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Monday, September 17, 2018

Vermont Delegation Calls for Delay in Kavanaugh Vote

Posted By on Mon, Sep 17, 2018 at 12:53 PM

Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN
  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders
Updated at 5:48 p.m.

After a California professor alleged Sunday that Judge Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her when they both were teenagers, Vermont's congressional delegation urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to halt its consideration of his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

All three members — Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) — said the committee's planned Thursday vote on the nomination should be postponed until authorities could fully investigate the claims. In an interview with Seven Days on Monday afternoon, Leahy said that Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, should both testify before the committee, on which Leahy serves.

“She’s willing to testify under oath,” the senator said. “Let her!”

Details of the allegations have trickled out since the committee's ranking member, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), briefed fellow Democrats last Wednesday, but Blasey Ford’s identity was not known until Sunday, when she shared her story with the Washington Post. She said that at a party in suburban Maryland in the early 1980s, a drunken Kavanaugh had pinned her to a bed, groped her and attempted to remove her clothes.

“I find her allegations worth looking into professionally,” Leahy said in the interview. “I mean, she’s shown some very incredible courage even coming in here and we’re dealing with a nominee whose veracity is already an issue.”

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Sunday, September 16, 2018

Burlington Town Hall Featuring Bernie Sanders Draws New American Crowd

Posted By on Sun, Sep 16, 2018 at 8:13 PM

From left: Omar Bulle, Stefan Boley, Aden Haji, Mohamed Jafar, Ahmed Noor - KYMELYA SARI
  • Kymelya Sari
  • From left: Omar Bulle, Stefan Boley, Aden Haji, Mohamed Jafar, Ahmed Noor
I am a change maker. That was what Aden Haji, 23, hoped each attendee would feel about themselves after attending a town hall event Sunday in Burlington that featured Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as the headliner.

Haji, a University of Vermont senior, was one of the speakers at the event and called for greater civic engagement from members of New American communities.

The gathering at the Old North End Community Center specifically targeted New Americans and was intended to teach them the nuts and bolts of voting, to inspire them to become politically engaged, and to give them an opportunity to make their concerns known to Sanders. It attracted a crowd of about 150 people, most of whom were members of the Burmese, Bhutanese, Iraqi, Somali and Sudanese communities.

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Saturday, September 15, 2018

Burlington School Officials Seek to Quell Censorship Controversy

Posted By on Sat, Sep 15, 2018 at 5:06 PM

The Register newspaper co-editor Julia Shannon-Grillo at Thursday's school board meeting - MOLLY WALSH
  • Molly Walsh
  • The Register newspaper co-editor Julia Shannon-Grillo at Thursday's school board meeting
The Burlington School Board and Superintendent of Schools Yaw Obeng on Saturday attempted to quell the controversy over censorship of the city high school's newspaper, saying that a new policy will be developed.

The board and Obeng announced that guidelines for material to be published in the Burlington High School Register are no longer in effect. Instead, the board and administration will develop a policy that is consistent with the free speech and student journalist protections under Vermont's New Voices law, the announcement said.

It effectively scuttles a policy that BHS principal Noel Green conveyed Friday, after a dramatic week of shifting decisions over coverage.

On Tuesday, Green ordered Register editors and their teacher-adviser to remove a story from the paper's website that detailed Vermont Education Agency allegations of unprofessional conduct against BHS guidance director Mario Macias. He denies the allegations.
After students and other critics called that censorship and a violation of the New Voices law, the principal announced Thursday that the article could be reposted. But just as free speech advocates began to cheer, Green issued a directive Friday that all editorial content in the Register was to be reviewed by him or other administrators 48 hours before publication.

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Walters: Scott and Hallquist Face Off in First Debate

Posted By on Sat, Sep 15, 2018 at 3:20 PM

Christine Hallquist making a point while Gov. Phil Scott listens during their debate at the Tunbridge World's Fair - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Christine Hallquist making a point while Gov. Phil Scott listens during their debate at the Tunbridge World's Fair
The two major-party candidates for Vermont governor debated the issues Friday morning for the first time in the general election campaign. Republican Gov. Phil Scott and Democratic challenger Christine Hallquist held a civil, issues-based discussion that occasionally produced some sharp words — but only over policy disagreements. Personal attacks were notably absent.

