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February 10, 2014

Video: Shumlin Talks Heroin on ABC's 'This Week'

Gov. Peter Shumlin made his Sunday morning talk show debut this weekend with an appearance on ABC's "This Week."

The topic? You guessed it: Vermont's "full-blown heroin crisis."

Shumlin appeared with guest host Martha Raddatz, ABC News correspondent Dr. Richard Besser and journalist Seth Mnookin, who wrote last week in Slate about his own struggle with heroin addiction. The segment segued from actor Philip Seymour Hoffman's death by heroin overdose last week to Shumlin's State of the State address, in which he focused on Vermont's "growing epidemic" of opiate abuse.

Here's the video (and here's the transcript):

February 06, 2014

Media Note: With Campaign Finance Database, VTDigger Puts the State to Shame

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Who donated the most money to State Treasurer Beth Pearce's first bid for public office in 2012? Which Vermont politicians took campaign cash from tobacco giant Philip Morris during the last election cycle? How much money did renewable energy entrepreneur David Blittersdorf pump into Vermont politics in 2012?

Before this week, those questions were pretty tough to answer.*

To arrive at the first, you'd have to sift through seven PDFs (from seven reporting deadlines) of often handwritten disclosure forms, some as much as 12 pages long. To answer the second, you'd have to do the same as the first for each of the 205 candidates who reported fundraising activities last election. And to answer the third, you'd have to do the same as the second, but you'd also have to keep an eye out for all the entities through which Blittersdorf makes campaign contributions.

Now you don't. And that's thanks to nonprofit news organization VTDigger — not the state of Vermont.

Continue reading "Media Note: With Campaign Finance Database, VTDigger Puts the State to Shame" »

January 28, 2014

Allegations Against Vermont Public Television CEO at Heart of Board Intrigue

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VPT president and CEO John King

Many of the allegedly secret meetings that have landed Vermont Public Television's board of directors in hot water with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting were held to discuss allegations made by a former employee against VPT president and CEO John King, according to several people involved with the situation.

The former employee, who spoke to Seven Days on the condition of anonymity, said she told then-board vice chairwoman Pam Mackenzie in February 2012 that King had directed sexually harassing remarks at her when she worked for the station. She also accused him of engaging in questionable practices in fundraising and the use of grant money. 

King vigorously disputes all of the charges, saying they were investigated and "found to be unsubstantiated."

The allegations prompted board members to engage an independent human resources firm — Shelburne-based Church, Engle & Associates — in March 2012 to investigate the former employee's charges. As the board weighed the allegations, its executive committee met repeatedly without providing notice to the public, according to records of the meetings obtained by Seven Days. In April 2012 alone, according to those records, the executive committee met seven times behind closed doors.

Continue reading "Allegations Against Vermont Public Television CEO at Heart of Board Intrigue" »

January 24, 2014

Media Note: Preliminary Review Finds that VPT Board Held Closed-Door Meetings

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Left to right: VPT board members Patricia Sabalis, Tom Pelletier and Lorilee Lawton

As we reported in this week's Fair Game, Vermont Public Television is facing a Corporation for Public Broadcasting investigation into whether the station's board of directors violated federal open meetings law. 

On Friday, the chairman of the VPT board's audit committee, Tom Pelletier, said that a preliminary review conducted by his panel found that the board has, indeed, held closed-door meetings. Pelletier announced the findings at an audit committee meeting held at the station's Colchester headquarters.

"VPT's preliminary review indicates that the VPT board has, from time to time, held conference calls or committee meetings that were not open to the public, in order to address various personnel matters," said Pelletier, who is president and CEO of Northfield Bank. "These meetings were conducted internally because VPT, like many organizations, does not publicly discuss personnel matters."

While such closed-door meetings are permissible if properly warned and documented, Pelletier acknowledged that VPT's board did not always follow proper procedure. 

Continue reading "Media Note: Preliminary Review Finds that VPT Board Held Closed-Door Meetings" »

December 19, 2013

Media Note: Seven Days Hires VTDigger Reporter Alicia Freese

Alicia.FreeseSeven Days has hired VTDigger's Alicia Freese to join its expanding news team, the Burlington weekly announced Thursday. 

According to Seven Days coeditor Jeff Good, Freese will join Kevin J. Kelley in covering the city of Burlington and will "fan out into the neighborhoods and explore the issues of health care and higher education as they play out in the lives of people who live and work in and around the city."

A Tunbridge native and 2010 graduate of Pomona College, Freese joined VTDigger as an editorial assistant in September 2012, before working her way up to full-time reporter. During the 2013 legislative session, Freese covered education and human services in the Statehouse. She has since covered statewide politics and health care. 

Continue reading "Media Note: Seven Days Hires VTDigger Reporter Alicia Freese" »

December 11, 2013

Media Note: Condensed USA Today Editions Coming to the Burlington Free Press

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Like USA Today AND the Burlington Free Press? If so, Gannett has a deal for you!

The Virginia-based media company announced today that it's inserting condensed versions of its flagship newspaper into 35 local dailies, including the Burlington Free Press. The so-called "Butterfly" edition of USA Today runs about 10 pages, up to 22 on Sundays, and is already active in four markets (here's the memo USA Today's publisher wrote when the pilot project was announced in September). The Freeps and 30 other local papers will get theirs beginning in early 2014.

