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December 2009

December 29, 2009

Burlington Residents Seek Repeal of Instant Runoff Voting

IRVphoto A group of Burlington residents have garnered the necessary 1654 signatures to put a simple question to voters: Should Burlington revert to its old way of electing its mayor?

Instant runoff voting (IRV) — which allows voters to rank candidates as a way to choose a winner on election day rather than holding costly separate runoff elections – was perhaps the most controversial element in a five-way race for mayor in March.

If there is no majority winner (50-plus percent) after all first-place ballots are counted, candidates who statistically can't win are eliminated, and their second-place votes are distributed among the remaining candidates. This process is repeated until someone with 50 percent of the vote emerges.

If IRV is repealed, then the next election for mayor will revert to the old system: A simple plurality (40 percent) wins the day. If no one has 40 percent on election night, then a special runoff between the top two candidates will be held 30 days later.

A multipartisan group calling itself "One Person, One Vote" held a press conference Tuesday afternoon in a City Hall conference room to declare that IRV was a convoluted system that frustrated voters and may have depressed voter turnout.

"I was an early supporter of IRV," said Democrat John Ewing. "But I've been disappointed in the way it has worked. I think it has proven itself to be a disservice to the voters. I think it's extremely convoluted and that voters don't understand how it works."

If that's true, it would be a slight turnaround from a poll conducted in 2006 — the first year IRV was used in Burlington to elect a mayor.

Continue reading "Burlington Residents Seek Repeal of Instant Runoff Voting" »

December 24, 2009

Seven Days Takes Seven Days Off

Mainteaser_56 Every year at this time, the staff of Seven Days produces two issues at once, so we can take a week or so off between Christmas and New Years.

This year was no exception, although we did try something new. The papers for this week and next will come out a day early, on Tuesday, rather than on Wednesday, so you can pick up a copy before the stores are closed for Christmas and New Years.

We'll be taking a blogging break, too. We'll be back with more news and views in 2010. Thanks for reading this year, and happy holidays.

Illustration by Harry Bliss, from the cover of the Winter Reading Issue, 12/22/09.

December 22, 2009

City Market Co-op Going Solar

City Market/Onion River Co-op is going solar. The Burlington market will begin installing 154 solar panels on its rooftop beginning in January.

How much power do 154 solar panels produce?

If you're a Burlington house, they'd power you and five neighbors for a whole year. If you're City Market, they'd power 3 percent of your yearly energy needs.

That might not seem like a lot, but as the Co-op's Chris Lyon points out in this month's "Onion Skin" newsletter, "Grocery stores are full of energy gobbling refrigeration and freezers." Just think of the heat lost from the front doors sliding open and shut to the frigid air outside all day and night. That's a lot of juice.

City Market recently struck a deal with White River Junction-based groSolar to install the rooftop solar array. Once installed, the panels will generate 33,264 kWh of electricity each year — enough to satisfy roughly 3 percent of the Co-op's total yearly energy usage of 1,100,000 kWh.

By comparison, that's enough to power six Burlington homes for an entire year, assuming each home uses the average of 5,520 kWh.

This isn't just one more feather in the cap of Burlington's most eco-friendly supermarket — it's a shrewd business decision. City Market will use the panels for "net metering," which means they'll be selling power back to the grid. The Co-op will get a 13 percent return on the investment and have the whole solar installation paid back in five years, predicts marketing manager Nicole Fenton.

The panels will cost $187,912, but the Co-op will only pay a portion of that thanks to state grants and federal tax breaks for solar installations.

The Co-op secured a $53,900 grant from the Vermont Clean Energy Fund (part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as "the stimulus package"). City Market is also eligible federal tax credits worth $40,204 — bringing the co-op's total out-of-pocket cost for the panels to $93,808.

Click here to read an interview from this week's Seven Days with groSolar's cofounder and CEO, Jeff Wolfe, who was in Copenhagen last week for the U.N. Climate Change Conference.

