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April 2011

April 30, 2011

Vermont-Based Company Was First to Record Musical "Hit" of the Royal Wedding

250brandon-1 When Stephen Sutton of Brandon (pictured) heard a choral cycle by 35-year-old composer Paul Mealor, he liked it -- enough to record it on his classical label, Divine Art. When Kate Middleton heard the work's concert premiere, she apparently liked it, too -- enough to request that Mealor's work, "Now sleeps the crimson petal," be performed at her wedding to Prince William.

So, this past Friday morning, the world heard Mealor's romantic, ethereal, yet distinctly modern piece as part of the wedding service at Westminster Abbey. Today at Brandon Music -- the unique art gallery/CD store/tea room that Sutton owns with his wife, Edna, facing Brandon's golf course -- there was rejoicing, as well as clotted-cream tea.

"Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal" is currently no. 7 on Amazon UK's list of top-selling classical song MP3s -- its third wedding-fueled day in the Top 100. That's the version that Divine Art recorded before all the wedding hoopla, performed by the Con Anima Chamber Choir. Its text is a Tennyson poem.

Continue reading "Vermont-Based Company Was First to Record Musical "Hit" of the Royal Wedding" »

April 29, 2011

Eating the Enemy: How to Become an Invasivore


Take a good, hard look at this picture. This is the enemy — at least if you're a river, and especially one trying to deal with several inches of rain in the space of a few days. Invasive garlic mustard, or Alliaria petiolata, causes riverbanks to erode, and aggressively crowds out other, grippier plants with the delicacy of a steamroller. 

Since arriving on these shores in the mid-1800s as a culinary herb brought by European immigrants, the plant has spread like a terrestrial oil slick throughout the U.S.; the creatures that feed on it in its natural habitat just don't exist here, giving the mustard free rein.

Continue reading "Eating the Enemy: How to Become an Invasivore" »

Vermont Supreme Court: Ballots are Public Records

Ballot Score a victory for public records.

The Vermont Supreme Court ruled today that election ballots are not exempt from public inspection under the state's public records act.

The 4-1 ruling ends a more than three-year legal battle between a lone voter in Fairlee and town officials, the secretary of state and the attorney general. Justice John Dooley dissented.

Timothy Price, who served on the town's Board of Civil Authority in the fall of 2006, ended up suing the town in 2008 to get access to ballots and tally sheets from the November 2006 election.

Price served as his own lawyer. In doing so, he went up against not only lawyers for the town, but also Attorney General Bill Sorrell, who sided with Fairlee.

When contacted by Seven Days about his victory, Price was stunned. He hadn't yet been informed of the ruling.

"That's really wonderful news," said Price. "It's been a very long process."

What prompted Price to sue for access was the 2006 state auditor's race. The election night results were so close between incumbent Republican Randy Brock and Democrat Tom Salmon that a statewide recount was held.

Continue reading "Vermont Supreme Court: Ballots are Public Records" »

April 28, 2011

Pete's Greens Lands $300,000 Loan from State


IMG_2478 Pete's Greens, which is in the process of rebuilding after a devastating fire in January, walked away from Montpelier today with another large chunk of change to help the farm rebuild.

The $300,000 award from the Vermont Community Development Board is officially given to Craftsbury. The town, in turn, will loan the money to Pete’s Greens. The loan and interest will be repaid over 10 years. Once the loan is repaid, the town will be able to use the money for other community development projects.

“This award is an important step in supporting not only a significant organic farm, but a local community that also suffered as a result of that fire,” Gov. Peter Shumlin said at a Statehouse announcement. “Pete’s Greens is a key player in Vermont’s value-added agricultural market.”

A certified organic vegetable farm, Pete’s Green sells wholesale to restaurants and markets in Vermont, Massachusetts and New York. It also runs a year-round CSA. Pete Johnson, the sole owner, started the business in 1995.

