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May 12, 2010

Raw Salmon: Vermont's State Auditor In His Own Words

Salmon In this week's "Fair Game," State Auditor Tom Salmon demonstrated his way with words. I had queried him about an email sent from his office, welcoming Sen. Ed Flanagan into the auditor's race.

Using state computers for political business is not allowed, as is spelled out in the state's personnel manual and other administrative bulletins.

In fact, last year Salmon ran afoul of state regs by allowing a state staffer use a taxpayer-bought  camcorder to videotape a political fundraising speech in Burlington.

Salmon's response to my email?

Fuck off


I'm wasting more state time on your political bullshit

Clever. Several more well-placed syllables would have netted Salmon a nice little Haiku.

After receiving this email on Monday, I responded to Salmon with this email:

I asked the same question of Katie Manaras back in April 2008 when she sent a political note for Peter Shumlin from his state email account congratulating House Speaker Gaye Symington's entrance into the governor's race, and of Dennise Casey later that year after she left the Douglas administration and was a campaign worker and was using her state-issued ID badge to get to the fifth floor after hours.
But, thanks for the frank response.

He then responded with an even longer response, in which he calls me "son," suggests I'm an "unadulterated hypocrite" and that I "find out what the hell you were put on earth for."

My editors and I decided we should post this email exchange in its entirety. Here is what he wrote in response to my reply:

Look son, you need to get very clear on something. You and I once had a personal relationship that was forming with a good batch of sincerity. It was ruined by the way you reported the handling of my financial troubles and mischaracterizations (being dragged into court, etc) that never occurred, and many many years of struggle that you didn’t think were germane that may have balanced the story. So what, right?

I believe that you love Vermont and you love your family, and I wish you the best. However, the way you have been acting toward our office with disregard for the work that we do, more inclined to ask political or personal questions, is unacceptable. So that is where the Fuck off derives from.

I am tempted to run a press release about Vermont’s hidden waste: Reporter requests that have no basis for productive news. Or would that be considered campaigning? You tied our time up today on questions about the survey- what day?  How are you using that?  For who?  (When it starts with Dear Legislator?)  You’ve riddled my deputy with extensive questions about our budget trying to catch me in a lie from my Nov 20 speech?  You have asked about the number 5 license plate which is probably hanging in Randy’s barn? (I never exercised my option for that) and the report could go on.

So, for you to tie up our state time today, then jump on the news release about issues affecting the state’s accountability office in a blurb that was 5 minute cut- paste-send exercise, is the work of an unadulterated hypocrite. You get to prance around and be a “political columnist” but are expected to taken as a serious journalist? You get to ask questions of our office that are politically motivated- or by your personal agenda- and we are expected to answer them with a straight face?

You may be looking to get me to help you sell papers. It’s too bad you have pissed on all the capital you had with me, for both of us. Why? Because it’s  too bad you and I do not collaborate on getting productive word to citizens (and that would make public service or reporting more noble professions). I’m serving Vermont to improve the lives of others. Why do you do what you do?

I hope you figure what the hell you were put on earth for………….cause this ain’t  it. You are better than this, son.


To be clear, I didn't "riddle" his deputy with questions. From April 12 through Monday, I sent Deputy Auditor Joe Juhasz eight emails. Six were related to the auditor's budget and two asked about a legislative survey Salmon distributed to lawmakers.

The reason I sent eight emails related to the auditor's budget is due to the fact that Juhasz never fully responded to my requests about the auditor's budget. Actually, it took four attempts to get Juhasz to provide the detail that was originally requested. I had asked not just how much the office paid out in salaries for FY 2009, 2010 and 2011, but also which funds were used to cover those costs.

The original request was made April 12, but it wasn't until April 28 that I received the information. Once I saw the financial details, I wanted to ask a follow-up question. After all, that's my job.

Let's go fry some salmon, it's free for the picking.

Who is auditing the state auditor's office?

Sounds like someone should do so, particularly when they seem to be stonewalling the press and then flaming as well as blaming them so badly in return.

It also sounds like the auditor needs to be audited, yet in a much different fashion, however that will come in November when the voters have their say expressed in one fashion or another.

One would think sonny boy er, the state auditor would know better. Guess they do not believe in the free press and all that.

Lastly, if they cannot take the heat, they should get out of the kitchen.

In my opinion Shay Totten is an asshole. He is not trying to write news, he is trying to make news. He should get a real job.

I am not sure what your personal opinion of Shay Totten has to do with anything. The fact is, Shay Totten is a political reporter, it is his job to report on the politics in Vermont. It seems to me Shay (Mr. Totten? - I'm going with Shay, hope no one minds) was pointing out how difficult it has been to get information from the auditor's office that is supposed to be public information.