December 21, 2009

A Chat with the VT Native Behind 'The Messenger'

Messenger The Messenger is one of those award-season movies everybody's talking about. And starting January 8, Vermonters who didn't catch it at last fall's Vermont International Film Festival will finally get a chance to see it at the Palace 9.

In advance of that, I had a phone chat with Lawrence Inglee, the film's producer — who, as it happens, was born in Rutland and lived in Vermont till he was 15.

The Messenger is a drama about the U.S.' current military engagements, but from an unusual home-front perspective. Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster star as two casualty notification officers, servicemen who have the job of delivering the bad news to the families of fallen soldiers.

When the duo knock on a door, they have no idea what they'll find — violent grief, anger, resignation. And neither did the actors, at least on their first take, because the notification scenes were played unrehearsed.

Continue reading "A Chat with the VT Native Behind 'The Messenger'" »

Couple Make History in Essex County

IMGP0136 It's not every day that I receive a press release from the town of Guildhall, the shire town of rural Essex County in the Northeast Kingdom.

With fewer than 300 people, Guildhall is a small town in arguably one of Vermont's more conservative counties.

That's why I was surprised to receive what can only be described as a ebullient email from Town Clerk Laura Wilson announcing Essex County's first same-sex marriage had taken place Saturday at the town's Guild Hall. Vermont's same-sex marriage law went into effect on September 1.

Teri Anderson and Rose Fitzgerald, who both live in Guildhall, were married in the town's Guild Hall. The ceremony was officiated by Barbara Peaslee Smith, Guildhall's Justice of the Peace and witnessed by a group of close friends and neighbors.

The celebration was followed by a solstice party attended by hundreds of loved ones which spilled out onto the historic Guildhall Town Green and included fireworks and a bonfire. Of course, the green isn't so  green in December.

Continue reading "Couple Make History in Essex County" »

December 19, 2009

Vermont's Senators Tout Potential Gains via Health Care Reform Bill

052208MILCToast Vermont's Senators Patrick Leahy (D) and Bernie Sanders (I) touted various elements of the federal health care reform bill that emerged Saturday, ranging from an additional $250 million in Medicaid funding to a measure allowing states to potentially enact single-payer health care systems on their own.

This latter element is something Sanders and several other Senators have been fighting to keep in the bill. It is seen as a way to potentially enact a single-payer health care system at the state level. In Vermont, lawmakers have said they will take testimony on various bills aimed at expanding the availability of publicly funded and managed health care insurance to Vermonters.

Sanders this week disappointed many single-payer advocates by yanking a proposed amendment that, though not expected to pass the Senate, would have forced a debate on creating a Medicare-for-All health care system in the United States. For months, Sanders touted his amendment as a "historic" moment, where for the first time in history the Senate would debate the merits of a single-payer system.

However, after Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) called on Sanders' amendment to be read word for word, the Vermont independent immediately withdrew his nearly 800-page amendment. Sanders agreed to withdraw the amendment per Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid's request, as Reid was worried reading the amendment aloud would have taken up nearly 12 hours of Senate time — potentially derailing the entire health care reform debate.

Sanders called the Republicans' tactic "an outrage."

Continue reading "Vermont's Senators Tout Potential Gains via Health Care Reform Bill" »

December 18, 2009

Blue Ribbon Committee to Convene on Burlington Telecom

Members of the Blue Ribbon Committee on Burlington Telecom have been named, and the seven-member panel will meet for the first time Monday night to begin its work evaluating the utility's financing options as well as its viability.

The committee — appointed by City Council President Bill Keogh — will meet at 7 p.m. in conference room 12 in Burlington’s City Hall. Hopefully, the committee meetings won't drag on quite as long as recent council meetings related to Burlington Telecom. Those council meetings have gone well past midnight in some instances.

