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January 2011

January 31, 2011

LGBTQ Publication Out in the Mountains Relaunches Online

Site logo After closing down more than four years ago, the GLBT-themed Out in the Mountains newspaper is relaunching as a website, including news articles, columns, reviews and its popular statewide calendar and resource directory.

Out in the Mountains, the only newspaper devoted to covering Vermont's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, was shuttered in November 2006 after 21 years on the newsstands. The free paper was published monthly and distributed statewide. It included columns, comics, local and national news as well as a statewide calendar and a resource directory.

When Mountain Pride Media decided to shut down the paper in 2006, its editors noted that mainstream media outlets were covering many LGBTQ issues — stories they wouldn't likely have written when OITM founded in 1985.

Mountain Pride Media President Brian Cote told Seven Days in 2006 that many readers, especially younger ones, were turning to the Internet for news and not a monthly newspaper. At the time, OITM's website had an online archive, but it was slow to adopt new interactive features.

By contrast, the new website offers links to follow the publication on Twitter and Facebook, and it's asking readers to post news and information in hopes of creating an intentional online information community.

Continue reading "LGBTQ Publication Out in the Mountains Relaunches Online" »

Middlebury College "Sloppagees" Exposed

Middlebury College Invents a Pushy Redhead to Ease Dishware Theft   Middlebury College Invents a Pushy Redhead to Ease Dishware Theft 1 Apparently, Middlebury College has a problem with theft. Not theft of TI-84 calculators, Longchamps bags or Range Rovers. No, this problem is much more serious than that.

Midd students are stealing spoons. And forks. And knives. And other assorted dishware. And the college's food service staff is none too pleased about it. 

To stem the tide of flatware pilfering, the college created a series of videos (see below) featuring a vaguely menacing fictional character named Aunt Des whose red bouffant is as shellacked as her fiery fingernails are acrylic. In the videos, over-the-top Aunt Des, played by college communications staffer Maria Theresa Stadtmueller, commiserates with the college's frustrated dining services director and plots ways to retrieve the nicked dishes. 

We learn from watching the videos that Midd kids are lifting dishes and leaving them all over campus — in their suites, buried in couch cushions, even under the pews of the chapel. For shame! Aunt Des, who appears to be modeled after some sort of husky Jersey matriarch, is appauled by this behavior. She calls the students "sloppagees" and vows to hunt down the offenders. 

"You can dish it out, but you can't take it," Aunt Des vamps. 

Continue reading "Middlebury College "Sloppagees" Exposed" »

January 28, 2011

Viva Rut-Vegas! Milton Rep. Seeks to Legalize Casino Gambling

Gambling With Vermont $178 million in the hole, a state lawmaker from Milton and several colleagues are going "all in" with a new revenue scheme: legalized casino gambling.

H.131, introduced just today, proposes to require the state lottery commission to issue one casino gaming license. Under the bill, the casino would pay the state $5 million for the license, plus 10 percent of adjusted gross receipts. The cost to apply for the license would be $50,000.

"With the budget constraints that we have in Vermont, there's always ways to look for ways to bring in revenues," says Rep. Ron Hubert (R-Milton, pictured), the chief sponsor of the bill. "Constituents talk about how there are all kinds of bus trips from Vermont to surrounding states for casinos. It piqued my curiosity about how much revenue Vermont is losing to other states that offer this."

Does this bill stand a chance of passing? Don't bet the House on it. House Speaker Shap Smith tells Seven Days, through a spokesman, "I do not support casino gambling," though he declined to explain why.

But a bipartisan group of sponsors are pressing ahead. Hubert's bill has 16 co-signers. (For the full list, click the link to the bill, above). The legislation would permit one "casino enterprise," defined as the casino itself, plus "any bar, restaurant, hotel, cocktail lounge, retail establishment" or other facility connected to the casino. The laundry list of games specifically permitted by the bill include: faro, 21 monte, roulette, keno, bingo, fan tan, twenty-one, blackjack, seven and a half, Klondike, craps, poker, chuck a luck, Chinese chuck a luck (dai shu), wheel of fortune, chemin de fer, baccarat, pai gow, beat the banker, panguingui, slot machine, any banking or percentage game, or "any other game or device approved by the commission."

So, pretty much everything — except "games played with cards in private homes or residences in which no person makes money for operating the game except as a player."

Hubert says that based on his research of casinos in neighboring states, he estimates that Vermont state government could rake in upwards of $200 million a year from a single casino. Hubert suggests the proceeds could go to the state education fund, like lottery revenues do, which he says could reduce reliance on property taxes to fund schools. He also believes it would create good-paying jobs, claiming wages would be $14 to $25 an hour for dealers and other casino floor workers.

