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Fair Game

Bernie Sanders

Published November 25, 2008 at 9:19 p.m.

Fair Game is Seven Days’ weekly political column.

In the classic 1954 movie On the Waterfront, Father Barry (Karl Malden) tells Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) what ails the waterfront: “You want to know what’s wrong with our waterfront? It’s the love of a lousy buck.”

The “lousy buck” may have played a role in the strange and secretive case of city waterfront supervisor Adam Cate.

Cate, a 17-year city employee, was suspended with pay in June by Wayne Gross, the city’s top parks official. City officials have never revealed Cate’s transgressions, citing personnel policies that forbid the release of that information. Nor will they say if any other employees were reprimanded, suspended or terminated in connection with the case.

The city paid two separate investigators — James Cronin and Nell Coogan — a total of $10,700 to investigate claims against Cate. Their confidential report was presented to the city parks commission in late October, and the investigators held a daylong secret hearing on November 14. A week later, the commission cleared Cate and gave him his job back.

That outraged Erin Moreau, the employee who, according to her attorney John Franco, had turned in Cate. Not bound by the city’s personnel policies, she has permitted Franco to talk publicly about her allegations, believing taxpayers should know about the serious issues that were investigated.

According to Franco, the case began when Cate boasted of his ability to access the email accounts of two city employees — former parks manager Ben Pacy, now assistant chief administrator, and Bill Rasch, vice president of the city employee’s union and head of the union division representing parks employees.

No word on what Cate was looking for in the emails, or what he found. City Councilor Kurt Wright and others believe it may be related to an intradepartmental feud about the future of the parks department — whether it should merge with another department, be reorganized internally, or left as is.

Moreau told her father about the emails and, fearing she was going to get caught in the political crossfire, contacted Franco, who, in turn, went to Ken Schatz in the city attorney’s office.

When Cate was told he was being put on administrative leave while the city investigated Moreau’s allegations, he allegedly told her to take the contents of the Boathouse safe and put it in her car. She instead went to city officials, sparking a separate probe by Burlington police into whether Cate was embezzling money.

Police eventually dropped the case without charging Cate. But, according to Franco, during the investigation, cash turned up in the safe more than once along with Post-It notes saying, in effect, “Here’s the money I owe.” Franco said he’s not sure how the money and the notes found their way into the safe.

Cate’s attorney Sheldon Katz isn’t interested in retrying his client’s case, given that he was cleared of all charges.

“I think he was frustrated while it was going on as to its length,” Katz said. “He’s happy the way it turned out and happy to be back at work. He’s trying to move forward and continue doing a good job for the city and his fellow employees.”

Not all employees are excited about his return. Franco said Moreau is worried about returning to work for Cate.

Rasch said that Monday, when Cate returned to his duties, “was a very turbulent and stressful day at the parks department for a lot of people.”

That turbulence may continue. While the city was right to take its time to investigate an embezzlement claim, given a recent incident in which a city parking garage manager stole tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars, Wright wants to know why the Cate investigation took so long. He also wants a full accounting of the money spent on the investigation.

Something tells me we’ve barely scratched the surface of this story.


Marriage Proposal — Gov. Jim Douglas isn’t backing down from his claim that lawmakers should spend all of their time in Montpelier come January on the state’s budgetary woes, rather than debating same-sex marriage.

During a Montpelier press conference last week, the gov reiterated his election-season claim that civil unions are, in his view, just fine and dandy. He stopped short of saying he’d veto a bill, only that he doesn’t support one.

Despite Douglas’ hesitance, State Sen. John Campbell (D-Windsor) will introduce the same-sex-marriage bill — as he has in past sessions.

“He just doesn’t want to make the decision to veto the bill,” Campbell said, “so he hopes that by saying he doesn’t like it, that the legislature will not take it up.”

Beth Robinson of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force said Douglas shouldn’t sell the legislature short on handling more than one issue at a time.

“Doing so won’t cost a penny, won’t distract from other vitally important objectives and, if anything, will help Vermont’s economy by giving businesses a competitive advantage and by supporting our tourism industry,” Robinson said.

Vermonters continue to show support for same-sex marriage. A recent Macro poll found that more than 58 percent of 400 surveyed Vermonters support it; only 39 percent said they oppose it.

Those numbers don’t seem to faze Douglas.

“My major concern and priority is the fiscal condition of our state government and the economic realities that we’re confronting,” he told Vermont Public Radio. “And I think it’s important that we make those our top priorities.”

Campbell wonders if that means nixing proposed changes to the state’s sex-offender laws. It seemed like a top priority for Douglas during the gubernatorial campaign, he said.

