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Chittenden County

February 10, 2014

Essex Junction Considers New Land-Use Code to Prevent Unscrupulous Massage Parlors

Seiwa PhotoOn Tuesday, the Village of Essex Junction Board of Trustees will consider proposed changes to its land development code that would make it more difficult to open massage parlors that allow criminal activities on their premises. The measure, introduced by village trustee Elaine Sopchak, comes in response to revelations last year by Seven Days that at least three Chittenden County massage parlors, including the now-defunct Seiwa Spa in Essex Junction (seen right in a May 2013 photo), were allegedly offering sex for money, possibly by female workers who were the victims of human trafficking.

The proposal, scheduled for discussion at the board's February 11 meeting, would create a new section of the village's land development code that specifically targets massage establishments. According to Sopchak, the new code would define what constitutes a massage parlor and would require a public hearing before one may open, as well as routine inspections and an annually renewable business permit.

The new code would also place physical restrictions on such businesses, such as prohibiting sleeping quarters on the premises, banning locks on massage room doors and not allowing customers to enter and exit from the rear of the building. Sopchak, who's been working closely on the new code with Essex Police Chief Brad LaRose, said that many of the proposed changes are borrowed from a model ordinances developed by the Polaris Project, an international anti-human-trafficking group based in Washington, D.C.

Continue reading "Essex Junction Considers New Land-Use Code to Prevent Unscrupulous Massage Parlors" »

February 08, 2014

The Weekly 7: This Week in Vermont News

Weekly7

Each weekday, Seven Days scans the news across the Vermont media landscape to find the smartest, best and most compelling stories. We bundle them up in an email and send them out to our subscribers early each afternoon. It's called the Daily 7.

So which Vermont news stories are you reading? And which should you be reading? Here are the stories you clicked on most from this week's editions of the Daily 7:

 

#1Disharmony on Prospect Street: A Dispute Between Neighbors Strikes a Sour Note
By Alicia Freese, Seven Days — Wednesday, February 5

A feud between neighbors over a Burlington man's home guitar workshop has gone on for a year and a half and could reach the Vermont Supreme Court.

 

#2 Potent Synthetic Being Sold as Heroin Causes Three Vermont Deaths
By Taylor Dobbs, Vermont Public Radio — Thursday, February 6

The Department of Health says three people in Addison County died after overdosing on what they thought was heroin but was actually the prescription painkiller Fentanyl.

Continue reading "The Weekly 7: This Week in Vermont News" »

February 03, 2014

A Place on Burlington's Ballot Eludes a 'Lost Boy'

LM-peterdeng-MTPeter Garang Deng, a former “Lost Boy” from South Sudan, was poised to become the first refugee to seek elected office in Vermont. But the city clerk last week barred Deng from running for a seat on the Burlington school board because he failed to submit the required number of valid signatures on his candidate petition form.

“It’s very unfair,” Deng said after being notified of his disqualification. “They should be more welcoming of candidates.”

The 27-year-old employment counselor for the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program added that his disappointment is such that he’s unlikely to run for office in Vermont in the future. And that’s a potential loss for those who would like to see more racially diverse representation in the nation’s second-whitest state. (Only Maine is more monochromatic).

Burlington’s 16-member school board may be especially in need of a broader racial mix. There are no people of color on the board sets policy for a school district whose students are 30 percent nonwhite.

Continue reading "A Place on Burlington's Ballot Eludes a 'Lost Boy'" »

January 27, 2014

Candidates Declare for Seven Open Burlington City Council Seats

Two Republicans — one veteran and one newcomer — are seeking to hold onto their party’s meager presence on the Burlington City Council.

Monday marked the filing deadline for council hopefuls, meaning that the candidate pool for the seven open seats has solidified. Elections will be held on Town Meeting Day, March 4. 

Democrats and Republicans are vying for two seats in Ward 4 and Ward 7; if Democrats secure both, they would lay claim to all four New North End seats, leaving Republicans without representation on the council.

Democrats currently control seven seats on the 14-seat council, while Progressives hold four, Independents two and Republicans one. Two incumbent Democrats and one Republican opted to vacate their seats this spring rather than seek reelection.

Continue reading "Candidates Declare for Seven Open Burlington City Council Seats" »

Shumlin Names Fox's Widower, Michael Sirotkin, to Vermont Senate

Sirotkin.FoxGov. Peter Shumlin on Monday named South Burlington attorney and lobbyist Michael Sirotkin to replace his late wife, Sally Fox, in the Vermont Senate. 

Sirotkin was one of three candidates recommended to the governor last Wednesday by members of the Chittenden County Democratic Committee. The others were Williston Selectboard member Debbie Ingram and Burlington management consultant Dawn Ellis.

"There were several exceptional candidates interested in this Senate seat," Shumlin said in a written statement. "But Sally wanted her husband to fill her seat after her death, and recognizing Sirotkin's strong qualifications, I'm honoring that request. I'm confident that Michael will continue the great work Sally did for the district and the state."

Continue reading "Shumlin Names Fox's Widower, Michael Sirotkin, to Vermont Senate" »

January 24, 2014

Progressives Poised to Take Over Ward 1 Seat in Burlington City Council Race

600819_10150872857517031_1721988787_n(2)Progressive Selene Colburn (pictured at right) has all but secured a seat on the Burlington City Council. Her Democratic opponent for the open Ward 1 seat, Molly Loomis, has dropped out of the race.