Tom Salmon was pretty non-plussed by the idea that someone might actually call him out on something - something, which I might add, Shay had previously called other people out on - and reacted very badly. The fact that he put it in an email instead of calling Shay was a HUGE mistake. The fact that Shay and Seven Days now get to reprint that email is HILARIOUS!

P.S. I'm pretty sure being a political reporter is a "real job"

Sweet. So now we get to choice between Salmon and Ed Flanagan for Auditor?

Everyone knows that Flanagan's mental state is unstable, at best, and that he does things in the bathroom of the Y that you wouldn't want your mother to see.

Salmon clearly doesn't understand that you shouldn't write anything in an email you wouldn't want to read in the paper, especially to a journalist.

What's up with this office? Liz Ready, who was also super-self-involved, used her state phone illegally. She lied about her academic degrees. She even wiped out on a biking to an event (after having driven there and leaving her car a few blocks away) so she could appear to be green.

The only auditor I think that's done an honest job is Randy Brock. Let's bring him back.

So. Will 7 days be holding a debate involving the candidates in the auditors race? That could be interesting.
Auditor Salmon seems to have a BidenBushCheneyNixonTrumanesque approach to life.

"In my opinion Shay Totten is an asshole."
Nice way to contribute to a debate, or rather your lack of mindless input. You display such a classy and intelligent disposition that you are a true authority on what is truly newsworthy. In essence, you can pull out of your rear end what is truly newsworthy. The only newsworthy thing about you Mr. Lancer is the fact that what you pull out of your rear end reveals that you are in effect what you accuse others of falsely being. There's a reason why buttholes don't see the light of day, and that's because they're full of crap.

The only thing more disturbing than Tom Salmon holding elected office is the fact that the Democrats can't find a decent candidate to run against him.

At this point, it’s a little odd that the Republicans have not kicked him out of the party.

This is charming. Thanks, Shay, for putting up with it – and for sharing!

Hey Dan Sanchez, there's nothing funnier than someone who criticizes someone else for being classless, then repeatedly compares them to an anus in the same paragraph.

I think Salmon had some good points. The fact that a (kind of) political missive was sent from a state computer is not news, even in this small state. It's akin to calling someone out for jaywalking.

Also, can you provide a link to your reporting of Katie Manaras' response to your query?

The point is that politicians have too few checks and balances these days. At least someone has the testicular fortitude to demand our rights be honored. Tom Salmon expressed mostly that he is angry because in his view Mr. Totten caused him political strife whilst campaigning for his office by publishing some facts about Mr. Salmons life and career that wasn't in Mr. Salmons favor.

Most journalists are nothing more than corporate-politico puppets and mouth pieces nowadays. KUDOS to ANY actual journalist with the integrity of Mr. Totten. He is a rare person. A journalist in the truest sense of the word.

Honest people of integrity are not rewarded. In most cases people of integrity are now punished in this modern society of perception ruling over reality. Spin over facts. Money over substance. This is sad and discouraging to more of us each day.

@ Jimmy: I mentioned Katie Manaras' email violation in this column from May 2008 when Gaye Symington jumped into race for governor

Salmon simply put into words what so many people privately think about Shay: that his muckraking, immature journalism is below the standards of 7days. Vermonters deserve better. As a Democrat, I lost all respect for salmon for leaving the party, as well for his antics and the DWI. But through it, the guy just does his job and works hard. Shay is just a piss poor journalist.

Speak for yourself Scott. I find it difficult to accept opinions from people that claim to be speaking for so many others. Whoever they are! The icing on the cake is your schoolyard cursing to conclude. Obviously you are the voice of Vermont - not.

Wow Shay! This is huge! Mr. Salmon's actions to date hinted at an unstable state of mind but this e-mail confirms it.

People can opine unfavorably over your journalistic style (personally, I think it's a testament to the level of media illiteracy in our country). However, the fact is that Salmon's behavior is inexcusable. He violated state law regardless of its severity and tarnished the reputation of the office by lashing out at the public with obscenities. Maybe admission to the Republican Party requires reading a How To manual by Dick Cheney.

Keep up the good work! Maybe Salmon will bar you from his office not unlike Entergy did when you probed misstatements back in your VT Guardian days.


