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January 2010

January 25, 2010

Live Tweeting Winooski City Council Meeting Tonight

Photo(3) If you live in Winooski, or if you're just curious what the heck is going on with our city council, check out this Twitter feed tonight starting at 6 p.m.

I set it up to enable two Champlain College students to live tweet the city council meeting. I mean, why not, right? There's no other live coverage of it anywhere, though you can watch the meeting on Channel 17 on TV or online after the fact. And the Free Press might run a story.

The crackerjack Champlain students are Erica Viscio and Hans Bardenheuer. I followed their Twitter streams of an event at Champlain last year and was really impressed with the way they summed up the speaker's presentation. They both live at Spinner Place, so it seems like it would be worth their while to find out what's going on in Winooski. Plus, I think this will be fun. But maybe I  have a twisted sense of fun...

Tune in at 6 to see how we do. Will the citizens turn out to protest the recent layoffs? Are Winooski-ites fired up about the city's budget deficit? When we know, we'll let you know here.

January 24, 2010

Two-Term Progressive Councilor Won't Seek Reelection

Clarence Emma150 Two-term Progressive City Councilor Clarence Davis is not running for reelection, but a familiar face is running in his place.

Davis, who represents Ward 3, decided not to run for reelection so he could spend more time at home, rather than at City Hall until the wee hours of the morning.

Go figure.

Up until just a few weeks ago, Davis publicly said he was more than likely seeking reelection: "The rumors of my pending demise are greatly exaggerated," Davis told Seven Days in November, and again in December. "My plan is to run for re-election pending any unforeseen changes in my life."

Asked again as recently as January 18, and Davis reiterated that his plans were "still the same."

In the past few days, however, Davis told Seven Days, he had a change of heart. "I mulled it over and talked it over at home, and I want to spend a little bit more time with my wife," Davis said.

"For me, personally, one of the things I contemplated when I first ran for office was, 'How long am I going to do this?'" added Davis. "I had decided then that I would serve two terms definitely and maybe a third term. But, I just got married a year ago and would like to spend more time at home, we'd like to start a family of our own, and I don't want to be at City Hall until 2:30 in the morning."

So, who could possibly step in and run for his seat on such short notice? None other than Progressive Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, who, until mid-December, was a Ward 2 city councilor.

Continue reading "Two-Term Progressive Councilor Won't Seek Reelection" »

January 22, 2010

Democrats to Debate Vermont's Education Future

All five Democrats hoping to be governor will debate the hot topic of education Monday at a University of Vermont forum.

Gov. Jim Douglas, in both his state of the state and budget addresses to the legislature, called on lawmakers, school boards and schoolteachers to make sweeping changes in the state's education fund — from raising the amount of money households earning $60,000 to $90,000 pay as part of their income, to reducing the number of teachers and forcing existing teachers to pay a greater share of their health care premiums.

But, in his state of the state address, Douglas also proposed an increase in funding to higher education: $5.5 million to be shared by UVM, the Vermont State Colleges, and the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation, as well as $1.5 million for so-called Next Generation scholarships.

On Monday, all five Democrats will take part in a forum moderated by former Vermont Associated Press bureau chief Chris Graff. The event, to be held at the University of Vermont in the Davis Center, is being sponsored by faculty from Castleton State College, St. Michael's College and UVM.

Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, who was invited by forum organizers, declined to attend. He wants to wait until after the Democratic primary before debating an opponent.

“The lieutenant governor will not be participating in any gubernatorial forums until we know who our opponent is,” said Corry Bliss, Dubie’s campaign manager.

Continue reading "Democrats to Debate Vermont's Education Future" »

The VT Supreme Court Asks: Is Your Pet a "Companion" or a "Thing"?


The question, "Is your dog or cat more like your child than your toaster?" seems like a no-brainer to most pet owners. We buy them their own toys, clothes and bedding, feed them top-shelf vittles made from choice cuts of meat and endangered seafood, and provide them with expensive daycare, health insurance and medical services that would be the envy of most human residents of the developing world. We put framed pictures of them on our desktops, brag about their achievements, cringe when they misbehave in public, laugh at their antics, kiss them goodnight and then grieve for weeks, months or even years after they die. 