Loomis’ exit likely clears the way for Progressives to at least retain their four seats on the 14-member council. They could claim a fifth, depending on what happens in Ward 2, where former Vermont Democratic Party spokesman Ryan Emerson is challenging Progressive Councilor Max Tracy.

Tracy is one of four Progressives currently serving on the council.  Democrats occupy seven seats, while independents hold two and Republicans one. Independent Councilor Sharon Bushor often votes alongside the Progressive caucus. 

Continue reading "Progressives Poised to Take Over Ward 1 Seat in Burlington City Council Race" »

January 23, 2014

A Lobbyist in the Legislature? How Sirotkin Would Segue to the Senate

SirotkinThere's no shortage of teachers, lawyers and retirees serving in the Vermont legislature. But just what would happen if one of Montpelier's top lobbyists — a co-owner and namesake of one of its most influential firms — were to join the Vermont Senate? 

That's the question many in the Capitol are pondering as Gov. Peter Shumlin appears likely to appoint Michael Sirotkin to a vacant Chittenden County Senate seat.

As the widower of the late Sen. Sally Fox, whose seat he would fill, Sirotkin would, in many ways, be a natural pick. But as a contract lobbyist with a three-decade history of influencing his (potential) peers, his appointment could raise some novel questions.

Recognizing that, Sirotkin says that, if appointed, "I would be resigning from my practice immediately." 

And he wouldn't simply serve out Fox's term in a caretaker role, then return to lobbying. If appointed, he says, "I would most likely run in 2014."

Nor would he remain an owner of Sirotkin & Necrason. "I would not seek to retain an interest in my firm," he says.

But even if he severed all ties with the lobby shop, would Sirotkin not feel some residual loyalty to his former partners and clients? Would it be difficult to make the transition?

"There would be some challenges. I think not as many as people would think," he says. "Of course, most of the people I've advocated for directly are grassroots kinds of interests, and those are the kinds of interests I'm most interested in."

Continue reading "A Lobbyist in the Legislature? How Sirotkin Would Segue to the Senate" »

January 22, 2014

Updated: Fox's Widower, Michael Sirotkin, Expresses "Interest" in Her Senate Seat

SirotkinUpdated below with news that former Vermont Democratic Party chairman Jake Perkinson and Rep. Kesha Ram (D-Burlington) have dropped out and endorsed Sirotkin. Rep. Tim Jerman (D-Essex Junction), meanwhile, says he will stay in the race. Gov. Shumlin says he's "thrilled" Sirotkin is interested.

In a move likely to upend the contest to fill a Chittenden County state senate seat opened up by the death of Sally Fox, her husband of 36 years says he's interested in succeeding her.

Michael Sirotkin, a longtime lobbyist and well-known figure in Montpelier, wrote Chittenden County Democratic Party chairman David Scherr late Tuesday to raise the possibility.

"Please accept this letter as an indication of my interest in being appointed to Sally's Senate seat," Sirotkin wrote. "Sally had months ago expressed an interest in my doing so, although clearly our first preference was always that the choice would never present itself. After much soul searching and encouragement from others, I decided I would welcome the opportunity if given such honor by your Committee and the Governor."

Sirotkin's decision comes just hours before an 80-member committee of Chittenden County Democrats is set to winnow the field to three candidates, whose names will be forwarded to Gov. Peter Shumlin. The governor is free to appoint a replacement from that list, or he can select his own candidate. 

Continue reading "Updated: Fox's Widower, Michael Sirotkin, Expresses "Interest" in Her Senate Seat" »

January 21, 2014

Donovan Says He Won't Challenge Sorrell for Attorney General in 2014

TJ DonovanAfter months of deliberation, Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan has decided he won't challenge Attorney General Bill Sorrell to a rematch this year.

"In the final analysis, I came to the conclusion it's not the right time for me personally and professionally," Donovan said Monday. 

Instead, the two-term county prosecutor said, "It's likely that I'll run again for state's attorney."

In August 2012, Donovan (pictured at right) came within 714 votes of unseating Sorrell, who was first appointed to the post in 1997. The unusual and remarkably bitter primary pitted against one another two Burlington Democrats from interconnected families. Ever since, the 40-year-old Donovan has publicly and privately hinted that he might give the 66-year-old incumbent another run for his money. 

But last week, Donovan said, he finally decided against it.

"I've been struggling with it for quite some time," he said. "Literally my mind would change every morning when I woke up. I'd feel one way one day and the next day I'd feel another way. And, you know, I had to make a decision, so I did."

Continue reading "Donovan Says He Won't Challenge Sorrell for Attorney General in 2014" »

January 16, 2014

A Crowded Field Emerges to Replace Fox in the Senate

At least five Democrats are campaigning to fill a Chittenden County Senate seat opened up last week by the death of Sen. Sally Fox. 

The candidates include two incumbent House members, a former state party chairman, a major philanthropist and the runner-up in the 2012 race to represent Vermont's most populous county. More contenders could yet emerge.

While the decision ultimately rests with Gov. Peter Shumlin, he is likely to choose from a list of candidates — typically three — sent to him by the Chittenden County Democratic Committee. That group plans to meet next Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Fletcher Free Library to make its selection.

All five declared candidates have been calling and emailing the 80 county committee members eligible to vote. Only members who live within the district — which includes most of the county, but excludes Colchester, Huntington and Buel's Gore — can cast a ballot.

So who's running? Here's the list, thus far, in alphabetical order: 

Continue reading "A Crowded Field Emerges to Replace Fox in the Senate" »

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