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June 2011

June 24, 2011

Burlington Councilors Want Free Parking — All the Time

P03-01-nolabels Burlington's city councilors may argue about any number of critical issues facing the city, but there is one thing they agree on: Free parking for themselves.

A resolution sponsored by Councilors Ed Adrian (D-Ward 1), Dave Hartnett (D-Ward 4), Joan Shannon (D-Ward 5) and Kurt Wright (R-Ward 4) seeks the creation of a new city ordinance giving city councilors carte blanche to park at any city-owned meter, garage or city park free of charge — 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

What's the reasoning? An outcry among constituents that councilors were being treated unfairly, left circling the block for hours while critical business was being conducted? The high cost to taxpayers for police to issue, and then void, tickets to councilors while they were on official city business?

Nope and nope.

Simple, noted Councilor Adrian in an email to Seven Days: "Since we are on duty all the time the parking benefit should extend all the time. Just like when the police are on duty."

The mayor, as the resolution notes, has a dedicated parking space on Main Street near City Hall Park. Hey, no fair!

Continue reading "Burlington Councilors Want Free Parking — All the Time" »

June 23, 2011

7 Questions for Deborah Brenner, Founder of Women of the Vine

Deborah-7 Six years ago, a seismic life change forced Deborah Brenner to take stock and weigh her options. Though she'd flourished as a tech industry executive for most of her career, a trip to California's Napa Valley ignited her passions for food and wine — and piqued her curiosity about the women winemakers who had made their mark in a male-dominated industry. Her breezy 2006 book, Women of the Vine: Inside the World of Women Who Make, Taste and Enjoy Wine, profiled 20 of these pioneers, and was chosen by Wine Spectator magazine as "Critical Reading" in 2007.

While researching her book, Brenner, 44, became alarmed by the agribusiness interests taking over California's wine industry and swallowing up some of the smaller family vineyards throughout the state. So, she leveraged her assets and launched the Women of the Vine line — an "assemblage" of sustainably grown wines made by some of the most prominent female winemakers in California, including Heidi Barrett and Carol Shelton. 

This weekend, Brenner will celebrate the launch of WOTV wines in Vermont with a packed roster of events: a tasting dinner tonight at The Belted Cow, a tasting tomorrow afternoon at Burlington Wine Shop; a Farm Aid benefit featuring singer Rebecca Pidgeon at Higher Ground tomorrow night (called "Wine, Women & Song"); and a tasting at the Burlington Wine & Food Festival on Saturday. This summer, Pidgeon is playing several concerts for WOTV in support of nonprofit Farm Aid, which Brenner passionately supports, and to which she donates some of her proceeds.

Brenner was fresh from a red eye from Las Vegas — and about to leave the next morning to drive to Vermont — when she answered a few questions by phone from her home north of New York City.

Continue reading "7 Questions for Deborah Brenner, Founder of Women of the Vine" »

Canadian Firms in Bidding War for State's Largest Electric Utility

Powerplug * * Updated below with comment from Gov. Peter Shumlin * *

The Quebec-based utility that owns Green Mountain Power has made an unsolicited offer to buy Vermont's largest electric utility, Central Vermont Public Service, and merge the two companies.

CVPS announced late last month that it was evaluating a purchase offer from Canadian-based Fortis, which made an offer of roughly $700 million to buy CVPS.

Gaz Métro is offering roughly $710 million, or $35.25 a share, versus the Fortis offer of $35.10 per share. Both deals include absorbing CVPS' debt of $230 million.

“This offer requires us to convene our board of directors to evaluate the proposal in depth as soon as possible,” said CVPS President Larry Reilly in a statement reacting to the proposal.  “Until the board of directors has an opportunity to examine the offer, we are precluded from making any further comment.”

Gaz Métro already owns, through a U.S.-based subsidiary, both GMP and Vermont Gas Systems. Gaz Métro has been the parent company of Vermont Gas since 1986 and of Green Mountain Power since 2007. GMP is Vermont's second largest utility. Gaz Métro has more than $3.6 billion in assets and is considered Quebec’s leading natural gas distributor.

