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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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Sunday, July 16, 2017

Walters: Bernie Sanders Reports $4.9 Million Campaign War Chest

Posted By on Sun, Jul 16, 2017 at 10:48 AM

Sen. Bernie Sanders - FILE: PAUL HEINTZ
  • File: Paul Heintz
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is a financial juggernaut, Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.) is scoring big with political action committees and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is in cruise control.

That's your quick summary of the Vermont congressional delegation's latest quarterly fundraising reports, which were due Saturday to the Federal Election Commission. (See fundraising totals from state candidates here.)

From April through June, Sanders' Senate reelection campaign raised nearly $1.3 million — almost entirely in donations of less than $100. It spent a little over $200,000, so the Sanders war chest continued to grow.

In fact, Sanders' cash-on-hand totaled nearly $4.9 million as of June 30.

That's got to be a chilling number for any Republican considering a run for U.S. Senate. Sanders, who faces reelection to a third six-year term in 2018, already has an insurmountable lead in fundraising — and he can seemingly produce millions more with a snap of his fingers.

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New Filings Show Donovan Leads the Pack in Vermont Campaign Cash

Posted By on Sun, Jul 16, 2017 at 9:44 AM

T.J. Donovan - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • T.J. Donovan
Attorney General T.J. Donovan is sitting on more campaign cash than Vermont's five other statewide officeholders combined, according to disclosure forms filed Saturday with the Secretary of State's Office.

The campaign finance documents provide the first glimpse into state politicians' campaign accounts since December 2016. Candidates for federal office file on a quarterly basis. (See fundraising totals from Vermont's congressional delegation here.)

Though the next state election is more than 15 months away, Donovan's campaign account appears unusually active. The first-term Democrat easily won the post last November, leaving him with $128,479 to spare. Since then, he picked up a $4,000 contribution from the Democratic Attorneys General Association.

Donovan also spent more than any other candidate over the last seven months, racking up $12,062 in expenses. Those included $6,450 for campaign software, $782 for a June event at Burlington's St. John's Club and $40 for a Mexican meal in Portland, Ore., in May. That left Donovan with $121,132 in his campaign account at the end of the reporting period.

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Friday, July 14, 2017

McAllister Guilty of Misdemeanor, Beats Felony Charge

Posted By on Fri, Jul 14, 2017 at 10:27 PM

Norm McAllister in court Friday - RYAN MERCER/BURLINGTON FREE PRESS
  • Ryan Mercer/Burlington Free Press
  • Norm McAllister in court Friday
Updated at 10:59 p.m.

A jury found former state senator Norm McAllister guilty of one misdemeanor count of prohibited acts involving prostitution Friday, but not guilty of a felony sexual assault charge and a second charge of prohibited acts.

The verdict came at 9:45 p.m. after more than three hours of deliberation. Earlier Friday, the man who formerly represented Franklin County in the legislature had surprised many by taking the witness stand to defend himself in a case that involved graphic testimony.

McAllister left the courthouse with his attorney, Bob Katims. They said that they would appeal the conviction, which could carry a sentence of up to one year in prison. No sentencing date was set.

McAllister was found guilty of arranging for a friend to have sex with a woman who lived in a trailer on his Franklin County farm. That was for money to cover the cost of her power bill, for which she had gotten behind, the woman testified.

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In a Surprising Turn, McAllister Takes the Witness Stand

Posted By and on Fri, Jul 14, 2017 at 1:08 PM

Norm McAllister testifying Friday - GREGORY J. LAMOUREUX/COUNTY COURIER
  • Norm McAllister testifying Friday
Updated at 7:45 p.m.

Former state senator Norm McAllister took the witness stand in his own defense on Friday morning and said the woman who has accused him of sexual assault cajoled him into a months-long consensual relationship.

He was the final witness, and faced tough questions during cross-examination. Jurors began deliberating the case around 5:30 p.m.

McAllister forcefully denied ever coercing or assaulting the alleged victim during testimony in Franklin Superior Court. He claimed that she initiated a sexual relationship in January 2014, several months after she had come to live and work at his farm.

