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Going in Circles 

Fair Game

Bernie Sanders

Published April 22, 2009 at 10:58 a.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

The debate over same-sex marriage may have been emotional, but it’s got nothing on the ongoing disc-golf fracas in Burlington.

Yes, you read it right — disc golf. Not gay disc golf, but disc golf, which entails tossing specially designed Frisbees into a chain basket.

The issue surfaced during the Burlington mayoral campaign — specifically, in the Seven Days-sponsored candidate debate — but is an issue that had been simmering for months. Only Independent Dan Smith supported the concept, which may have cost him votes in the New North End. Literally.

The disc-golf debate began last year when the B’Town Disc Golf Club approached the Parks & Recreation Department about finding an appropriate home for a public disc-golf course. The nearest course to Burlington is in Waterbury.

After several public meetings, the commission approved the concept. That turned into some underbrush clearing at Leddy Park to make way for some demonstration holes. Something about the sound of chainsaws awakened neighbors to the fact that their precious park was about to be turned into a hedonistic outpost for throngs of disc-throwing enthusiasts. Once-quiet nature paths would be imperiled by “flying dinner plates.”

In response to the public outcry, Parks & Rec Director Wayne Gross called a halt to the brush clearing. More recently, he told “Fair Game” that he failed to predict the concerns people would have about the plans for Leddy Park. “I take full responsibility for it, but I can say I think the opposition to this snuck up on people,” said Gross.

About 50 opponents packed a late March hearing — the final meeting of a working group created by the parks commission to investigate whether disc golf would be feasible at Leddy Park, or anywhere in Burlington. At the meeting, the working group was deadlocked — 3 to 3 — on whether disc golf at Leddy Park would work. A seventh member, who supports disc golf, was out of town.

Opponents believe the city needs to do more homework before moving ahead with disc golf anywhere in the city.

Mark Barlow, who grew up next to Leddy Park and still lives nearby, offered, “If it’s an activity we want to support as a city, then we need to find a location for it that doesn’t displace ongoing recreation.”

Barlow and others claim the city has been rushing the process, raising suspicions that the course’s installation is a fait accompli.

B’Town Disc Golf member Adam Quinn says the process has taken almost a year, and there’s been plenty of time for public input. Despite the opposition, he’s hopeful the group can allay concerns and have a course ready for this summer.

“Leddy Park is a great multi-use park with a lot of great recreational activities, with plenty of room for additional activity like disc golf,” said Quinn. Cities around the country have disc-golf courses in similar types of parks.

The next battle is Tuesday at the Gosse Court Armory. That’s when the disc-golf working group presents its findings to the Burlington Parks & Recreation Commission. A public hearing will follow. The full commission could rule on the proposal sometime in May.

Parks Commissioner Carolyn Hanson said the tenor of the opposition reminds her of initial public reaction to the concept of dog parks.

“At the time it was a huge controversy, and people made all sorts of false claims about the potential impact,” said Hanson, who remains neutral on disc golf. “And now, I think you can say it’s been one of the more successful things the parks department has done.”

Just beware, Burlington. Disc golf is said to encourage same-sex pairings, and even, gulp, multiple partners. What’s next? Man-dog teams? Cousins paired with cousins? Grandmothers and grandsons playing together?


Can You Handle the Truth, Mr. Leahy? — President Barack Obama’s decision to release several of the so-called “torture memos” last week has prompted a new round of support for U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy’s so-called “truth commission.”

Earlier this year Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggested Congress establish a “Commission of Inquiry” to bring members of the Bush administration to justice.

The Washington Post has now endorsed the concept, as did a Los Angeles Times columnist.

The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, slammed Leahy’s plan in an editorial and scared up former Bush officials Attorney General Michael Mukasey and CIA Director Michael Hayden to argue against it. No bias there, eh?

Two weeks ago, stories began circulating online that Leahy told a group of Vermonters his idea was dead in the water without GOP support. Last week, Leahy dispelled the notion he was giving up.

“I think we should proceed sooner rather than later. I am continuing to reach out and to work on the proposal,” said Leahy, adding the GOP has falsely labeled his approach as partisan. “But a conversation is not something I can undertake unilaterally.”

It won’t help Leahy’s case that a Tuesday report in The Hill named Leahy the “most partisan” of all 99 sitting senators. Who made the determination? His colleagues.



[GOP name here] v. Leahy ’10 — Earlier this month, a few Vermont listeners heard a U.S. Senate campaign ad for Republican Rich Tarrant on Q106-FM out of Claremont, N.H.

Whoa. Is Tarrant thinking of taking Leahy on in 2010?

The blog “Monday Morning Clacker” first reported rumors of a Tarrant v. Leahy match-up.

In his last race for a U.S. Senate seat, Tarrant, who cofounded IDX, lost by 33 points to Bernie Sanders (I-VT) despite spending $7.5 million of his personal fortune on the campaign. Has he got more free time and cash on hand?