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June 22, 2011

Sanders Stars in Exposé of Conservative Billionaire Koch Brothers (VIDEO)

BernieKoch A new four-minute online film featuring Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is taking aim at a powerful pair of billionaire brothers who the senator claims are bankrolling think tanks and politicians to spread misinformation about Social Security.

In a fast-moving online film titled "Echo Chamber" (embedded below), in which Sanders is the narrator, the independent senator offers a litany of examples in which he claims David and Charles Koch have spent tens of millions of dollars to dupe the American people into believing that Social Security is going bankrupt and needs major changes to survive.

A group of think tanks have received more than $28.4 million in Koch funding and produced more than 300 position papers distorting the purpose and effectiveness of Social Security, according to filmmaker Brave New Foundation.

The film reveals a cottage industry comprised of Koch brothers’ spokespeople, front groups, think tanks, academics and elected officials, which have built a perpetual echo chamber that Sanders argues is transforming what were once "fringe" ideas into popular mainstream public policy arguments.

Those fringe ideas? That the retirement age for Social Security needs to be increased to 70; that Social Security is already bankrupt; and that Social Security, or portions of it, should be privatized and invested in the stock market.

Continue reading "Sanders Stars in Exposé of Conservative Billionaire Koch Brothers (VIDEO)" »

June 21, 2011

Art Auction Provides Aid for Japan

Thumb_1307102890_img1 Remember the earthquake in Japan? That disaster and its grim consequences have almost disappeared from the headlines here — particularly since Vermonters have been focused on their own tribulations from the flooding. Americans in general have woefully short attention spans under the best of circumstances.

But in Burlington, Marin Horikawa isn't giving up. A native of Tokyo, he's been employed as a design director at Jager Di Paola Kemp for 10 years, and works primarily on graphics for Burton Snowboards. After the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster struck his homeland, Horikawa decided to do what he could to help.

What he did is organize an online art auction. "Art Helps Japan" includes work from nearly 50 internationally known artists, some of them Vermonters. The online version ends this Saturday, June 25. Those who prefer live auction action, though, could come to just that at JDK's new café, Maglianero, this Friday, June 24, from 6 to 10 p.m. At 8, the event will present a real, live auctioneer — you know, those people who can say incomprehensible things really fast.

One hundred percent of the proceeds from the online and live auction will be donated to the Japanese Red Cross. So, go ahead, buy art if you can.

Pictured: "Komfort" by Travis Millard, one of the artworks on auction

Fletcher Allen CEO Likely Leaving Post for Midwest Hospital

Estes The chief executive officer of Fletcher Allen Health Care, Vermont's largest hospital, is likely leaving to become the new chief at a Midwestern hospital, FAHC officials told staff today.

In an email sent to all Fletcher Allen staff late Tuesday morning, Board of Trustees Chairman Roger Stone said Dr. Melinda Estes "is in discussions with a hospital system in the Midwest regarding the possibility of becoming their next CEO."

Stone did not name the hospital.

Estes (pictured) was hired in 2003 following a financial scandal related to a multimillion-dollar renovation — dubbed the Renaissance Project — that landed her predecessor in federal prison and shook confidence in the hospital's finances. Stone and other hospital officials credit Estes for repairing the hospital's images and strengthening its bottom line.

A neurologist and neuropathologist who also has an MBA, Estes is one of the highest paid CEOs in Vermont, earning a total compensation of $1.9 million in 2009, up from $700,000 when she was first hired in 2003. Prior to joining Fletcher Allen, she spent most of the previous two decades in The Cleveland Clinic health care system.

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Alice Eats: Uncle Tony's Pizza

360 Dorset Street, South Burlington, 864-5222

Smell is often the first indicator of what to expect when trying a new restaurant. When I reviewed bevo a few weeks ago, the odor of smoking pork and French fries was a good indicator. Given that, I was a little worried about take-out and delivery-only Uncle Tony's Pizza.

