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April 2012

April 30, 2012

Councilors Question Carleton as Burlington City Attorney Pick

CarletonCould Miro Weinberger’s honeymoon be over so soon?

When Burlington’s new mayor nominated friend and political adviser Ian Carleton to the post of city attorney two weeks ago, he called on the city council to vote on the appointment this Monday.

But instead of getting a new job Monday night, Carleton got a grilling from skeptical city councilors. While formal consideration of the nomination was postponed, councilors raised tough questions during an informal session with Carleton prior to the regular council meeting.

“I’m trying to figure out if I can trust you,” said Councilor Sharon Bushor (I-Ward 1), arguing that Carleton’s past chairmanship of the Vermont Democratic Party raised questions about whether he could act in a nonpartisan manner.

Bushor was one of seven councilors to express concerns about Carleton’s nomination Monday during the question-and-answer session and in interviews outside of it. Eight of the council’s 14 members must approve the appointment.

“I think at this point, there’s enough concern to say if we had voted tonight, I don’t think he would have been appointed,” Councilor Dave Hartnett (D-Ward 4) said earlier in the day.

Like several other councilors, Hartnett expressed reservations about Carleton’s close friendship with Weinberger and his partisan past.

Continue reading "Councilors Question Carleton as Burlington City Attorney Pick" »

April 27, 2012

People and Pastries Pack Higher Ground for the Sweet Start Smackdown

Sweet-startSeven Days sponsored the first-ever Sweet Start Smackdown last night at Higher Ground.The event kicked off the 3rd annual Vermont Restaurant Week, which begins today. Nearly 450 hungry diners crowded into the big ballroom to taste small bites from 10 of Vermont's top pastry chefs, all of whom were competing for the "Signature Sweet of Vermont Restaurant Week" title.

Burlington's psychotropical Guagua provided the Sweet Start soundtrack. "Chef-testants" from as far as Hardwick, Stowe and North Pomfret concocted amazingly creative dessert treats. And the celebrity judges served tart commentary. It was quite a night.

Click here to check out the dessert menu, see a scrumptious photo slideshow and find out who won.

Photo by Matthew Thorsen.

Grazing: Mussels, Pesto, Bacon, Frites & Aioli... For Lunch? It's Restaurant Week.

MusselsAfter Sweet Start Smackdown last night, I craved a light lunch — a seaweed salad, maybe, or a kale smoothie. But with the kickoff of Vermont Restaurant Week today, it'd be sacrilege not to dig into some delicious plate or another. This is how I ended up in a booth at Shepard's Pie in Quechee, one of the handful of Upper Valley restaurants that stuck its neck out to participate in this Burlington-centric event.

To those just getting the memo, Vermont Restaurant Week is an eight-day-long dining bacchanalia during which 80+ restaurants around the state offer prix-fixe menus, often including seasonal dishes with morsels such as rhubarb, ramps, lamb and asparagus. Many offer $10 lunch specials, too.

Continue reading "Grazing: Mussels, Pesto, Bacon, Frites & Aioli... For Lunch? It's Restaurant Week." »

Movies You Missed 36: Pariah

PariahThis week in movies you missed: a lesbian coming-of-age story with broad appeal.

What You Missed

When Meryl Streep accepted her Golden Globe for The Iron Lady last winter, she used her speech to mention some lesser-known actresses she thought deserved recognition, including Adepero Oduye (pictured), star of Pariah. Now audiences everywhere can see what she was talking about.

Oduye plays Alike (pronounced a-LEE-kay), a Brooklyn high school senior who gets straight As, writes poetry and is fine with her sexuality — until she goes home. Then she switches her butch sports jerseys for girlie T-shirts to appease her religious mother (Kim Wayans), who is starting to fear that her oldest daughter is "turning into a man."

Continue reading "Movies You Missed 36: Pariah" »

Champlain Parkway Wins Act 250 Approval — But Not a Permit

AllanHuntBurlington's long-stalled Champlain Parkway project took a big step toward reality today.

In a 63-page ruling issued this morning, the District #4 Environmental Commission of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources has found that the South End highway project "will not cause or result in a detriment to public health, safety or general welfare" under Act 250.