Thanks for pointing that out Jimmy. You say its classless, I think of it as pointing out at the stupidity of the comment. My reply could have been far worse, but I do feel that the guy has the equivalent IQ of a passenger pigeon and I felt that I should throw back at him the what he used, although with less vulgar language. A little classless, now that I think about it, yeah. I just hate when people insult others without thinking about it twice and hence should be called out on it and put in their place.
About Salmon, if I were him and there's a reporter who I'm getting annoyed by, there's just no use using such language, it doesn't help you and it builds on a somewhat shoddy reputation. Next time, he should take a deep breath and write something creative back, poking fun at the reporter rather than hurling a bunch of insults. To Salmon all I can say is, dude, that's lame. As for Totten, keep on annoying the politicians. It's called news reporting and you're doing a good job.

Interesting - the two republicans "use state resources" (actually, in Casey's case, just using a different pass than the one she was supposed to) and it's the basis for an entire column. Shumlin's assistant does it, and it merits less than a sentence in passing.

BTW, the "entire email exchange" was not posted as promised. Only Salmon's emails, and the one Shay wrote when he knew he was going to post it.

@ Jimmy: In fact, Dennise Casey wasn't using a "different pass", but a pass she was not authorized to use. She was no longer a state employee, and used a state employee swipe badge to access secured state buildings after hours while running the governor's reelection campaign.

This week's column had more to do with his response to me than the simple issue of using the state computer for political purposes.

If he had said "whoops", as did Katie Manaras and said it shouldn't have been sent from a private email, it would have warranted a shorter mention & focus.

And, again, what the auditor dubbed "political bullshit" was my inquiry into his staff salary increases despite his claims last year that he had cut his budget.

As for "the entire email exchange", what would you like to read? His initial political email? My one-line response with a citation from the personnel manual? Happy to share more, but we were focused on providing the exchange mentioned in the column.

As an employee of Douglas', was she eventually issued a pass to get into his office? It seems logical that she would, since she was entering his office with his permission.

So she either used a DIFFERENT PASS than the one she was supposed to use, or just had to stick to going to his office during the day. Either way, it's pretty clear that she said "whoops" and still wasn't given the buried-half-sentence treatment.

BTW I was just pointing out that you reprinted some emails in the exchange, and simply described others. So the initial email you sent him was a "response" and not a question posed for reporting purposes?

@ Jimmy: My initial email was a question, and I'm happy to share. It wasn't all that much of an email. One sentence followed by an excerpt from the state employee personnel manual.

* * *

How is the use of a state employee and a state email justifiable when according to the state personnel manual:

Section 5.7

An employee may not:

1. Use his or her official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the nomination or election or any candidate for public office.

2. Directly or indirectly command, solicit in a coercive fashion, or advise any other employee to participate in any political activity.

3. Directly or indirectly solicit in a coercive fashion, command or advise any other employee to pay, lend, or contribute money or anything of value to a political party, candidate, committee, organization, agency or person for political purposes.

4. Participate in national, state, or local community activities or hold public office in the local community in which the employee resides if such activity would be a conflict of interest under the provisions of Section 3.01, et. seq., of the Rules and Regulations for Personnel Administration, or the Hatch Act. (Also see Section 5.1, Conflict of Interest Policy in this manual.)

5. Participate in the above referenced activities even if the employee is on sick leave, annual leave, leave of absence without pay, or other authorized leave.

6. Campaign in or on State property, both during and after working hours.

So does the email really rise to the level of "campaigning?" Are you sure it was sent from State property? Or do you see a violation of something other than number 6 in your list?

I see nothing in Section 5.7 referring to "the use of a state employee and a state email" as relates to the email that went out.

Also, I was actually asking whether Dennise Casey was eventually issued a "different pass."

@ Jimmy: The rules pertain to political activity, not just active campaigning.

As for Dennise Casey, are you asking if she was issued an ID badge after being rehired by the governor post-reelection? The answer is yes. Whether it was the same (old) ID, or a new one, I don't know for sure.

"The rules pertain to political activity, not just active campaigning."

I don't see that in the section you posted. It says "Campaign."

It also only references presence on State property, not "the use of a state employee and a state email."

re: Casey, I'm asking whether she was issued a pass prior to Douglas' reelection but after she wasn't working for the state. In other words, was her transgression entering the building when she really shouldn't have been, or just that she used the wrong piece of plastic?

@Joseph Kennedy:
"Money over substance."

To which Vermont journalists do you believe this applies? I can't think of any that have a realistic shot at making any kind of money grab, here or anywhere else, and I think they all know it. So what "money" are we talking about, and how exactly does it trump "substance?"

More to the point, journalists who have no concept of "on and off the record" do far more to limit your access to information than those who misguidedly attempt to be "puppets" and "mouthpieces" (although, again... who is that around here, exactly?) Successful journalists acquire far more information when they understand that there is a line, and do their level best not to cross it. It's not about being pals with your subject, it's about fostering a mutual respect that results in on-the-record openness.

