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July 31, 2009

YMCA Management Knew About Other Incidents Involving Flanagan

More questions have surfaced about how the YMCA handled concerns about Democrat Sen. Ed Flanagan, a Chittenden County state senator and candidate for lieutenant governor.

Last week, a Y patron filed a formal complaint alleging Flanagan was masturbating in the facility's Men's Wellness Center. Flanagan, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a 2005 car crash, has denied the accusation.

In his "Fair Game" column this week, Shay Totten wrote that the incident wasn't the first of its kind. But YMCA President and CEO Mary Burns said that, though she was aware that Flanagan had had problems during his workouts in the past, she was "unaware of the other incidents" Totten described in his column.

Burns said essentially the same thing to Tim Johnson when he re-reported the story for the Burlington Free Press.  According to the Free Press, "Burns said she was aware only that Flanagan's safety on exercise equipment had been called into question."

But Alex Nief, who worked as the Y's member services evening supervisor from March 2008 until May 2009, disputes Burns' claims in the Burlington Free Press story.

On Thursday, Nief provided Seven Days with copies of two emails he sent to Burns and other YMCA managers back in March and April. Those emails (posted below) indicate that YMCA management knew about other troubling and inappropriate behavior by Flanagan months before the formal complaint that was filed last week by YMCA member Tiki Archambeau.

In the first email, dated March 29, 2009, Nief reported a patron — other than Archambeau — had seen Flanagan "acting strangely" in the men's wellness center. Later in that same email, Nief told his bosses that this same patron, and another, had witnessed Flanagan masturbating in the men's sauna.

"To avoid making an embarrassing scene, I did not address the masturbation or ask [Flanagan] to leave," Nief wrote to his bosses in March. Instead, Nief said he monitored Flanagan's behavior to "make sure he was acting appropriately....

"Since Ed is a state senator, I wanted to handle this as carefully as possible to avoid doing any harm to his reputation," Nief added. "In my opinion, from what I and others have witnessed, Ed should have his membership terminated immediately. He will get hurt using our equipment on his own and bring harm to his and the YMCA's reputation if he is charged with any crimes related to his behavior."

In the second email, dated April 5, 2009, Nief notified Jan Riordan, VP of Membership and Programs, that an anonymous patron had reported Flanagan falling off a bench in the sauna that weekend. Later that day, according to the email, Y staffers had to break into a locker because Flanagan had lost his key. Subsequently, Flanagan's clothes were found in plain sight in another locker. Nief ended his report by saying, "This man needs help."

When reached on Thursday, Burns reiterated what she's told other members of the press this week: “It’s our practice to keep these matters with our members. We deal with them internally. So, I’m dealing with this internally.”

When pressed about the discrepancy between her statements to Totten and Nief's emails, Burns declined to clarify or elaborate: “I’ve said everything that I’m going to say at this point. I really don’t have anything to add.”

For his part, Nief said he provided the emails to Seven Days because he was angry about the way the YMCA handled this incident, and the press reports about it. As Nief told Seven Days, "My frustration is less with what's going on in Ed Flanagan's life. It's more that the Y completely ignored this issue."

In fact, Nief claims he considered suspending Flanagan's membership himself but decided against it. "When a state senator gets caught masturbating in our wellness center and keeps falling down and hurting himself, this is something that the Y management at the executive level needs to deal with... This, to me, was way beyond my pay scale." 

From: Alex Nief
Sent: Sunday, March 29, 2009 5:50 PM
To: Tiffany Smookler; Jan Riordan; Mary Burns
Subject: Ed Flanagan

Dear Mary,

On Friday, I was called down to the Wellness Center by member [PATRON #1] who had reported someone acting strangely.  The individual in
question, Ed Flanagan, was in the wellness bathroom drying off with
paper towels and all of his clothing was strewn about the sauna.  It
was a strange thing to see and I asked him about it.  He said that the
clothing was his and that he was getting ready to go.  He eventually
picked up and left.  [PATRON #1] was concerned as he had apparently been in
the sauna for a very long time.  I did not report this as I am aware
of Ed's traumatic brain injury and that he is not altogether aware of
how strange his behavior can appear.  I felt that talking to him and
keeping an eye on him in the future was my best recourse.