"I certainly don't want [Vermont] to become Atlantic City, but at the same time, if we have a large number of people in this state that enjoy that," it should be considered, Hubert says.

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The Good, the Bad, the Burlington Telecom: Citizens Question Officials About the Future of BT

BTMeeting They came, they saw, they vented. More than 100 people crammed into City Hall Auditorium in Burlington for a special city council meeting Thursday night about the status of beleaguered Burlington Telecom.

The nearly four-hour meeting probably didn't change many minds. Diehard BT supporters are still insisting the utility can be saved. Likewise, those who would like to see the mayor resign and be held personally liable for returning the $17 million BT owes Burlington taxpayers weren't swayed by arguments that the company is now "cash flow positive."

In all, more than 40 questions were put to city officials, outside consultants, lawyers and city councilors. Of those, 35 were submitted in writing ahead of time (see below).

Mayor Bob Kiss and the outside consultants said while BT's financial troubles left a hole in the city's cash pool, the utility has turned things around and is in a better financial position to seek outside investors now. Kiss also refuted some of the claims that have been made about his administration's failing in regard to BT operations and oversight.

His words, however, didn't seem to resonate with most people at the meeting — even BT supporters.

Continue reading "The Good, the Bad, the Burlington Telecom: Citizens Question Officials About the Future of BT" »

Housing Groups and Pizzigalli Craft Deal to Preserve Low-Income Housing

6a00d83451b91969e20133f1f48f49970b-320wi On the day they were supposed to receive eviction notices, the 44 residents of Wharf Lane were handed much better news: A deal has been struck between two nonprofit housing groups and the building's owner that will keep their apartments as subsidized, affordable housing.

"We announced to the residents that we had a deal, in principle, on both Wharf Lane and Bobbin Mill and expected to sign purchase and sale contracts early next week," Paul Dettman, executive director of Burlington Housing Authority told Seven Days.

BHA is working with the Vermont Housing Finance Agency to purchase Wharf Lane and the nearby Bobbin Mill apartments, which is home to more than 100 people — many of them low-income families.

For almost a year, Wharf Lane's tenants — some of Burlington's poorest public-housing residents — have been caught in a battle between their landlord and two housing nonprofits. Negotiations stalled in late December, and it looked as if the residents would be evicted in April. Their leases expired March 31.

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January 27, 2011

Heave-Ho — Vermont Frost Heaves Fold

10ad8643fce1472e1d37b4d65a5e1324.400 If you picked up the latest issue of Seven Days yesterday or read it online, you'll know that we wrote about a man from Calais named Dick Rouelle who is the ultimate Vermont Frost Heaves superfan. Over the years, Rouelle has let nothing stand in his way of catching every Heaves game, both home and away. Not only is Rouelle a devotee of the Barre-based minor league basketball franchise, but he's also one of the founders of Go Heaves, Inc., the fan nonprofit that owns the team. Or rather, more correctly, owned the team. 

On Wednesday, the nonprofit announced that the Heaves were folding. If you read the rosy, heartening piece we wrote, you might be scratching your head, wondering how that could be. By all accounts, the team was financially solvent enough to scrape by and the fans weren't going to let the team go under.

So what happened? How did the team collapse so soon after their season began in early January?

The answer, of course, is all about money. Or more specifically, the lack of it.

Continue reading "Heave-Ho — Vermont Frost Heaves Fold" »

Citizens Ask Court to Find Burlington in Contempt for Using Taxpayer Funds

Gavel 3Two Burlington taxpayers are asking a Chittenden Superior Court judge to find the city of Burlington in contempt of a court order prohibiting certain use of general funds to support Burlington Telecom.

The motion was filed today on behalf of Fred Osier and Gene Shaver by their attorney Norm Williams of Gravel and Shea. In his complaint, Williams argues that more than $235,000 in city general fund dollars used to pay an outside consultants to restructure Burlington Telecom is verboten.

A February 2010 court order issued in this case, and agreed to by the city, prohibits the city from using any general fund dollars to prop up BT unless the money is repaid within 60 days. The city is also required to provide the court with accounting records to ensure that it's not in violation of the order.

The city paid more than $227,000 to Dorman & Fawcett to help BT restructure its operations and renegotiate its lease with CitiCaptial, among other things. The city also paid out more than $5000 to a broadband consultant to review BT's operations, and roughly $3000 to Langrock, Sperry and Wool for legal "defense" consultation as a result of state criminal investigations. These funds were all paid out of the city's general fund, not from BT's operational funds.