I don't understand. When Mr. Salmon was shaking hands with me at our 4th of July parade in Stowe (back when he was first running for the auditor position), he was telling me what a proud Democrat he was and how he wanted to emulate his father's legacy.

Now, it seems he is a Republican with a foul mouth who is taking the state for a ride with his ambitions while running his dad's good name into the ground. Wow.

And his assistant gets close to 90 K a year?

Sign me up as the assistant's assistant! Only a Republican could love government so much that to tame it you have to make it bigger. Ha!

@Jimmy: There are sections the rule I posted that do cover political activity, not just campaigning.

This rule is just one of several that govern the activity of public employees.

As for Dennise Casey: No, she was not issued a separate ID after she left state employ and while on the campaign, which would link her transgression to the former, not the latter.

"There are sections the rule I posted that do cover political activity, not just campaigning."

Really? Because I'm looking at that section right now, and I think you posted the whole "prohibited activities" section. Maybe you can post the verbage you're referring to, which was apparently what you meant to send Salmon, because with respect to Salmon's email, it would seem that what you emailed back to him was in fact "immaterial."

One part you didn't post was:

An employee may:
2. Freely express his or her opinions on all political subjects and candidates."

Re: Casey, are campaign workers not allowed into that building after hours, or did Douglas have the ability to grant her that access and decide not to bother for whatever reason?

@Jimmy: It's not that campaign workers aren't allowed on the premises, although there are rules prohibiting campaigning on state property (see our related exchange to TS). It's that she used a state ID to get into the building — an ID she should have returned when she left state employment.

As for the prohibited activities section, I forwarded it to ask the auditor if he felt it was an appropriate email to send. I think his answer speaks for itself.

Here's what he sent the Free Press in response to their query about our email exchange:

"Yes, I made a mistake by sending that press release out from my office and have confirmed that understanding with my professional staff of 11 yesterday. I told them it was wrong and I won't make that mistake again."

The point is that if she could have been given a separate ID to get into the building and wasn't for a couple of weeks, for whatever reason, there's no story. Again, using the wrong piece of plastic merited an entire column.

Re: Salmon, I still don't see the verbage prohibiting what Salmon did. I think his answer does speak for itself, the rules that you quoted were immaterial. None of them were violated. In retrospect, I'm sure he does feel that sending that email was a mistake, not because it violated any rules, but because it touched off a ridiculous "story" that became a distraction.

Now if you want to post the statute or rule that was violated, please do. Because other than a politician speaking off the record the way adults speak when they're off the record, that's really the only story here.

@ Jimmy: With Dennise Casey it was a matter of several months, not weeks between her employ as an aide to the governor, her leave to run the campaign, and her return to the taxpayer-funded job.

For the record, Salmon was responding to an on-the-record inquiry from a journalist. He didn't ask to speak or email to me privately, and so there's no "off the record" here.

Other than 5.7, which I cited in part in my email, another bulletin, 5.62, addresses the use of state employees & equipment, which reads: “Employees shall not use, or attempt to use, state personnel, property, or equipment for their private use or for any use not required for the proper discharge of their official duties.”

I can't tell which who is worse, Tom Salmon or Shay Totten?! On one hand, Tom is clearly a non-professional, but on the other, Shay, common, this is kind of BS. If you are going to post partial emails, then post all of the emails. Then you guys can argue that tone can't be read in emails so then it is open to one's own view, which clearly they are different. So what is the point? To get this out there? Or get views/readers? I have to agree with Tom in the fact that this is a waste of my tax dollars.

Shay, you did get me to read it.... but what ever the point is, in the end, this isn't news and I am disappointed in both parties, I guess that is the point.

One last thing, you should both stop fucking off and get back to work. Guess that is ok to say given the context!!

Honestly, this seems like a big waste of time on the part of both sides. Are we so lacking in political news that internet snarking back and forth is the best article that can be published?

If that's the case, then I think Vermont politics is in great shape, because we don't have anything more scandalous or -- dare I say it -- worthwhile to report. I've read more interesting and poignant debates on video game fandom forums.

Is this 7 Days, or 4chan?

This is by no means a wasteful exchange. The entire state government seems to have an "I don't have to play by the rules" attitude. They do. The rules are there for a reason and we have a free press for a reason. The rules of the game are not rocket science, and conducting oneself with a level of professional that honors the job and shows respect to the citizens should not be such a stretch for these people. And for what it's worth, Mr. Salmon, it's "For whom".