IMG_2424 When I picked up my dinner from its South Burlington location, my car took on an unmistakable, and very familiar, smell. When we were first together, my boyfriend worked at Domino's, suddenly, the car once again took on the doughy, slightly sweet aroma that continued to fill his car for months after he left the pizza biz.

Was I in for something like the chain pizza? Fortunately not, I learned as soon as I got home and actually saw the food. The irregular shape of my pie betrayed that it was hand-tossed. The sauce was homemade, too, and full of oregano.

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June 20, 2011

Stupid Flooding Puts Kibosh on Bike Ferry

Causeway-Flooding-5-7-11-500x253 This just in from the flooding damage desk: No bike ferry this season. Boo. 

Apparently, the damage wrought by Mother Nature during the spring flooding was so severe that both the northern and southern sections of the causeway were largely wiped out. Bitch.

The erosion damage will not be repaired in time for the ferry to begin running, so cross that off your list of summer things you want to do. Also strike from your list sitting on the causeway stone piles and throwing trash at the Québecois McYachts as they motor through the cut. 

The bike ferry, which connects the Island Line Trail in Colchester with its sister trail in South Hero, has been running as a demonstration for the past nine years in some form or another thanks to the efforts of cycling advocacy organization, Local Motion and other partners such as VBT Bicycling & Walking Adventures. But not this year. And that's a huge shame. The volunteer-run service was one of the real joys of a northern Vermont summer. 

Continue reading "Stupid Flooding Puts Kibosh on Bike Ferry" »

An Alternate, Augmented Reality in Woodstock

-3 I've heard a lot lately about augmented reality, one of those brave-new-world-type tech trends people talk about at web conferences. It's basically the ability to create an altered version of reality that's accessible to anyone looking through the lens of a smartphone.

I had my first experience with it on Saturday. I expected that to happen in a big city, maybe Boston or New York. I never would have guessed that I'd encounter my first augmented-reality objects on a walking tour in Woodstock, Vt.

New-media artist and Pace University professor Will Pappenheimer led the tour. That morning, Pappenheimer had placed virtual, 3D, animated objects in various spots around town. At the start of the afternoon excursion, he asked the eight of us who joined him to load the Layars app onto our smartphones. Then he led us to the installation sites, instructed us to turn on our video cameras, and told us where to look.

At each site, we saw an object that seemed to be just part of the scenery. The image above, of the blue flowery thing floating inside the covered bridge, is not Photoshopped — it's a screenshot from 7D deputy web editor Tyler Machado's iPhone.

The tour was part of the inaugural Woodstock Digital Media Festival, an event that aimed to showcase "the most interesting, progressive and accessible work in the world of digital media today." Organizer David McGowan, a media executive who splits his time between Woodstock and London, hopes the festival will become an annual occurrence.

I hope so, too. I was there to moderate a panel discussion on "Digital Vermont." I was initially a little skeptical about the digital art, but every time I would start to head to the car to drive home, something else would pull me back in.

Continue reading "An Alternate, Augmented Reality in Woodstock" »

June 17, 2011

Bolton Potholes Sees Rising Tide of A-Holes

Bolton photo

It's been more than 20 years since Robert Fulghum's book, All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten was on the New York Times best-seller list. But apparently, it's high time that some visitors to the Bolton Potholes buy a copy, read it — or have someone read it to them — and take its lessons to heart. Among them: Be nice. Play fair. Don't take things that aren't yours. Flush. And, most applicably, clean up your own damned mess!

In July 2010, Seven Days reported on discussions by the Bolton Selectboard to restrict access to the popular cooling-off hotspot, which is located just off the mountain road leading to the Bolton Valley ski resort. In recent years, residents living along the road have experienced growing problems with unruly and inconsiderate visitors to the potholes who shoot off fireworks, urinate on their lawns, defecate in their woods and leave behind cigarette butts, broken bottles, used condoms, poop-stuffed diapers and even dirty syringes. 

Several neighbors have also reported being cursed at and threatened just for asking drivers to move their cars off private driveways and lawns. Both the potholes and the land surrounding them are private property. 

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