In fact, Douglas supported a special session just to address sex-offender laws.


Time to Go on a Diet — More people have stopped me on the street or emailed about the governor’s $54-a-day meal allowance than about any other “Fair Game” item in recent memory.

Most people said they could do very well for themselves — and their families — on such a savory per diem. And they probably don’t get free meals when they give a speech.

So, as food shelves around the state scramble to bring in enough food for families struggling to feed their kids, I wondered how much the average food-stamp recipient receives in Vermont. Was it more than the gov gets? Less?

Sitting down?

The average recipient gets $93.02 a month, or roughly $1.03 per person per meal.

Governors Jennifer Granholm of Michigan and Ted Kulongoski of Oregon — along with dozens of state and federal officials — have taken up the Food Stamp Diet, agreeing to live on food-stamp rations for a week.

Think Vermont’s governor could give up rubber chicken and roast beef for a week?

Douglas may not follow the lead of his compatriots, but he certainly stacks up well against them salary-wise. Douglas, who makes more than $143,000, is the 10th highest-paid governor in the country. That doesn’t include his meal allowance of more than $14,000, nor his free transportation.

Granted, we don’t give Douglas a governor’s mansion, like many other states do, but that’s still not a bad wage for such a small state. The average salary for a governor in 2007 was $124,398, according to, a project of the Pew Center on the States.

The highest paid governor — if he took his annual paycheck — would be California’s Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, at $206,500 a year. He gives his check back to the state. So does Democratic Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen. New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, also a Dem, accepts an annual salary of $1.

Top 10 is pretty good for a governor who grumbles about Vermont’s taxes and government spending.

Maybe they’re not so bad after all, eh?


Green Mountain Muscle — There’s been plenty of chatter about Sen. Patrick Leahy’s rise in the senatorial ranks.

With retirements and incumbent defeats, Leahy will be the fourth most senior member of the U.S. Senate in the next Congress, and, come December, the longest-serving senator in Vermont history. It seems like only yesterday that Leahy was a 34-year-old state’s attorney.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, too, is rising in the ranks. Elected to the Senate in 2006, he will rank 78th in seniority. He could rise even higher if recounts under way in Minnesota and Georgia give Senate seats to Democrats.

On the House side, Democrat Rep. Peter Welch is already a force in the caucus. He played a key role in the insurgency led by Rep. Henry Waxman, the California Democrat, to oust House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Rep. John Dingell (D-MI).

Welch said the vote that ended Dingell’s tenure as chair was not a sign of disrespect. “It was the caucus listening to the voters’ call for change,” Welch said, “particularly on global warming and the environment.”

Welch was one of a handful of lawmakers Waxman asked to be part of his “campaign team” after the election. Welch served on Waxman’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in his first term.

“Rep. Waxman called me the day after the election and asked me if I would help him, and that was followed by a telephone conference call by about a half-dozen members,” Welch recalled.

He said Waxman will move aggressively on global warming, health-care reform and telecommunications — key priorities of the Obama administration.

One prominent environmentalist says Waxman’s election is welcome news.

“This strikes me as one of the most significant things that’s happened on global warming in 20 years of American politics — admittedly, not a high bar,” author and global-warming guru Bill McKibben said in an email to “Fair Game.”

“John Dingell represents everything go-slow, obstructionist and status quo about our environmental policy,” McKibben wrote, “and Waxman, that 69-year-old whippersnapper, will, I think, really throw down and see what’s possible. It’s change I can believe in.”


Who’s the Most Liberal of Them All? — To the outside world, Vermont is a hotbed of leftist politics. But Vermonters know that “liberal” comes in two flavors — Democrats and Progressives — and that the legendary conflicts between them continue to deliver a Republican to the governor’s office.

That conflict was center stage during the 2008 election. In Burlington, two progressive-minded Democrats were elected to office; one ousted a Progressive incumbent and the other beat a more moderate Dem in the September primary.

In two House races this fall in which Democrats, Progressives and Republicans all ran candidates, the Republican won.

To find out if it’s possible to bury the hatchet, Seven Days is hosting a special debate on December 4 at 7 p.m. at the Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center in Burlington.

We’ll be putting some tough questions about Prog/Dem relations to the panelists: Rep. David Zuckerman; Rep. Johanna Leddy Donovan; Burlington City Councilor Jane Knodell; and Burlington Democratic Party Chair Jake Perkinson.

They may not all walk out singing “Kumbaya” or agree to political détente, but the occasion — free and open to the public — should make for good political theater.

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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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