6.

City leaders had not told members of the Burlington City Council or the Burlington Airport Commission of the ongoing investigation. Reached Tuesday afternoon, commission chair Jeff Munger said he learned of it by reading Seven Days.

Commissioner Helen Riehle, who represents South Burlington, said she would have expected the city to alert the advisory board if the director was on administrative leave, especially “if it's been a whole week.” Riehle said she “can't even guess” what the complaint might be about.

“Generally speaking, I think he's a very good administrator,” she said.

Burlington City Council President Max Tracy (P-Ward 2) said he heard of the complaint on Monday night from someone unconnected to the Weinberger administration. Tracy called the city’s Human Resources director, Kerin Durfee, on Tuesday morning and asked that she inform the rest of the council. Durfee subsequently sent a “very general” email to councilors on Tuesday afternoon, Tracy said.

Tracy criticized Weinberger for not sharing the news with councilors until prompted. He likened the situation to when the mayor chose not to tell councilors in summer 2019 that former police chief Brandon del Pozo had been placed on administrative leave for anonymously trolling a department critic on Twitter. Only his subsequent medical leave was publicized.

“The lesson I took from that was that we need to inform the council, to make sure that we all know,” Tracy said, adding that councilors should know “whenever a department head is placed on administrative leave.”

Sheehan said Tracy's criticism was "way off base." The mayor acted swiftly, she said, and councilors were notified "long before any potential Council action is required, or even anticipated." The administration will brief councilors on the investigation at the next city council meeting in executive session, she said.

Weinberger appointed Richards interim director in 2012. He became the permanent director the following year upon approval by the city council.

In addition to his role at the airport, Richards is a longtime landlord and CEO of Spruce Mortgage.

Deputy director of aviation Nic Longo is serving as acting director of the airport.

Courtney Lamdin contributed reporting.

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Saturday, July 3, 2021

Burlington to Pay $45K Settlement in Kilburn Wrongful Death Case

Posted By on Sat, Jul 3, 2021 at 12:27 PM

Protesters in downtown Burlington last summer - FILE: JAMES BUCK
  • File: James Buck
  • Protesters in downtown Burlington last summer
The City of Burlington has reached a $45,000 settlement with the family of Douglas Kilburn, who died in 2019 after a Burlington police officer punched him.

A city spokesperson confirmed the deal Saturday, which was first reported by The city's insurer will pay the settlement.

Kilburn's estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit last November, alleging that Officer Cory Campbell used excessive force when he punched Kilburn in the ambulance bay at the University of Vermont Medical Center, breaking several bones in his face. Kilburn was hospitalized, then found dead in his home a few days later.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Vermont Legal Aid Sues State Over Changes to Motel Program for Homeless

Posted By on Tue, Jun 29, 2021 at 3:03 PM

Darryl Phillips at Harbor Place - JAMES BUCK ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • James Buck ©️ Seven Days
  • Darryl Phillips at Harbor Place
Vermont Legal Aid filed a class-action suit on Monday to block changes to a state emergency housing program that advocates say would be devastating for homeless people with disabilities.

In a suit filed in Vermont Superior Court in Washington County, the organization argued that the Agency of Human Services' proposal to terminate benefits that homeless people receive under the General Assistance Emergency Housing Program was inhumane and unfair. The plaintiffs are requesting an emergency injunction from the court.

“On July 1, hundreds of Vermonters with disabilities will be ousted from their motel shelter to live in vans, barns, campsites, and our city streets,” Vermont Legal Aid lawyers wrote in a press release. “Our clients are anxious and fearful about what comes next, and our local communities are scrambling to develop the infrastructure necessary to meet the needs of this population.”

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Monday, June 28, 2021

Phish Front Man's Proposed Addiction Treatment Center Divides Ludlow

Posted By on Mon, Jun 28, 2021 at 4:46 PM

  • Photo courtesy of The Divided Sky Foundation

For nearly four months, the Town of Ludlow has been embroiled in a municipal drama concerning a proposed residential addiction treatment center at the site of a former weight-loss clinic, two miles from Okemo Mountain Resort. The fate of the center is now in the hands of Ludlow’s Development Review Board, which must decide by July 12 whether the project can proceed.

In late 2020, Phish front man Trey Anastasio’s Divided Sky Foundation purchased the 18-acre property in the Windsor county ski town for $1.7 million, funded largely by viewer donations from Anastasio’s livestreamed concerts during the pandemic. Ascension Recovery Services, a West Virginia-based health care company that manages similar treatment centers across the country, would operate the 40-bed facility, which is tentatively slated to open later this year.

Anastasio, who is in recovery himself, said that he launched the project to help people of all economic backgrounds who are struggling with addiction. “Substance use disorders affect people from all walks of life,” he told Rolling Stone in March, “and the problem is intimately linked with isolation — whether that’s isolation due to the pandemic or for any other reason.” Last year, overdose deaths in Vermont increased 37 percent from 2019, claiming more lives in 2020 than the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data from the state Department of Health. Opiates claimed the lives of 28 Windsor County residents — more than any other county in Vermont.

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Saturday, June 19, 2021

Joe Magee Wins Progressive Nomination for Ward 3 Special Election

Posted By on Sat, Jun 19, 2021 at 8:58 PM

  • Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Joe Magee
Joe Magee clinched the Vermont Progressive Party's nomination Saturday evening for the upcoming Ward 3 city council election with just one vote more than his closest competitor.

A total of 169 Progs cast ballots in the ranked-choice election, which lets voters rank candidates in order of preference. The lowest vote-getter is eliminated in each round until one candidate surpasses 50 percent.

Magee squeaked out 50.3 percent, or 75 votes, after four rounds, narrowly defeating Julie Macuga, who had 49.7 percent of votes, or 74 total, according to the party's official results.

"I'm very grateful to the candidates that ran in the caucus, and I'm looking forward to building a strong campaign for working families in Ward 3," Magee said. "It's just really great that we had such an impressive turnout in the caucus, and it speaks to the strength of the party in Ward 3 and definitely a strong start going into the special election."

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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

State Officials, Advocates Prep for the End of the Eviction Moratorium

Posted By on Tue, Jun 15, 2021 at 4:15 PM

  • File: Kim Scafuro
The end is near for the eviction moratorium that has been in place since the start of the pandemic.

On July 15, Vermont courts will allow pending eviction actions to go forward, meaning tenants can be ordered out for nonpayment of rent or for other reasons.

Some tenants, in cases where a court had already ruled in favor of the landlord, could be told to leave 14 days after Vermont's state of emergency ends, said Grace Pazdan, an attorney with Vermont Legal Aid. With COVID-19 infection rates low, and with 80 percent of Vermont's eligible population at least partly vaccinated, the state of emergency is due to expire Tuesday at midnight.

A national eviction moratorium, established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is due to end June 30.

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