Download the ruling here.

However, the commission stopped short of issuing an Act 250 permit because it is waiting for state-issued stormwater permits.

Still, the decsion is a major milestone for a project conceived 45 years ago as a four-lane, limited access highway called the "Southern Connector." At one time, the highway was slated to run alongside Lake Champlain and connect with the northern Beltline highway.

As approved (or nearly approved), the revamped Champlain Parkway is instead a two-lane, pedestrian-friendly urban boulevard that will have new trees, sidewalks, new turning lanes and crosswalks. It will finally connect the abandoned highway off I-189 with Pine Street through Burlington's South End.

A small but dedicated group of property owners have fought the project, viewing it as outdated, expensive and unnecessary. While the parkway would accomplish its goal of diverting truck traffic off residential side streets, congested intersections in a low-income neighborhood — particularly along Pine Street at Maple and King streets — would barely improve under the plan.

Continue reading "Champlain Parkway Wins Act 250 Approval — But Not a Permit" »

Workers' Memorial to Be Dedicated in Battery Park

Memorial 1

Burlington's newest monument, which is also one of the city's simplest and most moving, commemorates all the Vermonters who have been killed or injured while doing their jobs. The tombstone-like granite memorial is inscribed with a paraphrase of the famous exhortation of pioneering American labor organizer Mary Harris Mother Jones: “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Burlington mayor Bob Kiss are expected to take part in the dedication in Battery Park on Monday along with a few Vermont union leaders and workers affected by job-related accidents or illnesses.The ceremony coincides with Workers Memorial Day, an international remembrance held annually on April 28.

Complaints about job safety regularly received on the Vermont Workers' Center hotline prompted the Burlington-based organizing group to propose creation of a memorial, says James Haslam, the center's director. The effort was also spurred by Michelle Lewis, a Shelburne resident whose stepfather, a plumber, was killed in a trench collapse in Florida in 2005.

Continue reading "Workers' Memorial to Be Dedicated in Battery Park" »

In Senate Smackdown, Lawmakers Say "No Way, Jose" to Shumlin Merger Deal


**Updated below with results of Friday's House vote**

Despite a reputation for discord and disorganization, the Vermont Senate on Thursday summoned unity from chaos and delivered a mighty spanking to Gov. Peter Shumlin and the utility merger he supports.

It was a spanking heard ’round the Statehouse.

By a lopsided vote of 27 to 3, the Senate approved an amendment that would force utility companies bailed out by their customers to pay them back directly — in cash or credit. In so doing, the upper chamber sent an unambiguous message to the Shumlin administration and the state’s two largest electric companies: the deal you cut doesn’t cut it with the Senate.

“The water temperature in the Senate has been rising for weeks now,” said Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden), an architect of the amendment that passed Thursday afternoon.

The vote came nearly a month to the day after the Shumlin administration signed off on an agreement with Green Mountain Power’s Montreal-based owner, Gaz Metro, on the terms of its proposed acquisition of Central Vermont Public Service. In that time, discontent has slowly grown over how the companies planned to repay CVPS customers the $21 million it charged in higher rates when it faced bankruptcy a decade ago.

Critics of the merger deal say the companies would be fleecing their customers by investing the $21 million into energy efficiency programs, and then charging that back to their own ratepayers. But the Shumlin administration and the utilities argue the $700 million merger will save Vermonters $144 million over 10 years — substantially more than the $21 million in question.

None too pleased, Shumlin lashed out at the Democrat-led Senate following the vote, calling the move "an extreme overreach of legislative jurisdiction."

Continue reading "In Senate Smackdown, Lawmakers Say "No Way, Jose" to Shumlin Merger Deal" »

April 26, 2012

Lobbying Disclosure: Bruce Lisman Put More Than $200,000 Into Campaign for Vermont

Bruce LismanRetired Wall Street executive Bruce Lisman has sunk $212,343 from his personal fortune into Campaign for Vermont, the supposedly nonpartisan "policy campaign" he launched last year.

