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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Vermont Officials Welcome Court Ruling on Sanctuary States and Cities

Posted By on Tue, Nov 21, 2017 at 10:12 PM

Protesters entering City Hall Park in Burlington - FILE: MATTHEW ROY
  • File: Matthew Roy
  • Protesters entering City Hall Park in Burlington
Vermont officials are cautiously optimistic after a federal judge ruled Monday night that President Donald Trump's administration can’t revoke funding to so-called sanctuary cities and states.

Last week, the U.S Justice Department sent letters to 29 local and state governments, including Vermont and Burlington, threatening to withhold federal funds for failing to carry out its immigration directives. It gave them a December 8 deadline to prove they aren't breaking federal law.

Vermont stands to lose about $500,000; Burlington could lose $40,000. The letters provoked an immediate outcry from the state's congressional delegation, Gov. Phil Scott and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, who maintain that the city's and state's policing policies are perfectly legal.

U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick came to a similar conclusion Monday in a California court case, ruling that the Trump Administration had violated the separation of powers doctrine in the Fifth and Tenth Amendments by attempting to strip sanctuary cities of funding.

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Attorney General Donovan Settles Corren Campaign Finance Lawsuit

Posted By on Tue, Nov 21, 2017 at 1:29 PM

  • File photo/Seven Days
  • Dean Corren
Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan on Tuesday announced that he settled a campaign finance lawsuit against former lieutenant governor candidate Dean Corren for $255, resolving a tangled case initiated by his predecessor, former attorney general Bill Sorrell.

The case, which was scheduled to go to trial in December, dates to 2014, when Corren, running as a Democrat and Progressive, made a failed bid to unseat then-lieutenant governor Phil Scott.

 Corren received about $180,000 in public money for his campaign. When accepting public financing in Vermont, candidates agree not to solicit  contributions from outside sources.

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Monday, November 20, 2017

Tight Squeeze: Winooski Parking Garage Squabble Lands in Court

Posted By on Mon, Nov 20, 2017 at 8:41 PM

Spinner Place in Winooski - ANDY DUBACK
  • Andy Duback
  • Spinner Place in Winooski
This story was updated at 11:53 on November 21, 2017.

Competition for spaces in Winooski's downtown municipal parking garage  landed in court Monday.

Lenders connected to Spinner Place, a 312-unit student apartment complex, filed suit against the City of Winooski in U.S. District Court, claiming that the city unfairly terminated a garage lease for building residents last January.

The city "illegally  took parking dedicated to, and needed by, downtown residents and gave the parking as an incentive to other developers," said a statement issued Monday by Montpelier lawyer Ronald Shems, who represents the Spinner Place lenders. The loss of parking "severely limited" the ability to fully rent the units and created additional costs, the statement continued.

The city has "oversubscribed" the 916-space garage with lease agreements for 923 spaces and now refuses to consider a long-term lease with Spinner Place, the suit says.

It seeks  an injunction requiring the city to enter into a long-term parking lease with Spinner Place and pay damages and legal costs.

The lawsuit was filed by UMB Bank of  Kansas City, Mo. It is the trustee for bondholders who helped finance the construction of Spinner Place in 2004 through the Vermont Housing Finance Agency.

In a statement issued Tuesday morning, Winooski City Manager Jessie Baker said municipal officials are working on creative solutions to meet the long-term parking needs of Spinner Place residents and others.

"People want to live and work in Winooski," Baker's statement reads.  "This is a good problem to have. We look forward to continued conversations in partnership with all the downtown property owners to ensure that parking needs are met."

It also suggested that the lawsuit was not the right approach.

"We are disappointed that the UMB Trustee has opted to sue the city instead of continuing discussions about long-term parking solutions," Baker stated. "We are hopeful that the parties can come to agreed upon terms and avoid lawsuits that ultimately cost the taxpayers."

Earlier this year, Baker defended the city's management of the garage and said a study was under way to respond to concerns about parking for Spinner Place and downtown employers including MyWebGrocer.

 Competition for slots in the city garage has intensified with the successful $200 million-plus redevelopment of downtown Winooski over the past dozen years. Some have started calling the old mill city the Brooklyn of Burlington.