At the time, McAllister said, he was grieving the loss of his wife, who died of cancer in September 2013, only two months after she was diagnosed. Meanwhile, the victim had lost her children to the Department for Children and Families, and took the job in hopes of getting them back.

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State Regulators to Investigate Vermont Gas Pipeline Depths

Posted By on Fri, Jul 14, 2017 at 12:58 PM

Construction of the Vermont Gas Systems pipeline in St. George - TERRI HALLENBECK/FILE
  • Terri Hallenbeck/file
  • Construction of the Vermont Gas Systems pipeline in St. George
State regulators called Friday for an investigation into whether Vermont Gas Systems violated its 2013 permit to build the Addison Natural Gas Project pipeline by burying it at less than four feet in 18 New Haven locations.

"The [Public Utility Commission] has rightfully concluded that the history thus far raises questions about the depth of burial of the entire pipeline," said Jim Dumont, a Bristol lawyer who sought the investigation on behalf of several pipeline neighbors.

Construction of the 41-mile pipeline from Colchester to Middlebury, which was completed in April, has been controversial from the start. Dumont's challenge was the latest complaint by opponents, who allege that the company deliberately disregarded promised protocols for construction.

On Thursday, Dumont filed a supplementary allegation accusing Vermont Gas of more widespread violations of its commitment to bury the pipeline seven feet beneath streams and four feet below ground in residential areas.

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Walters: Scott Launches Award Program for Responsible Farming

Posted By on Thu, Jul 13, 2017 at 5:55 PM

Lorenzo Whitcomb, owner of the North Williston Cattle Co., and Gov. Phil Scott - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Lorenzo Whitcomb, owner of the North Williston Cattle Co., and Gov. Phil Scott
Gov. Phil Scott visited the North Williston Cattle Company Thursday to unveil a voluntary program aimed at encouraging environmental responsibility among Vermont farmers.

It was, to some, an ironic choice: The farm uses sludge and biosolids from a nearby wastewater treatment plant to fertilize some of its crops — a controversial practice in the environmental community. In fact, a bill under consideration in the Vermont legislature would ban the practice.

The new program is called the Vermont Environmental Stewardship Program. Farms enrolling in the program will be subject to soil testing and other measurements. If they pass the tests, they will be certified as using best-management practices to minimize their environmental impact.

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Alleged Victim Takes the Stand in McAllister Trial

Posted By on Thu, Jul 13, 2017 at 12:55 PM

Updated at 4:50 p.m.

The alleged victim in the sexual assault trial of former state senator Norm McAllister took the witness stand Thursday morning and said she agreed to a sex-for-rent scheme with him out of desperation.

Back in 2012, the woman testified, the Department for Children and Families had taken her children. She was living in a homeless shelter in St. Albans. To have any chance to get her kids back, she needed a job and a place to live, she testified. She answered a Craigslist ad for someone willing to live and work on a Highgate farm.

McAllister, who had taken out the ad, told her he had other applicants with more experience, she recalled.

She recounted the following conversation while on the witness stand in Franklin Superior Court: To land the job, she told McAllister she would be willing to do anything, including household chores, cooking meals or running errands.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Jurors Hear Tape of Graphic Phone Call Between McAllister, Accuser

Posted By on Wed, Jul 12, 2017 at 6:50 PM

  • Gregory J. Lamoureux/County Courier
  • Norm McAllister
Former state senator Norm McAllister ensnared a desperate woman into a forcible sexual relationship, and he all but confessed to his crimes in a recorded phone call, a prosecutor said during opening arguments in his sexual assault trial on Wednesday afternoon.

Deputy Franklin County State's Attorney John Lavoie said that McAllister targeted a woman who was desperate to live in a dilapidated trailer he owned and to work on his Highgate farm. She allowed him to take advantage of her for years, Lavoie said.

"Rape is not about sex," Lavoie told jurors in Franklin Superior Court. "It's about the rapist using sex to exercise power and control."

Lavoie devoted most of his opening argument to unveiling a 30-minute recording of McAllister speaking on the telephone with the alleged victim. On the recording, McAllister discusses, in often graphic detail, some of their sexual encounters.

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