In a word: no.

“I’m not going down that route again,” Tarrant said from his Florida home, dispelling any rumor he might take on Leahy.

The bad news is that the Tarrant ads aired as a result of a coding error, said Doug Welldon, the director of programming at Q106-FM, which is owned by Nassau Broadcasters. The good news is, Welldon received plenty of calls from listeners who heard them. Take that, Arbitron.

No word on who will challenge Leahy in 2010 despite his rank as the “most partisan” Democrat in the U.S. Senate.

As one GOP insider told “Fair Game”: There is “not much appetite on our team for taking on Leahy, who continues to be the most popular politician in the state.”


Nuclear Man Date? — Last week, a member of the anti-nuclear group New England Coalition tossed compost on the papers of federal regulators at a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearing in Brattleboro. The point? To express citizen outrage at the crappy job the feds have done at Vermont Yankee.

On Monday, the NEC took a more traditional approach in its effort to close down VY, asking Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell to investigate Department of Public Service Commissioner David O’Brien’s “off-duty” friendship with Vermont Yankee’s former vice president and top lobbyist Jay Thayer, and determine if it violates state ethics rules.

The NEC’s 14-page letter includes references to O’Brien’s holiday party attended by Thayer, news first reported in “Fair Game” on January 21. The Stowe Reporter ran a story a week later.

NEC claims O’Brien’s actions violate the state’s executive code of ethics because it creates “the appearance of a conflict of interest.” The code defines that term as the “impression that a reasonable person might have, after full disclosure of the facts, that an Appointee’s judgment might be significantly influenced by outside interests, even though there is no actual conflict of interest.”

In his defense, O’Brien told “Fair Game” back in January, “When it comes to utilities, I pound on them 364 days a year, and for one day a year we celebrate Christmas and the holidays, and the best part of it is, we don’t talk about business.”

Besides, Thayer had just moved to Stowe, and he and his wife wanted some tips on what to do with themselves. In Stowe. In the winter. Hmm.

Just after the party, O’Brien’s department released a consultant’s report claiming VY was good to go for another 20 years.

Thayer’s personal campaign contributions to the reelection bid of Gov. Jim Douglas is a further cause for alarm, the NEC claims.

A “Fair Game” search of the Secretary of State’s website identified $2000 in donations from Thayer and his wife to the governor’s 2008 campaign. They gave $400 in 2004.

Entergy was also the lead sponsor to the governor’s inaugural ball this year, kicking in $5000 to be the plutonium, er platinum, sponsor. Donations were diverted, after expenses, to the Vermont Foodbank.

Like O’Brien, Entergy was just being neighborly.


Troubled Waters — Burlington’s embattled waterfront manager Adam Cate is in the unemployment line — again.

Parks & Recreation Director Gross told “Fair Game” that Cate was fired on Friday. He declined to say what prompted Cate’s removal, citing personnel policy.

Gross fired Cate last June after he was caught reading employee emails and lying about it to city investigators. Police also investigated Cate after he told an employee to hide money from a city-owned safe.

Cate appealed Gross’ decision to the Parks & Recreation Commission, which conducted its own probe and reinstated Cate on November 20. The brouhaha became campaign fodder for opponents of Progressive Mayor Bob Kiss in Burlington’s recent mayoral race.

City Attorney Ken Schatz said Cate cannot appeal Gross’ decision this time, because Cate was on probation.

Wonder if the Parks & Rec commissioners will stand by their man — again?


Who Got Teabagged? — File this one in the category of “What Were They Thinking?” Last Wednesday, April 15, brought more than 300 people to a “tea party” on the Statehouse steps to protest higher taxes. A smaller group of about 30 asked the state to tax them more. Go figure.

Meanwhile, the House was debating a miscellaneous tax bill that included $24 million in new taxes — much of it income, and progressively benchmarked, but still … on Tax Day? Damn, that takes some cojones.

House Speaker Shap Smith told “Fair Game” that he had no qualms about bringing up the tax bill on Tax Day.

“We shouldn’t be hiding from the conversation on any day, and while some may think it’s bad PR to do it on Tax Day, I say there’s no better day to talk about it and talk about it in the open,” said Smith.

Montpelier rally organizer Jessica Bernier was disappointed that lawmakers didn’t seem to get the message. “It just means we have a lot more work to do to educate people and get them involved,” said the mom of three.

On the other side, first-year Rep. Kesha Ram (D-Burlington) sent this victorious Tweet after the House passed the tax bill and a message for the anti-tax “tea totalers”: “Voted to raise $24 million in revenue to close the budget gap and protect vital state services: 82-54. Steep that!”

We’ll know more about the health of the Vermont economy when state economists release their budget forecasts on Friday.

The news might call for something stronger than tea.

Got a news tip? Email Shay at [email protected]

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About The Author

Shay Totten

Shay Totten

Shay Totten wrote "Fair Game," a weekly political column, from April 2008-December 2011.


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