But this Brooklyn lacks a subway system to help people travel car-free.

Parking woes are by now familiar. Both a proposed hotel and a proposed live music venue in Winooski, the Strand, have triggered opposition from some residents and business owners who are worried that new development will aggravate the parking crunch.

The lawsuit says the City of Winooski first entered into a parking agreement with Spinner Place in 2004 for 230 spaces. The agreement was amended and extended at least three times, the suit says.

Then on October 3, 2016, the city issued a letter to the property manager of Spinner Place, Hallkeen Management, stating that effective January 1, 2017 it "will no longer be leasing spaces in the garage to customers without a long term contract, including Spinner Place residents."

The letter further stated that "public metered spaces are available for use by any garage customer displaced by this change," according to the lawsuit.

The suit  says that the metered rate is "more than four times greater than typical monthly residential parking rates for downtown parking, and grossly out of proportion with fair market student parking rates."

 In the meantime, the suit says, the city has leased spaces in the garage to other entities including a "yet-to-be developed concert and performing arts venue," an apparent reference to the Strand project.

The city agreement with the nightclub developers would provide up to 550 spaces in the parking garage for evening and weekend events — "the same time that Spinner Place residents are typically at home and need parking," the lawsuit states.

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Once Spurned, Burlington Telecom Bidders Pursue Joint Venture

Posted By on Mon, Nov 20, 2017 at 6:22 PM

The October 30 Burlington City Council meeting - KATIE JICKLING
  • Katie Jickling
  • The October 30 Burlington City Council meeting
Two eliminated Burlington Telecom bidders, Schurz Communications and ZRF Partners, have gotten back in the running — this time as partners. On Monday,  the Indiana communications company Schurz and the New York City investment firm put forward a $25 million joint bid that would invest heavily in the local tech economy.

Theirs was one of three final proposals for Burlington Telecom submitted to the city in advance of the city council's final decision on November 27.

The publicly traded Tucows put forward a $32.5 million proposal, up $2 million from its previous offer. And the co-op Keep BT Local raised its bid from $12 million to $18 million — though the co-op has yet to raise the $6 million difference.

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Vermont Democrats OK Staff Union, Elect New Leaders

Posted By on Sat, Nov 18, 2017 at 3:43 PM

  • File: Robin Katrick
  • Faisal Gill
Vermont Democratic Party leaders cleared the path Saturday for party staff members to join the United Steelworkers union.

Calling the move “historic,” VDP executive director Conor Casey said he thinks it’s the first time a state party has voted to recognize a staff union. As executive director, he’ll be on the opposite side of the bargaining table from his four staff members. But as the former political director for the Vermont State Employees Association, he’ll likely be a sympathetic negotiator. He may not have much to offer, however, given the party's recent fundraising drought.

“We were looking at our platform [which has] an enormous concentration on collective bargaining rights,” said Casey. “We want to practice what we preach.”

The party also elected new leaders at its annual meeting Saturday. Terje Anderson, a longtime HIV/AIDS activist from Montgomery, will take over as chair, replacing Faisal Gill, who decided not to run again. Anderson's opponent, Bolton town chair Peter Jemley, dropped out of the race earlier in the week, endorsing Anderson.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Bittersweet: California Tea Company Buys Urban Moonshine

Posted By on Thu, Nov 16, 2017 at 4:02 PM

Urban Moonshine products - OLIVER PARINI
  • Oliver Parini
  • Urban Moonshine products
The Burlington bitters and tonic company Urban Moonshine has been sold to Traditional Medicinals, which claims to be the largest organic tea company in the U.S.

“The world needs more herbs and this is our best way to do it,” said Urban Moonshine founder Jovial King, who started the business nine years ago, brewing tinctures in her kitchen.

Today, Urban Moonshine products can be found in co-ops and health food stores around the country, and in some chain stores including Whole Foods Market. It does more than $2 million in annual sales.

Despite the popularity of its herbal remedies (some of which conveniently double as cocktail ingredients), the company has faced financial hardship.