"We are very grateful for this loan," said Johnson. "We are in a very exciting state and at a very exciting time agriculturally. We see lots of new developments happening right now that will carry us forward another 10 years."

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Burlington Telecom Seeks Delay in Civil Case (Again)

Gavel If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And again. And again. And …

For the sixth time, Burlington Telecom is asking Superior Court Judge Helen Toor to delay a civil court case filed by two disgruntled Burlington taxpayers.

Instead of Toor, BT wants the Vermont Public Service Board to weigh in on proposed fixes to its financial and regulatory problems first — fixes the city has yet to propose to the PSB.

The city is expected to update the PSB later this week on its efforts to restructure its finances and potentially find a new business partner.

The civil suit — filed last year — seeks immediate repayment of the $16.9 million BT borrowed from the city’s “cash pool” to prop up the struggling muni telecom. It also names Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold as a defendant, and he is potentially on the hook to repay some of the money. Leopold sought, and was denied, immunity from the lawsuit.

Leopold offered a tempered, and brief, apology to city taxpayers two weeks ago when he announced his resignation, which is effective June 30.

According to its original certificate of public good, BT was required to repay the money within 60 days and it failed to do so. Last year, the city agreed to a court order barring BT from incurring additional debt to the city.

The two taxpayers, Fred Osier and Gene Shaver, argue that the city is currently in contempt of that order.

How so? In December, the city revealed that it paid $227,795 to consultants Dorman & Fawcett to renegotiate BT’s lease with CitiCapital, along with roughly $9000 in other BT-related expenses — all out of the city’s general fund. The city defended those payments, claiming the consultants’ work benefited the city, not just BT.

The taxpayers’ attorney, Norman Williams, disagrees.

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April 27, 2011

Statehouse Hearing Uncovers More DUI Breath-Testing Problems

DSC09632**Updated below with statement from Department of Health spokesman Robert Stirewalt**

New troubles are surfacing around the breath-testing devices Vermont uses to prosecute drunk drivers.

In a hearing at the Statehouse Wednesday, state officials revealed that a DataMaster DMT breath-testing instrument at the South Royalton state police barracks was malfunctioning over a period of several months last year. The problem was fixed in September, Department of Health officials said, but no one was notified until a defense attorney made the discovery last week.

As a result of the malfunction, 70 drunk drivers charged in Windsor and Orange counties during that time frame are having their cases reviewed to determine whether they were convicted on flawed evidence.

A frustrated Sen. Dick Sears (D-Bennington), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called for the Shumlin administration to investigate why the problems weren't revealed sooner.

"There's a lot of people who might not have been guilty," Sears (pictured) said during a morning hearing. "Can you imagine if this was DNA stuff and we convicted the wrong person for murder, or let somebody off for murder? We've got to get this stuff right."

As first reported by Seven Days, the DataMaster DMT breath-testing devices are under scrutiny after a current and former state chemist alleged that a colleague, lab technician Steven Harnois, had tampered with them over a period of several years to get them to "pass" routine performance tests. The allegations were revealed in a run-of-the-mill drunk driving case in Washington County that is being handled by criminal defense attorneys David Sleigh and Frank Twarog. Harnois was cleared of wrongdoing by health officials following an internal review completed last May.

In response to growing questions about the DataMasters' integrity, Gov. Peter Shumlin yesterday proposed transferring the breath-testing program from the Department of Health to the Department of Public Safety. Unlike the state crime lab, the health lab is not accredited by an independent party. That would change if it fell under DPS. The Judiciary Committee took testimony from a parade of health and law enforcement officials this morning on legislation to codify that move into law.

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Democrats and Republicans Swap Complaints Over Session Solicitations

IMG_2458 * updated below with comments by Gov. Peter Shumlin *

Vermont Republicans are asking the state's attorney general to investigate Gov. Peter Shumlin's alleged violation of campaign election laws by sending out fund-raising solicitations to lobbyists.