The two came off as knowledgeable and articulate, and offered clear policy agendas for Vermont. Hallquist, the first openly transgender person to win a major party's nomination for governor, referred to her gender identity only once or twice; Scott never mentioned it at all.

The debate was broadcast live on WDEV Radio's Dave Gram Show, and is available via podcast. It took place in an open-air gazebo at the Tunbridge World's Fair, with occasional sounds from animals and equipment in the background. Vendors touting a cornucopia of deep-fried delights filled the surrounding area. Gram and founder and editor Anne Galloway served as moderators.

The two candidates often agreed — at least in terms of policy goals. Both advocated for increased job opportunities and boosting the state's population, especially among younger people and families with children. Both endorsed Vermont's goal of 90 percent renewable energy by the year 2050. Both emphasized the importance of improving water quality in Vermont's lakes and waterways. They both oppose the idea of a carbon tax, although Scott's opposition is absolute and Hallquist says she opposes it "for now."

Where they differed was on how to achieve their goals. Scott continued to repeat his handful of core talking points: affordability, no new taxes or fees, growing the economy and reining in the cost of public education. He did not specifically promise to oppose any additional taxes or fees in his second term (should he be elected), but he made clear his general opposition to raising new revenue.

Hallquist advocated for public investment as a way to make progress, and left herself open to tax hikes when necessary. "I'm not afraid to raise taxes for a good purpose," she said. "I will find a responsible way to pay for it, but we need paid family leave."

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Friday, September 14, 2018

Despite Controversy, Burlington Principal Plans to Vet Student Newspaper Stories

Posted By on Fri, Sep 14, 2018 at 6:59 PM

The Register website - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • The Register website
Burlington High School principal Noel Green, whose censorship of a student newspaper led to a public outcry this week, has instituted a new policy that requires student journalists to submit articles for review 48 hours before publication.

The policy, issued two days after Green censored a story on the website of the Register, the school's newspaper, says that it is intended “to affirm support for the school newspaper, but also outline guidelines around how it functions.”

Seven Days obtained a copy of the new policy from the student journalists. It refers to Act 49, the Vermont law passed last year that was intended to prevent school administrators from censoring student journalists. But Green notes that there are six instances, such as libelous or slanderous information, that would be precluded from protection under the law, which is commonly referred to as New Voices.

“The only way school administrators can ensure that distributed material passes this litmus test, they must have the ability to view all material before it is printed,” Green wrote. “Thus, moving forward the BHS Register will re-continue the policy from 2016/17 which required material to be submitted to the administration 48 hours prior to publication.”

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Burlington School District Places Embattled Counselor on Leave

Posted By on Fri, Sep 14, 2018 at 5:38 PM

Burlington High School - FILE: OLIVER PARINI
  • File: Oliver Parini
  • Burlington High School
Updated on September 15, 2018.

The Burlington School District announced Friday that it will place guidance director Mario Macias on administrative leave pending the completion of a state investigation.

Following a yearlong inquiry, the Agency of Education cited Macias on September 7 with six counts of alleged professional misconduct. The Register, the high school's student newspaper, broke the news of the allegations on Monday. Principal Noel Green ordered the newspaper to remove the story Tuesday, but not before other local media outlets verified and reported on the allegations. Green later agreed to allow the students to repost their story.

At a school board meeting Thursday night, residents berated Superintendent Yaw Obeng and the board for the handling of allegations levied against Macias. The board went into executive session for more than an hour to discuss a "personnel issue."

The district released a statement about Macias' leave at 5:13 p.m. Friday.

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Walters: Ethics Panel to Draft Tougher Opinion on Sale of Scott's Business

Posted By on Fri, Sep 14, 2018 at 1:27 PM

Then-candidate Phil Scott (left) with Don DuBois - FILE: TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Then-candidate Phil Scott (left) with Don DuBois
Members of the Vermont State Ethics Commission are not satisfied with a draft opinion about Gov. Phil Scott's sale of his share in a construction business and are seeking a stronger rewrite.