Continue reading "Media Note: Condensed USA Today Editions Coming to the Burlington Free Press" »

December 09, 2013

Media Note: WCAX's Kristin Carlson Decamps to Green Mountain Power

Kristin CarlsonWorcester native Kristin Carlson got her first gig at WCAX-TV as an intern after her junior year at Syracuse University. When she graduated the next year, she recalls, she phoned then-news director Marselis Parsons, who offered her a job on the spot.

"I never even had to put together a resume," she says.

Now, 14 years later, Carlson is leaving Channel 3 to join the state's electricity behemoth, Green Mountain Power. The company on Monday named Carlson its next "media director." She'll replace executive Steve Terry, who is retiring for the second time as director of GMP's communications shop.

"I've only ever worked for Channel 3," Carlson says. "It's always been my passion. I love reporting — love it. Nothing can ever replace this."

But after GMP approached her about the prospect roughly two weeks ago, she says, Carlson came to the conclusion that working for the power company would bring new challenges and the same pride she feels working for WCAX.

"I've had the privilege of working for a company I respect with people I respect," she says. "This is a similar opportunity. I respect all my interactions with Green Mountain Power and the people there. I'm excited by what they're doing."

Continue reading "Media Note: WCAX's Kristin Carlson Decamps to Green Mountain Power" »

December 04, 2013

Media Note: VPR Hires Vermont Press Bureau's Chief Statehouse Reporter

HirschfeldOne of the Statehouse's top print reporters is moving into the world of broadcast.

Vermont Public Radio has hired the Vermont Press Bureau's Peter Hirschfeld to join the station's capital bureau, according to VPR news director John Dillon. 

"I'm really excited," Dillon says. "He's a trusted, respected, leading journalist who really has established himself for breaking news and enterprise reporting.

A Jericho native and Worcester resident, Hirschfeld (pictured at center during a Statehouse press conference) joined the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus in 2003 as a sports reporter and copy editor. In 2009, he moved over to the Vermont Press Bureau, which covers state government for the T-A and the Rutland Herald. Both papers are owned by John Mitchell.

Continue reading "Media Note: VPR Hires Vermont Press Bureau's Chief Statehouse Reporter" »

October 29, 2013

Morning Read: Housing Trust to Overhaul Motel for Emergency Housing

MorningreadIn fiscal year 2012, the 59-room Econo Lodge on Shelburne Road collected $184,732 from state coffers in exchange for housing homeless Vermonters with nowhere else to go. The motel was one of the top recipients of state funds for that service, which officials say is a last resort when shelter beds are full. 

Now the arrangement appears to be permanent. As VT Digger reported yesterday, the Champlain Housing Trust is converting the former Econo Lodge into an emergency housing facility called Harbor Place. Alicia Freese writes that CHT's plan goes well beyond rebranding the roadside motel:

There’s one key difference between Harbor Place and the state-administered program, according to Chris Donnelly, director of community relations for Champlain Housing Trust: “Under the current system, someone who was accessing the motel voucher program would be put into the Econo Lodge and then they’d wake up in the morning and try to get on with the rest of their life,” Donnelly said. “In this program, there will be services to help them right on site.”

The Econo Lodge overhaul comes after months of debate about how best to house Vermont's homeless population, particularly when shelter beds are full. Spending on motel vouchers spiked dramatically in recent years, reaching $4 million in fiscal year 2013, and lawmakers have been sharply critical of that spending. 

"Once we make that one-night investment, that money’s just gone," Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) told Seven Days last December

In response, the Legislature capped model spending at $1.5 million for FY2014, and the Department of Children and Families constructed a point system — which was subsequently amended — to limit those who received free motel rooms. Harbor Place, Freese reports, is designed to partially fill the void created by the downsizing. 

The Econo Lodge overhaul is happening fast. Digger reports that after Monday's $1.85 million sale, CHT plans to reopen Harbor Place within a week. Most of the funding is coming from a Vermont Community Loan Fund loan, and CHT has already signed on at least 10 partners in the effort, including the state and Fletcher Allen Health Care.

It's a deal that state officials can happily endorse. DCF is reserving 30 rooms at the former motel for its voucher program, for which CHT will charge the state just $38 per room a night. DCF Commissioner Dave Yacovone estimates the new deal will save the state roughly $250,000 a year. 

And he's pleased about more than just the savings. Yacavone told Freese that Harbor Place has the potential to provide much better service for its residents than a motel ever could. 

“By bringing the [case] manager in, it makes it look entirely different than just putting someone up in a hotel,” he told Digger. “That’s a really exciting opportunity to provide wraparound services to families in a transitional housing unit.”

October 23, 2013

This Week's Issue: Front Porch Forum's Banhammer; Bernie for Prez 2016?

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This week's issue of Seven Days gets into the Halloween spirit, so grab a growler of Donovan's Red and sit down with these news and politics stories:

Get this week's issue on newsstands — that creepy zombie gas-mask thing is hard to miss — at sevendaysvt.com, or on the iOS app.

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