Douglas Plays Defense | Freyne Land
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Friday, April 13, 2007

Douglas Plays Defense

Posted By on Fri, Apr 13, 2007 at 8:46 AM

Executive Code of Ethics
September 20, 2003

click to enlarge lunderville.jpg

STATE OF VERMONT Executive Department

EXECUTIVE ORDER [Executive Code of Ethics]

WHEREAS, it is essential to the proper operation of government that public officers be independent and impartial; that governmental decisions and policy be made fairly and impartially, on the merits of the matter at issue; that public office not be used for private gain other than the remuneration provided by law; and that there be public confidence in the integrity of government;

Douglas Administration Transportation Secretary Neale Lunderville (right) is suddenly sitting in a seat that's getting increasingly warm.

The Boy Wonder, as we've called him, who has twice been Gov. Scissorhands campaign manager, and also served on the Fifth Floor as a key political strategist, readily admits to having no transportation experience other than driving a car prior to taking his current post.

His experience is on the political side of things and he currently stands accused of violating the code of ethics his boss, Gentleman Jim Douglas, instituted back in 2003. It's a code of ethics, incidentally, that no member of the Douglas administration has ever been found guilty of violating. In fact, it's a code, the Guv confirmed at his Thursday presser, no one's ever even been accused of violating.

What's most interesting here is that the accusation has been made by the anti-political policy-wonk herself - Democratic Speaker of the House Gaye Symington!

l7fitzgerald.jpg

The accusation is that last Thursday, prior to the House attempt to override the Guv's veto of the budget adjustment act because it didn't include his "Promise Scholarship" money, Lunderville lobbied Democratic State Rep. Jim Fitzgerald from St. Albans (left). In their two brief conversations, Fitzgerald charges, The Boy Wonder lobbied him to split with his party, vote "No" on the veto override and "suggested that if I would support the governor and his veto, the state would help" with $50,000 to fund the improvement of an intersection in Fitzgerald's district.

Fitzgerald voted "Yes," but two other Democrats and one Independent voted with the Guv and the House Republicans, handing Speaker Symington and her Democratic majority a stinging defeat.

“The Secretary of Transportation is in a position to be able to cut a check for taxpayer dollars,” Speaker Gaye told VPR’s John Dillon, “and I think that’s totally inappropriate to do that in return for a vote in a particular way that has absolutely nothing to do with transportation.”

Symington has written Lunderville requesting he appear before the House Rules Committee next week to explain what really happened. She says Lunderville has called into question Rep. Fitzgerald’s honesty and integrity by denying the offer was made.

Interesting.

Here’s some of the back-and-forth Thursday between Vermont’s chief executive and the Fourth Estate:

PRESS: “The largest paper in the state is editorially questioning your ethics. ‘Political Poison.’ The ‘poison’ word was used over the situation with Transportation Secretary Neale Lunderville and Rep. Fitzgerald... What do you say? That’s pretty heavy-duty charges."

DOUGLAS: "Well, I’m not sure how to respond to that. It has been a matter of some discussion over the last week or so. I take very seriously the code of ethics that I’ve adopted for members of my administration. I expect everybody who works for me to adhere to that, conduct his or her responsibilities in the public interest. That’s why we’re here - to do the people’s business. To do it in a fair, transparent and impartial manner and I believe everyone who works for me is adhering to that code."

click to enlarge 412_guv_presser_2.jpg

PRESS: The argument in the hallways is that people think something wrong was done and that the ethical violation was that Lunderville was making a deal with two unrelated issues, one being funding for a transportation project in [Fitzgerald’s] district, and the other being a vote to override the veto [of the Budget Adjustment Act], that that kind of deal-making is unethical?

DOUGLAS: "It would be, but that’s not what happened. There’s no deal. Members of my administration were certainly talking to legislators about support for the veto override vote that was being held last week. I certainly wanted everyone to encourage legislators to support me on that.

"And, of course, as the transportation budget is considered during the legislative process, there are lots of conversations  about individual projects all across the state...but there’s certainly no linkage. And if there’s a misinterpretation on the part of a legislator, then I regret that."

PRESS: "Is that what it was? Or is someone not telling the truth here?"

DOUGLAS: "Well, I’ve had a lot of conversations with people through the years - I’m sure you have, as well - where you have different views of what happened.

"Two individuals had a conversation. I believe that the Secretary, and his conversation with me reflected accurately what he discussed and the topics that came up. If the other member to that conversation misinterpreted it, that’s unfortunate.”

PRESS: “Do you find it odd at all, though, that these two conversations, it sounds like, were fairly short conversations, a brief conversation in the cafeteria, a brief conversation after summoning a member off the floor. It just seems odd, in a brief conversation each time, those two topics came up. To suggest that they’re not linked either time - it’s hard to imagine?”

DOUGLAS: "Well, I can tell you I’ve talked with Neale about, ah, these issues after they were raised last week. He’s assured me that they’re not, that he understands the code of ethics, has continued to adhere to it as all of my appointees had. And again if it was misinterpreted by the legislator, then I’m sorry."

PRESS: "Fitzgerald, is he lying about it?"

DOUGLAS:
"It’s certainly been my experience that when I have a conversation with someone it’s not unusual to have a different analysis or summary of what was discussed in that conversation later on. I’m sure you’ve had the same experience. In fact, I might have had that experience with some of you!” {chuckle, chuckle].

P.S. Fitzgerald has crossed yours truly's path before as the head of the Burlington-Charlotte Commuter Rail Project that former Gov. Howard Dean championed.

What a beautiful environmentally-friendly idea!

Only problem was, Ho-Ho couldn't get many people to actually ride it.

Douglas was an outspoken opponent of the commuter rail project since it was a big money-loser. Lunderville, we're told, is the gubernatorial staffer who delivered the bad news to Fitzgerald, about a month after Gov. Scissorhands was sworn in, that the project was being shut down and his services would no longer be needed.

Small world, eh?

CORRECTION:

According to a "Freyne Land" reader and Statehouse business lobbyist who grew up there, "The intersection that was discussed is actually in an adjacent district to Rep. Fitzgerald's district and is not in his district."

Thanks for that!

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About The Author

Peter Freyne

Peter Freyne

Bio:
Peter Freyne, 1949-2009, wrote the weekly political column "Inside Track," which originated in the Vanguard Press in the mid 1980s; he brought it to Seven Days in 1995. He retired it shortly before his death in January, 2009. We all miss him.

More by Peter Freyne

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