However, state law had typically taken a much less warm-and-fuzzy approach to those four-legged critters who leave dead birds on our pillows and graze on the crunchy nuggets in the litter box. In the eyes of the law, Bailey, Buttons, Nibbles and Napoleon are no more considered "companions" than your DVD player or waffle iron. And as such, when they're taken from their "owners" due to negligence or malice, you cannot be compensated for your loss much beyond your expenses in acquiring, caring for and disposing of them.

But that could soon change. A case currently before the Vermont Supreme Court will consider whether a couple whose dog was shot and killed by a neighbor are eligible for monetary compensation for "loss of companionship" similar to what's available to the parents or grandparents of a child who is killed. 

Interested in the legal arguments pro and con? Check out this article on FindLaw by Cornell Law School Professor Sherry Colb.

Photo: "Sydney" by Robert Fahey of Stowe, winner of the 2009 Seven Days Best of the Beasts Pet Photo Contest.

January 21, 2010

As Goes Massachusetts, So Goes Vermont?

Britton Does Republican Scott Brown's U.S. Senate victory Tuesday bode well for Republicans in another liberal New England state like Vermont?

Republicans say — of course. Brown's victory over Democrat Martha Coakley means that senate seat will be held by the GOP for the first time in almost 40 years.

"Last night's victory has shown that momentum is on our side," wrote Steve Larrabee, state GOP chairman, in an email fundraising pitch to donors.

Republican Len Britton, who is challenging U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), said Brown's victory is good news for his fledgling campaign. Leahy also faces a Democratic challenger, Daniel Freilich.

Britton sent his campaign manager, Dan Riley, to Massachusetts to help with last-minute get-out-the-vote efforts.

“Massachusetts voters are sending a true statesman to Washington to represent them. Scott ran a positive, issue-based campaign, worked endlessly, and will thankfully be the 41st vote to stop the healthcare plan Washington is trying to cram down Americans' throats," said Britton. "His race was about policy, for the people, and will be heard across the country for years to come."

Continue reading "As Goes Massachusetts, So Goes Vermont?" »

Douglas: Leave Vermont Yankee Fate to 'Experts,' Not Lawmakers

IMG_0711 When it comes to Gov. Jim Douglas and Vermont Yankee, the more things change, the more things stay the same.

Despite the recent discovery of high levels of radioactive isotope in the groundwater near Vermont Yankee, Douglas continued to express his belief that lawmakers should allow state regulators to decide whether Vermont Yankee should continue operating beyond 2012.

As of yesterday, one monitoring well was found to have more than 23,000 picocuries per liter of tritium, which is higher than the federal environmental drinking water standard of 20,000 picocuries.

State health officials told lawmakers yesterday that water tested in a separate, concrete trench had tritium levels ranging from 720,000 picocuries to 2 million picocuries per liter.

Both lawmakers and Douglas have asked health investigators to ramp up their independent monitoring efforts and to post those results online — daily.

Douglas told reporters at his weekly press conference this morning that lawmakers should vote soon — though perhaps not today, as he recognized VY's support has waned considerably in the past week — to allow the Vermont Public Service Board to move forward and decide VY's fate.

"These decisions are best made outside the political realm," said Douglas. "How my administration presents that case to the Public Service Board will be determined by the outcome of the investigation that is under way now."

That said, Douglas is concerned about the recent tritium leak and its impact — on Vermont Yankee.

"The safety of the operation of that plant is my highest priority; it's what we need to feel good about in order to have it continue to operate and be part of our energy future. I take it very seriously and hope we get to the bottom of it very quickly," said Douglas.

Continue reading "Douglas: Leave Vermont Yankee Fate to 'Experts,' Not Lawmakers" »

Financing Local Film: A Cautionary Tale?

Moviecam Last week WCAX and the Addison Independent reported on a state inquiry into the funding of Addison storyteller Mac Parker's film Birth of Innocence.

Like many low-budget filmmakers, Parker appears to have solicited small sums of money from a large number of individuals to fund his production. At issue is whether these were "loans" (to be paid out regardless of the film's performance) or "securities" (investments, which are regulated by the State Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration).

In the latter case, Parker would be at fault for selling unregistered securities, Commissioner Paulette Thabault told WCAX. The state hasn't yet made any criminal allegations.

The WCAX report used the term "Ponzi scheme," which has drawn the ire of some of Parker's lenders and supporters. The Independent quoted Christopher White of Vergennes, spokesman for a newly formed legal defense fund, as saying that "no one has expressed any dissatisfaction with the way Mac has handled this project or dealt with the finances."

