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November 20, 2009

Full Text of Auditor Tom Salmon's Speech

Auditor Tom Salmon Speaks On Government Transparency and Personal Responsibility

As Dickens wrote: “It was the best of times ... it was the worst of times.” This press conference is dedicated to warrior within all of us.

Thank you all for coming ... Vermonters ...

Today is a day for facts, transparency and clarity. One of the main reasons is because after today, I will not be available for comments on certain issues until after December 3.

On Transparency:
I’ve made myself available- have fielded lots of questions over the past several weeks. Some would say I took too many … but as a statewide elected official, I need to be questioned, transparent, and available. My position as auditor is charged with holding  people, agencies and departments accountable for spending taxpayer dollars. I get lots of questions ... one of the most unique, “Do you believe in God?”  Of course I believe. I need faith to do my job, in order to say what I mean and mean what I say as a public servant and a Vermonter, unafraid of any issue or any person.

Speaking of being unafraid,  many accept that Vermont’s financial situation will require new thinking, brave action, cooperation and a transparency — at  levels not known in recent years. Paul Cillo and I met a few weeks back and he wrote in a recent e-mail:

“Last (but not least), I would like to talk more with you about how we can work together on state fiscal transparency.  My biggest problem with the budget decision-making currently underway is how poor the data and analysis are.  Whatever direction the state takes should be based on solid data and analysis with the kind of performance evaluation you have been promoting.  There are steps the state can take and that you could help to promote that would substantially improve the state's fiscal policy discussions.”

In fact, his organization and the Ethan Allen Institute have teamed up to create for the betterment of Vermont. We all want a stronger Vermont.

Looking ahead to the next legislative session I’m optimistic. I applaud the efforts I have witnessed this off-season by City of Montpelier to strengthen transparency, the legislature and Administration, I applaud the Fiscal Update put on by the Senate President Pro Tem and Speaker of the House in the chamber this week, I applaud Sen. Shumlin – bringing attention and concern to the upcoming $88 million deficit.  Also, I applaud Speaker Smith and Secretary  Lunderville who have supported the efforts of the  Bi-Partisan Joint  Legislative  Accountability Committee working with the Public Strategies Group and Tiger Team initiatives to foster a response to this crisis.

On Personal Responsibility:
My mission today is to be professional, objective and honest about the events about the last two weeks, or last two decades for that matter, since I have the audience. I am grateful for the opportunity today.

As I said to a member of VSEA. I acknowledge that people are angry. People want fairness in Vermont.

And everyone … everyone knows its important to get the facts.

People are starving for the truth and leadership.

Who is your Auditor, Vermont?

I am Thomas. M. Salmon, not a junior. Born and raised and a proud graduate of BFUHS 1981. Extremely grateful for the community there and my parents. Childhood in Bellows Falls was typical small town Vermont. Played football, delivered papers, pumped gas, worked on the loading dock at St. J trucking, drove a truck at the last functioning papermill.

After college in Boston, moved to Hartford and then Los Angeles. Next significant event was marriage in 1990, at the city hall. Hope to have a real wedding in Vermont someday.

In 1992 as a salesman for ADP payroll services, the LA riots hit and much of my territory, South Central LA and Korea town was burned and disrupted. I was there … I heard ... I saw ... I smelled the burning buildings and people yelling: “No justice ... no peace.”

It was time to move on. I took a 50 percent pay cut to work in East Los Angeles. I taught during the next 10 years while becoming a licensed teacher, CPA, foster parents, worked in a group home, enlisted in the Navy Reserves, drove a tour bus, etc.

In 1999 my wife and young family had such good credit that I attained a $20,000 unsecured loan.

In 2000, I joined the US Navy Reserves. With the core values of Honor, Courage and Commitment, it was clearly one of the best things I have ever done. Within a year and a half, Sept. 11, 2001, would rock the world. I was driving to work when I heard the news. Response: Went to work and opened my classroom and helped those middle school students navigate that strange day.  A few days later, I remember saying to my wife, “I’m going somewhere warm someday. Keep your eye out for an Iraqi cookbook.”

Two months later, nearly eight years ago today, a significant investment would dramatically drop in value due to fraud and deceit. (see a handout- Enron, etc.) My wife and I and our young family were broke overnight. No victim here, it was a risky investment strategy and I made a mistake. My response: I made payments and at one point I had four jobs including teaching, accounting work, driving a bus and tutoring but could not keep up.  We fell behind, as a Burlington-based reporter investigated, and were eventually able to pay our debts — which you confirm — and clean up our credit to nearly 1999 levels. Again, I also have a handout with some additional verification of my dealing with it, rather than claiming bankruptcy.