Then, this afternoon at around 4:00 pm, [PATRON #1] again came up to the
Member Services desk to let me know that Ed had fallen off of the
Men's Wellness treadmill.  Ed had tried to continue exercising after
falling but [PATRON #1] told him to stop because he was endangering himself.
 [PATRON #1] also informed me that two members had witnessed him masturbating in the sauna.  I asked one of the members, [PATRON #2], and he verified that this had occurred. I approached Ed who had resumed his excursive on the treadmill once again and asked him to stop.  He had set the incline dangerously steep and was at the very end of the belt with every step.  He said that he was almost done and I stood behind him until he stepped off.  I asked if he had hurt himself and he said that he was fine.  He couldn't seem to grasp why everyone was making such a big deal about it.  Apparently this is very common with TBI and Ed even stated to me that he had never felt better in his entire life.
I unplugged the treadmill.  To avoid making an embarrassing scene I
did not address the masturbation or ask him to leave.  Instead, I had
Corey watch the front desk (Janai called out so I was alone) while I
monitored him.  Ed stated that he wanted to go in the sauna and that
he felt fine.  I allowed him to go in and checked through the glass a
couple of times to make sure that he was acting appropriately.  He was
reading the newspaper and seemed okay.  I came back upstairs and asked
for Corey to check in on him.  He did and said that he was fine.
Shortly thereafter he came upstairs and left.

[PATRON #1] called up to me a few minutes later to inform me that Ed had
left some of his clothing in the sauna.  When I went to collect it,
[PATRON #1] told me that Ed had also picked up his key and moved it and
taken his towel.  [PATRON #1] was not angry but concerned that Ed was so out of it.  [PATRON #1] also mentioned that if he were ever to walk in on Ed masturbating that he would call the cops.
Since Ed is a state senator, I wanted to handle this as carefully as
possible to avoid doing any harm to his reputation.  In my opinion,
from what I and others have witnessed Ed should have his membership
terminated immediately.  He will get hurt using our equipment on his
own and bring harm to his and the YMCA's reputation if he is charged
with any crimes related to his behavior.  It is an unfortunate reality
that Ed is not even aware of what he is doing.  He needs help.

If you would like for me to fill out a formal Redwoods report on this
please let me know.

Thank you,

Alex Nief
Member Services Supervisor
Greater Burlington YMCA
Burlington, VT  05401
(802) 862- 9622
[email protected]
From: Jan Riordan 
Sent: Monday, March 30, 2009 1:31 PM
To: Alex Nief; Tiffany Smookler; Mary Burns
Subject: RE: Ed Flanagan

Thanks Alex, I am following up with The Redwoods Group today.
Jan Riordan, VP Membership and Programs
Greater Burlington YMCA
266 College Street
Burlington, Vermont 05401
P. 802.862.8993 ext. 134
F. 802.660.8689

From: Alex Nief
Sent: Sunday, April 05, 2009 5:35 PM
To: Jan Riordan
Subject: Ed Flanagan

A member (who wished to remain anonymous) reported to me today that at
some time over the weekend Ed Flanagan fell off of the bench in the
sauna and onto the floor.  He then got up and almost hit his head on
the heater.  While exiting the sauna he was apparently disoriented and
may have injured himself when he bumped into something.  Also,
yesterday afternoon I was called down to Wellness because Ed had lost
his key.  When I arrived it took me and Mike (fitness trainer) 30
minutes and the prying open--subsequently breaking the locking
mechanism--of a locker door to solve the problem.  It was very strange
how the whole thing played out because the locker we broke into (which
Ed swore was his) was actually Mike's. I checked every locker within
10 lockers in either direction and we couldn't find anything.  Then,
after Ed had missed his cab and ultimately a flight, we found Ed's
belongings in plain view about 15 lockers away in an open locker.
This man needs help.


Alex Nief
Member Services Supervisor
Greater Burlington YMCA
Burlington, VT  05401
(802) 862- 9622
[email protected]

99 percent of this is none of anyone's business.