The council created the committee at its December 14 meeting, the same meeting where it scuttled a deal with Piper Jaffray in lieu of seeking bids from other potential financiers. Those requests for proposals were sent to more than a dozen potential bidders this week.

At its December 7 meeting, the council also expanded the powers of the Burlington Telecom Advisory Council – giving that citizens' panel greater authority to oversee BT's finances and operations.

The special blue ribbon panel is comprised of three city councilors and four citizen members. Keogh consulted with Mayor Bob Kiss in making the citizen appointments.

Continue reading "Blue Ribbon Committee to Convene on Burlington Telecom" »

December 17, 2009

City Disputes Claims in Burlington Telecom Lawsuit

A lawsuit filed by two former Republican city councilors was greeted this week with a sharp rebuke from the mayor's office.

The suit, which "Fair Game" reported this week and last, was officially served on the city Monday and became a public record. The plaintiffs are Fred Osier and Eugene Shaver.

The lawsuit (available below) seeks:

• Repayment of the $17 million to the taxpayers;

• Putting a hold on the use of Burlington Telecom's assets to protect any taxpayer investment;

• A full accounting of money provided to BT from the city's cash management system, including the timing and amount of all payments from the city's cash pool to BT; how BT used the money; the amount BT owes to the city, including interest; and, a determination if BT is able to promptly repay any owed amounts from its assets or operating revenues; and,

• An injunction to keep BT from taking any further actions that violate the CPG or city charter.

The suit also holds Chief Administrative Office Jonathan Leopold personally liable for any unpaid money to the so-called cash pool. Burlington Telecom currently owes $17 million to the cash pool, an amount it hopes to repay through a refinancing of its total debt of $50 million. It is also hoping to borrow up to an additional $10 million to complete the build out of its fiber network in the city.

Continue reading "City Disputes Claims in Burlington Telecom Lawsuit" »

"Getting By" Going Bye-Bye

Image6 This week, I'm working on the final "Getting By" column, and I need your help! Read on.

We launched "Getting By," a column devoted to exploring how Vermonters are surviving the recession, last December. Over the past 12 months, we've asked Vermonters to share money-saving strategies, we asked a mechanic to tell us how to get the most mileage out of our aging cars, we've talked with a retiree from Montpelier who explains how she saved her way to financial independence, we explained how to swap houses with someone to save on vacation costs and we listed resources to help you — and your kids — learn how to manage money. In the latest installment, our food editor offered tips to get the most of our your Thanksgiving turkey leftovers.

But though the recession's not over, "Getting By" is. I'm working on the final column this week. I'd like to do a year-end wrap-up describing how Vermonters have gotten by this year, which is why I need your help.

I want to know — no, Seven Days readers want to know! — how did you get by this year? Did the recession impact your life? How? Did you change your lifestyle? Did you change your habits? Did you learn anything from "Getting By" that you put into practice in your own life?

Please share your comments here, or email them to me, by Saturday, at [email protected]. Thanks for reading!

Savoy Theater Has New Owner

Back in July, Rick Winston and Andrea Serota announced they were seeking a buyer for the Savoy, their nearly three-decade-old arthouse cinema in Montpelier.

Yesterday, the new owner closed on the property, says Winston. He is Terrence Youk, a filmmaker who owns Brook Hollow Productions in Montpelier, an "independent producer of documentaries, educational films and other cutting edge broadcast media" that's been in Vermont since 1986.

Youk has produced programs for PBS and A&E; recently he directed the feature documentary Numen: The Nature of Plants, which showcased interviews with local herbalists. It screened at the Savoy and at this year's Santa Fe Film Festival.

Winston says the transition will take place around New Year's, but "the staff will remain the same," and he and Serota "will stay involved." The Savoy will remain one of the central venues for the Green Mountain Film Festival.

Is Youk planning any changes for the venerable single-screen theater? Watch this space for updates.

Stuck in VT (VIDEOS)

Solid State (Music)

Mistress Maeve (Sex)

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