The next big challenge requiring personal responsibility was in 2004. I was community service director as SEVCA. The State came in and told us that a division separate from mine, in the agency, had been losing money at such a pace, the bleeding would have to stop and $100,000 in salaries would need be cut. I was laid off that Friday. Response: It was painful, I was on Vermont Unemployment and I found work at a reduced salary. It is demoralizing and you have to get back in the game. Your life depends on it.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina. I was so moved by my time in Mississippi before and after the hurricane, and not happy that government was doing so poorly in managing and taking care of its people. Response: I decided I would run for elected office no matter what the outcome or if there would be weeks like this.

2006: I ran for Selectboard in Rockingham and history shall record I helped make a bad situation better. I ran for Auditor because I felt the state could foster stronger fiscal management in the communities.

My job at the time was at the Department of Labor. Under federal Hatch act Law. Response:  I had to resign and work two other jobs to run for Auditor. I had a dollar in my pocket the day I was sworn in.

2008:  The next test was being deployed in 2008 to Iraq with my fellow Seabeas and potentially losing my job as Auditor due to DOD 1344.10, which prevents me from being on the ballot without the Secretary of the Navy’s permission. Set to ship out on June 22, 2008, I received word through Senator Leahy’s office less than a week before. I’m very grateful to the Senator. Our family’s response to that unemployment threat was to move our family out of Bellows Falls into a third floor apartment on Main Street in St. Johnsbury. For 16 months we lived there and on October 1, 2009, we moved into our new house in St. J that costs $63,000.

I returned home in March 19, 2009, to St. J from Iraq. When you are a returning warrior, you know that things may make you angry such as someone wearing their hat during the National Anthem. Something was different, though. I touched on it Monday about anger about progress (or lack of it)  in the US, but let me be clearer about a deployment:

For nine or 12 months or more, service members are on mission, not concerned for themselves, working for the United States of America. They do not sway due to difficulty, and they fight for the freedom of others - their families, parents, coaches teachers, mentors, employers. When you are in a combat zone, the last thing you think you are entitled to — or focused upon — is freedom. Freedom is what you give toward, commit to, fight for ... not what you expect to be handed to you.

So in a military setting, the more difficult the situation, the more focused mission.  When I came home, I saw first hand all kinds of people interested in only their piece of the pie, their agenda, despite the realities of the general difficulties. It’s as though, instead of us looking a one TV as a family, everyone wants their own. One thing that makes me think of it;  When you go to Best Buy or Walmart and you see multiple screens and groups of people just looking at their own screen.  We have got to get on the same screen/same page somehow in Vermont, and that is why I was so pleased with the off-season work fostering transparency and teamwork by the folks in Montpelier (under the Gold Dome).

When I came home from Iraq I perceived a larger sense of selfishness by the people, My response: I was outspoken on issues where people did not work together, or not on a collaborative mission.  I did see a lot of people angry about fairness. Fairness is an entitlement we should expect from our leaders and fellow citizens. I used to say to my students, “If I am fair and you are honest, we will be very productive.”

People were also angry at me because I had refused a 5 percent pay cut — instead donating $4,750 to two community action agencies- (see handout) saying it was not a solution to a much larger problem.

Aristotle teaches us well about anger: 

"Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way — that is not easy."

Now finally, personal responsibility and last Friday night.

Let me reiterate the same message:

"It's a very painful situation. I'm very angry with myself and I've apologized to my family and my supporters. I screwed up. I made a mistake. I'm going to face punishment like any other Vermonter for my mistakes and go forward," Salmon told Channel 3.

Last Friday I broke the law.

On Monday I said publicly that I expect on Dec. 3 to look Vermonters and a judge in the eye and say I made a mistake, I am guilty, and I expect to be held accountable like anyone else, and move forward.

On Nov. 24, my license will be suspended.

On Dec 3, I will face the judge and plead guilty to DUI-1.

The State Police officer did his job and did it well.

I didn’t do my job as a citizen complying with laws. Now its time to be held accountable.

Thank you all very much for coming. “These are the best of times, these are the worst of times.”

I will now take questions, from the press as well as the public.

Please ask all of them now, as I will not make public statements on this issue until Dec. 3. When I leave, I am walking straight through the crowd and back to work to do the job Vermonters elected me to do.

Way too much confession going on here. TMI. It's a little bizarre, actually.

Don't blame me. I voted for Brock.

Think Tom Salmon and Burlington Telecom are Vermont's only political scandals?

Here's another one for you:

(The nub: Planning Commissioner Bruce Baker's claim of legal "home occupation" fails the laugh test.)

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