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UVM Student Announces Burlington City Council Run

Posted By on Thu, Nov 16, 2017 at 3:15 PM

  • Courtesy of Carter Neubieser
  • Carter Neubieser
The chair of the University of Vermont Progressives announced Thursday that he would challenge Adam Roof (I-Ward 8) for his Burlington City Council seat next March.

Sophomore Carter Neubieser, 20, declared his candidacy on the steps of UVM's Bailey/Howe library, a backward baseball cap snugged over his shaggy blond hair.

"Our generation has been handed quite the mess," he said, citing high tuition, low wages, climate change and a growing drug epidemic. About 15 students turned out for the announcement, as did Isaac Grimm, the political engagement director of Rights and Democracy, and, briefly, city Councilor Max Tracy (P-Ward 2).

Neubieser, of New Britain, Conn., said that if elected, he would work for increased affordable housing, including co-op housing for students on campus, and improved walking and biking routes across the city.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Walters: State Panel Provides Few Answers for Water Cleanup

Posted By on Wed, Nov 15, 2017 at 8:52 PM

Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore
A state working group tasked with proposing legislation and identifying a funding source for Vermont’s 20-year effort to reduce phosphorus pollution in its waterways has finished its work — without achieving either of its primary goals.

The Working Group on Water Quality Funding was created by Act 73, a law passed this year by the state legislature. Its members were mainly officials from the administration of Gov. Phil Scott. Its final report was delivered to the legislature on Wednesday.

Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore, a member of the group, blames its failure to reach conclusions on a short timeframe and a raft of complications. “There’s a need for several important public policy questions to be discussed,” she says. “We need to have clarity on how much we need to raise before we can propose legislation.”

Other complications, she adds, include how to collect and administer a per-parcel water-quality fee that remains the most likely long-term revenue source, and how to split costs between state and local governments for many types of improvement projects. The working group is effectively kicking back many of those questions to the legislature.

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AG Sessions Threatens Burlington, State Over Immigration Policies

Posted By on Wed, Nov 15, 2017 at 7:34 PM

  • U.S. Marshals Service
  • Jeff Sessions
Updated on November 16, 2017.

The Justice Department threatened to cut federal funding for the state of Vermont and the city of Burlington in letters that warned each may be violating federal immigration law.

The government agency sent the letters Wednesday to 29 different jurisdictions "that may have laws, policies, or practices that violate 8 U.S.C. 1373, a federal statute that promotes information sharing related to immigration enforcement."

“Jurisdictions that adopt so-called ‘sanctuary policies’ also adopt the view that the protection of criminal aliens is more important than the protection of law-abiding citizens and of the rule of law,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “I urge all jurisdictions found to be potentially out of compliance in this preliminary review to reconsider their policies that undermine the safety of their residents."

The letters give each jurisdiction until December 8 to prove they're in compliance.

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DCF Shooter Jody Herring Sentenced to Life Without Parole

Posted By on Wed, Nov 15, 2017 at 5:56 PM

Jody Herring with her attorney, David Sleigh - POOL PHOTO: STEFAN HARD, TIMES ARGUS
  • Pool photo: Stefan Hard, Times Argus
  • Jody Herring with her attorney, David Sleigh
A woman who murdered three relatives and a Department for Children and Families social worker was sentenced to life without parole Wednesday during an emotional hearing in Washington Superior Court.

Judge John Pacht said Jody Herring's August 2015 killing spree, triggered by the DCF's decision to take custody of her 9-year-old daughter, was the "hardest case" he'd seen in his 35-year legal career.

"I have a great deal of compassion for Jody Herring, but I also have an obligation to assure that this community is safe, that people can start to heal, and that the enormity of the crimes are reflected in the sentence," Pacht said before siding with prosecutors and handing Herring the maximum penalty for her crimes.

In a brief statement before she was sentenced, an emotional Herring apologized. She had each of her three children taken from her in custody proceedings — including a child that was conceived during a rape — and said she could empathize with the loss that her victims' families feel.

"I know how it feels. And I'm very sorry. I can't take back that day. I wish I could," said Herring, her voice severely shaking. "But I can't. I handle my stress so differently than anyone else does. I wish I could help myself. I asked for help several times, and I didn’t get it."

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