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Letters to the Editor 

Lawn Signs are Illegal

[Re: “WTF: Why Do 21st-Century Political Campaigns Still Rely on Lawn Signs?” September 29]

Scene: Outside a Vermont polling place.

Date: Election night

Pollster: Excuse me, ma’am?

Voter: Yes?

Pollster: We’re conducting an exit poll. Who did you vote for in the gubernatorial race?

Voter: Mr. Dubie got my vote.

Pollster: May I ask what influenced you to vote for this candidate?

Voter: Of course. He did a real nice job blanketing my town with his little signs next to the roads. And I think he chose a nice shade of green for his background color.

Pollster: Ahh, thank you.

C’mon, do we really think these signs work just because candidates use them? Let’s give ourselves a little more credit than that. Not only do these signs detract from the natural beauty of our communities, but the majority are illegal (http://vermont-elections.org/elections1/political_signs.html). Funny, our politicians can make the laws; they just don’t find it convenient to follow them.

Andy Freeman

Williston

Just a Tase

Let’s all thank Judith Levine for keeping the discussion about the use of Tasers by Vermont’s law enforcement where it needs to be: front and center [“Poli Psy,” September 29]. Thomas Szasz, professor of psychiatry emeritus at the SUNY Health Science Center in Syracuse, once wrote, “Coercion is the threat or use of force to compel the other’s submission. If it is legally authorized, we call it ‘law enforcement’; if it is not, we call it ‘crime.’”

Despite the fact that public policy and departmental procedures restrict Taser use to situations where it can be an alternative to more lethal force — a firearm — to subdue dangerous suspects, police officers continue to employ Tasers as a means of coercion, and to gain compliance from nonaggressive individuals. One recent Barre City case Levine did not mention involved a mentally ill person who was seeking help at the time that he was Tasered and arrested by Barre City Police. A judge quickly dismissed the case.

Public Safety Commissioner Tom Tremblay, who has recently requested 250 Tasers for use by the state police, is on record saying that he believes “punishment is an important part of the state’s response to crime” — punishment, it appears, that can and is administered by the police, without a trial, for merely failing to be obedient.

Theodore A. Hoppe

Montpelier

Tasers Are Traceable

I’m reading this article and really learning quite a bit about the Taser controversy on both the state and local levels [“Poli Psy,” September 29]. I’m a geek at heart and have been periodically reading articles about the science that goes into building those devices. One correction, though: You called using a taser untraceable, which with many modern police Tasers, including the X26, is untrue. Each device uses “cartridges” instead of bullets, and each cartridge contains several pieces of confetti, each of which has the serial number of the device that fired the shot. They’re called anti-felon confetti ID tags, aka “AFIDs.” This is the equivalent of gunshot residue for a Taser.

Brian Swichkow

South Burlington

Thanks, Seven Days

We want you to know how appreciative Big Heavy World and 105.9 The Radiator are for Seven Days’ Burlington Bands 101 event. It was a perfect lineup of local musical talent that everyone should know about, and you were wonderful to support us with it.

You don’t need a grassroots, volunteer-staffed organization to tell you this, but you do a powerful job of uplifting the Vermont music community that we care about. Vermont is lucky to have Seven Days as an ally for its arts and culture, reflecting its high quality, diversity and value to your readers.

Thanks for recognizing and reinforcing how important music is to Vermonters. And thanks again for sending love our way with Burlington Bands 101!

James Lockridge

Burlington

Lockridge is executive director of the Big Heavy World Foundation and 105.9 The Radiator — both beneficiaries of Seven Days’ recent Burlington Bands 101 event.

Unfair and Out of Balance

I have read Seven Days since the beginning, and generally approve of your coverage, particularly as the Burlington Free Press withers on the vine, dying at the hands of its corporate master. But the attack on Mary O’Neil is beneath you, and represents the worst in “alternative journalism.” Your story “The Preservation Police” [September 22] amounts to a personal attack on a devoutly dedicated public employee charged with enforcing rules created by several generations of policy makers. And so, for doing her job ethically and professionally, by scrupulously following the zoning laws, she draws the ire of those who seek shortcuts, or who seek to enrich themselves while diminishing the community. Aesthetics matter, and if we wish to maintain the architectural heritage that makes Burlington unique, then “zealots” like Mrs. O’Neil should be lauded, not lampooned. (The cover was particularly vicious, and wholly unnecessary.)