Poor guy. It just might be best for him to drop out of the running for Lt. Governor due to these kinds of problems relating to TBI. He doesn't need to bring himself any more embarassment to himself so he can keep his dignity. My vote will go to someone else in any case. With these ongoing problems, there will be no snowball's chance in hell for Democrats to retake the Lt. Governor post.

Seven Days SUCKS. Keep working for the Progressive Party.

I tend to agree that, other than the fact that Flanagan (let's face it: a major public figure in VT) is reported to have committeed an indecent or lewd act in a public place, which is real news that should be reported, the public didn't necessarily need to know all the details about the act or how it was internally handled.

But let's get real. If this were a Republican state sentator who was the former Auditor and who was currently a candidate for Lt. Governor, 7D readers would be cheering Seven Days on, and pressing for the publication of more details, and demanding further investigation about possible prior incidents. We'd be hearing all about how this is certainly, definitely, absolutely the public's business because it reflects on their fitness for holding office. And we'd be hearing all kinds of outrage about how the Y hushed up the investigation, etc., etc., and demanding "accountability" from the Y.

The real bottom line here: Flanagan hasn't been fit for holding office since his accident, and everyone in Montpelier, including the media, have been content to not talk about it. 7D did the right thing a couple of months ago when they wrote an article about his competence.

If the Dem leadership had taken Flanagan aside a long time ago and told him in no uncertain terms that it was time for him to quit public office, this most recent incident might have only been a temporary blip in the media, if it had been reported at all.

It's sad for everyone that it had to end this way.

Oh, for god's sake, owen, if you had a clue you'd know that Ed is Democrat Progressives actually like. Burlington is a Progressive town. There are a lot of Progressives in Burlington. There are a lot of Progressive members of the YMCA. A Progressive took offense at someone beating his meat in public. Is that such a surprise? You thought there was a meeting where Progressives got together and said "Let's accuse Ed Flanagan of beating off in public"? Ed's a good Democrat. He'd be the last one Progressives would target. On the other hand, you're probably sore that the Progressive Party doesn't have a by-law in support of public masturbation.

Okay, it is time to leave this subject alone. The issue will resolve itself in the Democratic primary for Lt Gov., if not concluded earlier. Leave the guy alone!

Those of you who are just "oh so angry" at the way Fast Eddie is being treated should all become fans of WCAX -- the TV station that your hero Peter Freyne loved to demonize as "right wing" practically every week in his gossip column. WCAX's first mention of Fast Eddie's troubles was yesterday. Although Senor Totten broke the story Wednesday and the Free Press reported it on Thursday, WCAX (the supposedly Republican station) didn't mention it at all until late yesterday, and then only in discreet terms. CAX's headline only states that "Sen. Ed. Flanagan Faces Scrutiny," and the only thing they say in the story is that he is alleged to have engaged in "inappropriate behavior." Only deep in the story it is described as a "sexual act."

WCAX's reporting on this story is the most discreet and non-sensationalistic of Vermont's major media outlets.

So, there, liberal Dems. Ignore all the nonsense Freyne fed you and become big fans of WCAX.

Huh. It's the wierdest thing. There's absolutely no mention whatsoever on the Vt. Dem. website of Flanagan's troubles. There's a press release from July 18 where they "Commend the Courageous Actions of the Democratic State Legislature" -- you know, the one that refused to restructure government, increased the budget, and raised income taxes while we're in a recession. That was, of course, courageous. But no mention of Flanagan. Strange.

Does the GOP website mention David Vitter or Larry Craig or Governor Sanford?



Nobody in their right mind expects much from the Vt. GOP, especially with that ding-dong Roper at the helm, and certainly nothing from the national party. The Vt. GOP's last hurrah was Jim Jeffords, a good man. Too bad there's no room for moderate Repubs anymore. But, in fairness, the Vt. GOP isn't really responsible for Vitter, Craig, or Sanford, anymore than the Vt. Dems are responsible for Gerry Studds or Barney Frank, or Bill's "Blue Dress" indiscretions. That can't be said of Bulldog Flanagan, however. The Vt. Dems clearly knew the guy was bizarre, if not incompetent. Ignoring the problem before didn't make it go away before, and ignoring it now won't make it go away now. The guy still thinks he's running for Lt. Governor!

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