In response, the Vermont Democrats have now filed a similar complaint to Sorrell's office against the former campaign of Republican Gov. Jim Douglas for sending a solicitation to a Vermont lobbyist during the 2009-2010 session.

Zoinks! Is it 2012 already?

As noted in this week's "Fair Game," lawmakers and the governor, along with administration officials, are forbidden from soliciting donations, or accepting solicited donations, from registered lobbyists or their employers during a legislative session. And by session the law means from the start of the biennium to the end of the biennium — in this case, when the legislature adjourns in 2012. 

The Vermont GOP is asking the state's top cop to investigate whether Shumlin's two emails — one dated April 6 and the other April 18 — violated the law. Both asked recipients to give money — one was signed by Shumlin and the other was signed by Matt Vinci, president of the Professional Firefighters of Vermont. Vinci had just returned from Washington, D.C. where Shumlin had testified before a House committee in support of public employee unions and about state budget concerns. Shumlin testified alongside Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

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Whoopi Goldberg Says "Later" to Her Vermont View

3070174a It seems as though Whoopi Goldberg, everyone's favorite besmocked talk show host, is forsaking us. She's pulling up the stakes at her 745-acre pad in Marlboro and hightailing it outta Vermont. According to a couple of real estate blogs, Goldberg's spread — known as the Robinson-Winchester Farm — is on the market for an easy breezy $2.3 million.

The blurb about the property on the real estate company's website explains that "no expense was spared in the renovations from the beautiful 1790 colonial home." It also notes that this is a "once in a lifetime opportunity" to buy a "unique property owned by high profile celebrity." Um, gross. I'm sure the farm will be even more meaningful to its future owners since it was once owned by the star of vastly underrated spy 1986 comedy "Jumpin' Jack Flash." Especially if she accidentally left behind a pair of her signature wire-rimmed spectacles.  

Continue reading "Whoopi Goldberg Says "Later" to Her Vermont View" »

New Home Found for Lakeview Group Home Residents

IMG_2256 * updated below *

A mediation session ordered by a Vermont judge may settle, amicably, an ongoing dispute over a group home run by the Howard Center for Human Services. Its landlords — the Roman Catholic Diocese of Vermont and Burlington College — want to relocate the residents, but so far, that's been difficult to do.

HowardCenter officials hope the 17 residents can stay in the single-family home at the former Diocesan property on North Avenue through the summer, which will give the organization enough time to rehab another property in Burlington. The proposed new home is located on St. Paul Street adjacent to Smalley Park, and is owned by Champlain Housing Trust.

The home should be renovated and ready to receive the residents by late summer, perhaps early fall, said Michael Monte, chief operating officer of the Champlain Housing Trust.

"We're pushing pretty hard because we know that Howard is in a tough spot and needs to move and move fast," said Monte. "So, we're doing the best we can in a reasonable way. We have a couple of tenants that we needed to find new homes for and we have been able to do that. They've been very accommodating and understanding, which is great."

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Burlington Zoning Case Pits Solar Panels Against Slate Roofs

Solar homeOn the heels of the zoning dust-up over a Burlington restaurant's wind turbine comes another case of historic presevation vs. renewable energy. This time, it's solar panels vs. slate roof — and the solar panels won.

Bob Summers and Orly Yadin asked the city for permission to replace a portion of their slate roof at 185 Maple St. with a standing seam metal roof. The couple wants to install 20 rooftop solar panels as part of an addition (pictured). Six of those would go on what is now slate roof. The homeowners say that mounting the panels on a metal roof would be easier and less costly than drilling into affixing them to slate.

By their estimate, the panels would generate 75 percent of the the household's electricity needs and would not be visible from the street.

Burlington City Planning staff approved of the renovation, which consists of additions to the first and second floors, plus a small patio. But they recommended denial of the solar array because the city's zoning regulations bar property owners from removing slate roofs unless they are in a state of failure. And this roof is in good shape.

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