The consulting fees came to light after two city councilors and Seven Days requested a complete record of how much money the city has paid outside consultants and lawyers as a result of the various BT cases and investigations.

As of late December the city and BT paid out more than $625,000 to various consultants and attorneys. That figure was $500,000 as of late August.

Continue reading "Citizens Ask Court to Find Burlington in Contempt for Using Taxpayer Funds" »

January 26, 2011

Burlington Offers "Amnesty" For Unregistered Landlords

DSC08927 Attention Burlington landlords: If you've got a rental apartment that you haven't registered with city hall, now's the time to do it.

In an effort to make sure Queen City housing stock is up to code, the city is offering an "amnesty" period for landlords to declare their unregistered rentals and get them inspected without incurring the normal penalties — up to $500 in fines and up to 30 days (!) in jail.

At the request of the Code Enforcement Office, the Burlington City Council passed a resolution on Monday approving the amnesty period, from February 1 to March 31, 2011. Landlords will still have to pay the annual registration fees — $50 for owner-occupied duplexes and $75 per unit for all other rentals — but not retroactive sanctions that might be due.

The resolution was co-sponsored by Councilors Joan Shannon (D-5) and Emma Mulvaney-Stanak (P-3).

At a press conference Wednesday, Burlington Code Enforcement Director Bill Ward (pictured) and several code inspectors detailed the "free pass" program and displayed a set of big, glossy photographs showing some of the code violations discovered during routine housing inspections (slide show below).

"The idea is not to embarrass people," Ward said, noting the properties were not identified, "but to point out that this is a problem."

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January 25, 2011

City Hall Criticizes State 'Audit' of Burlington Telecom

41608_168107802724_1556137_n Late Tuesday, the Kiss Administration issued a 21-page rebuttal to last month's blistering review of Burlington Telecom and the city's oversight of the fledgling telecom.

The so-called "Larkin Report" was initiated in October 2009 by the Vermont Department of Public Service as the city sought relief from a few key conditions contained in its certificate of public good. This was when it was first revealed that the city had used $17 million in taxpayer funds to prop up BT over the course of several fiscal years.

The report, conducted by Larkin and Associates, was released December 10, 2010 and claimed that BT was in violation of Condition 60 of its CPG since its inception, and that BT overpaid for installation services and programming — perhaps twice as much. Condition 60 forbid the city from using any taxpayer funds unless they could be repaid within 60 days.

The report also questioned BT's long-term viability, and whether city officials had fully informed the public and city councilors about the extend of BT's financial problems.

The report was issued just days after the city told state regulators that it had backed out of its $33.5 million lease finance arrangement with CitiCapital and was seeking new financial and strategic partners. Consultants Dorman & Fawcett have been leading those talks and are one of several outside firms who have been brought in to help reorganize BT.

Mayor Bob Kiss and his administration took issue with the report as soon as it was released, but now they've provided additional details and documents they claim the consulting firm either missed, or failed to acknowledge.

Continue reading "City Hall Criticizes State 'Audit' of Burlington Telecom" »

Shumlin Unveils Budget Plan: 'Tough Choices, Big Opportunities'

Spaulding Gov. Peter Shumlin unveiled a sobering budget address to a rather subdued legislature Tuesday afternoon — laying out a fiscal spending plan that makes significant cuts in human services spending while at the same time setting aside new money for broadband expansion, job training and expanding pre-school education.

Some of the highlights of Shumlin's speech (pasted below in its entirety), include:

Dissolving Catamount Health and rolling those 12,500 Vermonters into state-run and -managed health care programs housed in the Department of Vermont Health Access ($5 million in savings) in order to create one state health care pool and inch the state closer to a singlepayer model. The move, however, will also mean that folks on Catamount will see their deductibles rise to $1200 (up from $500);

Moving the women prisoners from St. Albans to the regional jail in South Burlington, and the men from South Burlington up to St. Albans. The goal is to move more out-of-state prisoners back to Vermont as non-violent prisoners are released and bed space opens up at in-state prisons ($7.2 million in savings);

A $23 million ongoing reduction from the General Fund transfer to the Education Fund;

$12 million in government labor, private contract, health insurance, and retirement savings; and,

$4.6 million in reduced funding for our regional mental health agencies.

"My administration takes no pleasure in delivering this budget, and we will work in partnership with mental health, health care and the human service community to ensure that vulnerable Vermotners are protected," Shumlin said. "Critics will observe that some of the budget reductions that I put before you today are the same reductions that I worked with you to protect when proposed by the previous governor. They will rightfully ask, 'What has changed?'"

Continue reading "Shumlin Unveils Budget Plan: 'Tough Choices, Big Opportunities'" »

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