I see no rules forbidding "the use of a state employee and a state email" (an email account is different from a State computer). And there are no rules, that you've mentioned anyway, relating to political activity that are relevant to Salmon's email.

Apparently Salmon's "wrongdoing" comes down to the use of a State computer to send an (arguably) personal email. Something that, you know, EVERY State employee has certainly done at one time or another. Maybe you can walk the halls at Christmas time and bust people for doing online shopping on their State owned computers. Scandalous.

Re: Casey, according to your story it was 13 days between the time they asked her for the badge back and the time it was deactivated. The time period is irrelevant though - if there were no rules forbidding her from being in the building to visit the Governor's office, and if the Governor was OK with it, then your story is about how someone didn't fill out the right paperwork. You know, the story that pretty much formed an ENTIRE COLUMN. Gee, I wonder why Salmon thinks you've got an agenda.

Finally, I'm not going to get into the on/off the record thing except to say that not every communication between a journalist and his subject is on the record, and that the rest is something that's better learned from journalism school than from other journalists who skipped that step.

Missed the "personnel" section - so is there any more of your email to Salmon that you forgot to share? Anything that deals with email accounts? Political activity?

Two points:

1. Jimmy needs to get a life and quit apologizing for the misdeeds of Salmon and those of Douglas' staffers.

2. Salmon is a disgrace, and I'm sure his father is completely ashamed of him. I liked his dad as a governor. He had integrity and decency, things that are apparently completely foreign to his little boy (you can't in good conscience consider him a man).

One final note: Shay, I think you need to step up your game a little bit. You are following in the footsteps of a fine man and political reporter. Upon Peter's passing, even the most skewered of his targets spoke kindly of him. You lack the deft touch he had, and lack his sense of which lines that should not be crossed. I hate to agree with one single thing that Salmon wrote, but find myself having to agree with this: You can do better.

"quit apologizing for the misdeeds of Salmon"

Oh no, you misunderstand; I think sending a personal email from a work machine is a horrible misdeed. HORRIBLE. Any professional journalist would be crazy not to jump on such a scandal.

I expect to see a column in the near future about all State personnel who have ever used a work computer for personal use of any kind, or used their office phone to make a personal call. Because that's the kind of breaking story that "fearless journalists" pursue.

"One final note: Shay, I think you need to step up your game a little bit. You are following in the footsteps of a fine man and political reporter. Upon Peter's passing, even the most skewered of his targets spoke kindly of him. You lack the deft touch he had, and lack his sense of which lines that should not be crossed. I hate to agree with one single thing that Salmon wrote, but find myself having to agree with this: You can do better."

That's crap. Freyne was a petty, opinionated, lazy, dishonest, gossip-monger. He was not a "policitcal reporter." He did absolutely NO analysis. All he did was snark his sound-bite opinions and slash anyone who didn't share them. Oh, and let's not forget the "cute names" he came up with for his victims. Right out of 5th grade.

And I'm sorry to inform you that he was not a "fine man." He hurt people. On purpose. For no reason other than that he could because he had a column.

"Upon Peter's passing, even the most skewered of his targets spoke kindly of him." Not all of them. Guess you weren't paying attention to this blog.

"Deft touch"? Are you on drugs? Bashing your opponents with one-liners and calling them names is not a "deft touch." And it's not political journalism, either.

This isn't to pile on a dead guy. You brought it up.

You're wrong. Shay's actually better than Freyne ever was. By a mile. The danger is that his column is sliding too much in Freyne's direction of thinking that there's only ONE correct opinion on any issue and it's HIS, and snarking at people who don't share it.

Shay, are you planning to have an email exchange with the executive directors of the Champlain Housing Trust and the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity asking them why they used company emails in what they admit was a "personal" effort to rally opposition to the City Council's stance on the Phoenix House project?

Just askin.

Too bad this did not make the VPT Vermont This Week 2010 Top Ten Stories of the Year Shay. I think it well deserved a chance of being among the top ten.

It probably would not have helped much if I had participated in it though.

Oh well! There is always next year and if you or some other member of the Vermont press corps manages to get on the nerves of some thin-skinned politician or bureaucrat.

Let's hope anyway!


I have to laugh at Shay Totten. When I think of the Trivia that he would like to portray as "important Political Debate" material worth publishing.. He is such "small town" "reporter". He would be better off just announcing
the local Burlington Entertainment events such as the Jazz
Fest etc. Much more his speed. Antagonizing and baiting
any Political figure with the intention of receiving an
angry response is not being a "political analyst". It
was a joke Shay. Try another profession..

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