As for Parker, he's released a statement that reads, in part:

This is not a scheme, and I have no intention to deceive or violate anyone. [...] I have always considered these loans, and had no idea the State might consider them Securities. [...] 'Birth of Innocence' is nearly completed.  I am asking for the time and freedom to finish it, and to honor my promises to all the good people who are supporting this project.

Pending a resolution to the inquiry, my question is: What do Parker's current problems mean for other local filmmakers seeking "grassroots" funding from the community? Could they also run into problems with state securities regulation?

Continue reading "Financing Local Film: A Cautionary Tale?" »

January 20, 2010

Vermont Yankee Radiation Contamination Levels Spike

 Coolingtowercollapse822 UPDATED at 9:30 p.m. (see below)

Tritium levels in water tested at Vermont Yankee spiked dramatically today, state health officials told legislative leaders.

While it's easy to joke about Vermont Yankee's "leak of the week," the revelations today about the striking rise in tritium contamination could spell considerable trouble for Entergy.

State health officials found tritium levels of one to two million picocuries per liter in water in an on-site trench. The Environmental Protection Agency's safe drinking water standard for tritium is  20,000 picocuries per liter; the Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires plant owners to report tritium levels found above 30,000 picocuries.

Immediately, House Speaker Shap Smith and Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin called on the state health department to conduct on-site independent tests of the water at Vermont Yankee. 

“Since Vermonters have lost confidence in Entergy Louisiana’s credibility, the Speaker and I urge the Department of Health to immediately implement independent, verifiable testing,” said Senator Shumlin, who is also one of five Democrats vying to be the party's nominee for governor. “This independent testing is critical to ensure Vermonters that we are getting reliable information about this crisis.” 

Since the original discovery of tritium two weeks ago, the concentrations of the radioactive material have increased from 17,000 to 22,300 picocuries per liter in the first test well.  Yesterday, Vermont Yankee reported that a second test well was found to have 9400 picocuries per liter.

Health officials told legislative leaders today that a trench at the site had been tested and found to have tritium at 1 to 2 million picocuries per liter – many times the level deemed acceptable by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 

Continue reading "Vermont Yankee Radiation Contamination Levels Spike" »

Benefit Concert for Haiti on Saturday

Haiti-partners-in-health A group of Vermont musicians have organized a concert Saturday to benefit earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. An announcement about the event came in too late for our print calendar, so I'm posting it here.

Live from the Core and the Green Mountain Mahler Festival are collaborating with Bread and Puppet to present a reading of Brahm's Reqiuem at St. Michael's College on Saturday, January 23, at 2 p.m.

Here's the link to the event listing in our online calendar, and on Facebook. Proceeds from the concert will benefit Partners In Health, Dr. Paul Farmer's aid organization, and Catholic Relief Services.

This photo from Partners In Health shows a church in Cange that has been converted to a makeshift hospital ward.

VT Artist's Body Recovered in Haiti

4986_1010275556315_1807771014_16053_2592798_n As many people know by now, Flores (Flo) McGarrell, a 35-year-old visual artist from Newbury, VT, died in the earthquake that hit Haiti last week. He had been living in Haiti for about a year working as the director of FOSAJ (Fanal Otantik Sant D'A Jakmel) a community arts center in the port city of Jacmel, 25 miles from Port-au-Prince. On Tuesday, his body was finally recovered.

Because the epicenter of the earthquake hit in between Port-au-Prince and Jacmel, crews have been slow to reach the affected areas of Jacmel. For seven days, Flo's parents, Jim and Ann McGarrell, waited for word that their child's body had been recovered from the rubble of the hotel that collapsed around him. On Tuesday, they finally received confirmation that a Colombian search and rescue team aided by U.N. security personnel found Flo's body and were able to excavate him from the fallen building.

Flo's remains are now in Port-au-Prince, awaiting military transport to Florida, much to the relief of the McGarrell family. Vermont's Congressional delegation is working to expedite Flo's return to Vermont, said David Carle, Sen. Leahy's spokesman. "Sen. Leahy's staff has been monitoring this through the State Department at the family's request," Carle said in an email. "Conditions there have been chaotic, but the State Department is well aware of the situation and is in touch with organizations and individuals on the ground who are trying to help."

Continue reading "VT Artist's Body Recovered in Haiti" »

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