When Scott became governor, he sold his half-interest in DuBois Construction to the company for $2.5 million. The deal was designed to avoid potential conflicts of interest, since DuBois frequently bids on state contracts. But the sale was financed by Scott himself, which means that he retains a large financial stake in DuBois. He receives monthly loan payments from the firm that totaled $75,000 in the year 2017.

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group claimed that the DuBois deal clearly violates the Ethics Commission's code of ethics and sought an advisory opinion from the commission. VPIRG chose not to file an ethics complaint against Scott because complaints are handled behind closed doors and the process is exempt from public disclosure. The advisory opinion process is entirely open.

At its meeting on September 5, the commission voted unanimously to have executive director Brian Leven prepare a draft opinion for the full body to consider. On September 12, Leven issued his draft, which he made available to the media.

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Residents Rebuke Burlington School Officials Over Guidance Department Controversies

Posted By on Fri, Sep 14, 2018 at 12:08 AM

Parent Caroline Crawford at the meeting - MOLLY WALSH
  • Molly Walsh
  • Parent Caroline Crawford at the meeting
Parents and residents blasted the Burlington School Board and Superintendent Yaw Obeng Thursday night for their handling of unprofessional conduct allegations involving high school guidance director Mario Macias.

During a stinging public comment session, multiple speakers said district leadership ignored complaints about Macias for more than a year and should have placed him on leave Friday. That's when the Vermont Education Agency cited him for six alleged licensing violations, including fabricating a transcript so a student could graduate and behaving inappropriately with a substitute teacher who was a college student.

Numerous speakers also slammed BHS principal Noel Green for ordering the removal of an article from the website of the student newspaper, the Register, detailing the Macias allegations. The story was posted online Monday and removed Tuesday. After an outcry over censorship, Green and Obeng agreed to permit the article to be reposted.

The board went into executive session to discuss an unspecified personnel matter at 7:40 p.m. and concluded it more than an hour later. Asked if they had taken action to put Macias on leave, Obeng and board leaders would not comment. They said the administration and school board would issue statements Friday.

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Thursday, September 13, 2018

Burlington Principal Reverses Course, Allows Students to Publish Story

Posted By on Thu, Sep 13, 2018 at 1:48 PM

The Register's website - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • The Register's website
Updated at 8:45 p.m.

Burlington High School principal Noel Green has reversed course and will allow student journalists to again publish a story online that he had ordered removed.

The article, first published Monday night by school newspaper the Register, detailed the results of a yearlong Vermont Agency of Education investigation into BHS guidance director Mario Macias, who’s been accused of unprofessional and incompetent behavior. Green asked students to pull the story down Tuesday morning, according to a statement from the school district, after he reviewed Act 49, a law passed in 2017 that’s meant to free student journalists from administrative censorship.

“While protecting student journalism, this law also allows administration to ask students to remove any story which is deemed to be ‘substantially disrupting the ability of the school to perform its educational mission,’” district spokesperson Russ Elek wrote in the statement. “In the opinion of Principal Green, this story very much fell under this stipulation at the time, and District leadership supported his decision to ask that the story be taken off the site.”

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Farrell Suspends Campaign Manager Over Ingram DUI Video

Posted By on Thu, Sep 13, 2018 at 11:50 AM

Alex Farrell in South Burlington - TAYLOR DOBBS
  • Taylor Dobbs
  • Alex Farrell in South Burlington
Vermont Senate candidate Alex Farrell, a Chittenden County Republican, suspended campaign manager Jeffrey Bartley on Thursday for condoning a video attacking a political rival.

The move came a day after Seven Days reported on Burlington Republican Party chair Paco DeFrancis' online criticism of Sen. Debbie Ingram's (D-Chittenden) 2017 drunk driving arrest. Farrell condemned the attack on Wednesday and said his campaign had had nothing to do with a video DeFrancis posted featuring footage of Ingram's arrest.

But later Wednesday, DeFrancis sent Seven Days screenshots of a text-message exchange he'd had with Bartley in July suggesting that the campaign manager had approved the video. (DeFrancis posted the screenshots to Twitter on Thursday morning but quickly deleted them.)

DeFrancis said in an interview Thursday that he'd understood Bartley's texts as a "go-ahead" to circulate the video. "I would've never posted it if I hadn't talked to him," DeFrancis said.

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