And it struck me as particularly odd that by your own admission, a small fraction of plans before the city are actually rejected; the overall tenor of the piece obviously and strongly suggests otherwise. Comments in support of Mrs. O’Neil, the “balance” in the story, were minimized, buried well into the jump, and a seeming afterthought that occupied roughly 25 percent of the overall material in your piece. That’s simply unfair reporting.

No one who has such a job can escape public criticism. The disgruntled are a reporter’s best friends, to be sure. But instead of offering readers a sensational, personality-driven hatchet job (including the use of unnamed sources), we all might have been better off with a more reasoned, responsible story that sought to explore the role of Mrs. O’Neil’s office and its struggle to preserve our community’s architectural integrity. But maybe the commitment to integrity — be it architectural, political or journalistic — is in short supply everywhere these days.  

John Ferris

Essex Junction

Sorry Survey

We see it all the time: Journalists have an idea and then write a story to support it, regardless of where the evidence actually leads. For all its irksome faults, Seven Days tends to be pretty evidence-based. And in the drowsy world of Vermont journalism, its reporters have the appearance of comparative vigor and tenacity. So it was disappointing, this spring, to see a lengthy feature story flail and flop in devotion to a failed idea [“Survey Says...” March 17].

That idea — a poll of legislators et al. in Montpelier — must have sounded great when it was pitched in an editorial meeting, but when only about 30 of 400 surveys were returned, a responsible media outlet would have killed the story. Why? Because such a response rate ensures unscientific and therefore necessarily inaccurate and skewed results. But Seven Days decided the idea mattered more than its effective execution, and the story ran.

I hadn’t thought much about this in a while, until this morning, when I heard Paula Routly on Vermont Public Radio. I guess I had imagined that Seven Days regarded this whole episode with some regret. But after listening to Routly, I now understand that Seven Days not only defends the story but is also 100 percent clueless about why anyone should be upset about it. Of course, Dubie is using Seven Days’ vanity poll to score political points in his gubernatorial race against the “most ethically challenged” Shumlin — an entirely predictable outcome that Routly claimed to not see coming. I don’t know what’s more depressing: that Seven Days published such an irresponsible and petty story, or that Paula Routly continues to believe her paper has done nothing wrong.

Darren Higgins

Waterbury

Routly Responds:

Our inaugural legislative survey made its way back into the news last week because the Republican Governors Association referenced it in negative ads slamming Democrat candidate Peter Shumlin. The senator pro tem was voted the “most ethically challenged” by the legislators, lobbyists and Statehouse staffers we polled earlier this year. A disappointing 30 — of 400 — completed the anonymous survey.

Although we went to great lengths to qualify the “results” when we published them last March, the attack ads — not surprisingly — have included none of those contextual disclaimers. Critics, especially Democrat operatives, are charging that it was irresponsible to publish findings from such a paltry sample, and that Seven Days deserves some blame for the way in which the Republicans are manipulating the information. To clarify:

•The intention of the survey — published during a week devoted to government accessibility — was to ask elected officials to evaluate each other for the benefit of voters who rarely get to see them in action. That we were thwarted from delivering 100 of the 400 surveys to legislative staff gave the story an ironic twist.

•All the winners had a chance to respond, including Shumlin, who shrugged it off: “That’s just people who are probably mad at me for killing a bill or two,” he told reporter Andy Bromage. “The nature of my job is that you give people bad news.” Amen.

•Should we have seen this coming, five months before the primary? How about: Should we have killed the survey, knowing the information contained therein might hurt Shumlin’s campaign? Once we tallied the votes, we were damned if we published them, and damned if we didn’t. We chose to be transparent. Unlike the angry mob of partisan bloggers attacking us, Seven Days is not an arm of a political party.

•We borrowed the survey concept from award-winning weeklies in Portland, Ore., and Minneapolis, Minn., and see its potential to be an informative, illuminating and — gasp — entertaining addition to our annual Statehouse coverage. We’re open to suggestions about how to tweak it for better results next time around.

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