Lisman (pictured) voluntarily announced the figures ahead of yesterday's filing deadline for quarterly lobbying reports. According to a press release, between January 1 and March 31, Campaign for Vermont spent a whopping $194,343 on advertising, $15,000 on direct lobbyist compensation and $3000 on "other expenditures."

Lisman, who lives in Shelburne, also confirmed that every dime has come from his own personal funds. Because Campaign for Vermont is registered as a nonprofit 501c4 organization, it is not required to disclose the source of its funds. Yesterday's disclosure was the first glimpse into how much Lisman has poured into his extensive — and expensive — paid media campaign.

"I am spending my own money because I am concerned about the economic damage current policies are having on lower- and middle-income Vermonters," Lisman said in the press release. "The futures of our state and our young people are at stake. I've worked hard and have done well. Spending my money on Vermont's future is more important than standing by passively."

Lisman was a high-level executive at Bear Stearns for years, retiring in 2009 as head of its Global Equity Division. Although his net worth is not known, publicly available documents reveal that he has donated tens of thousands of dollars to political campaigns — and earned several times that serving on corporate boards.

Continue reading "Lobbying Disclosure: Bruce Lisman Put More Than $200,000 Into Campaign for Vermont" »

April 24, 2012

Meat Repeat: Another Vermont Farmer Looks to DIY Butchering

SugarmtnfarmWhen I reported on LaPlatte River Angus Farm last week for our cover story on the local meat industry, farmer Jim Kleptz told me about plans to fire up a family-owned slaughterhouse on recently acquired land in Milton. The reason? Kleptz and his sons want complete control, from raising a calf to slaughtering the steer to, finally, packaging and selling the meat. 

Well, add another farmer to the roster of those considering the DIY-approach. Walter Jeffries and his family (pictured) have been painstakingly building a butcher shop and abattoir from the ground up at Sugar Mountain Farm, the 70-acre farm in West Topsham where the family raises pastured pigs and other livestock. The family's been at it — slowly but surely — since 2008. Back then, a series of slaughterhouse-related headlines prompted them to build their own facility. A Rutland slaughterhouse burned to the ground. A Grand Isle plant shuttered its doors after being outed for inhumane treatment. The family's St. Johnsbury butcher was talking of retirement. For Jeffries, who had turned a homestead hobby into a family farm, the trend didn't bode well.

"We were looking at that from the point of view of, 'Wow, we've got all these pigs in the field, and if we can't find a place to slaughter them, we'll be strung up,'" Jeffries said.

It's been slow going. In 2009, the family tore down an old hay shed, poured the insulated slab foundation, and began putting up walls. Construction was piecemeal, because to a very large degree the family has funded the operation upfront. They pulled $32,000 from a savings account they'd set aside for a future greenhouse. They routed the cash flow from their pork sales toward the project. A community-supported agriculture "pre-buy" drummed up capital from customers, and friends and neighbors pitched in with personal loans. Had a bank been willing to loan money for the project, Jeffries would have taken it, but the farm made do without. In the most recent bid for funding, Sugar Mountain Farm has taken to Kickstarter to rally the troops. With the help of more than 230 contributors, the farm has already raised more than $20,000 of its $25k goal. 

Continue reading "Meat Repeat: Another Vermont Farmer Looks to DIY Butchering" »

Rape Inside CCA Prisons? Brattleboro Prison Advocate Brings Shareholder Measure Seeking Stats

Cca_logoAn editor at the Brattleboro-based Prison Legal News (PLN) is using his position as a Corrections Corporation of America shareholder to shine a light on a pervasive problem: sexual assault in America's private, for-profit prisons.

Alex Friedmann has brought a shareholder resolution to the board of CCA with the goal of forcing the nation's largest owner and operator of for-profit prisons to release statistics on how often sexual assaults occur within its walls and what efforts it's making to reduce their incidence.

CCA owns and operates more than 60 facilities in 19 states, with capacity of more than 85,000 beds, according to its website. The Vermont Department of Corrections currently houses 470 inmates in two out-of-state CCA prisons: the Lee Adjustment Center, in Beattyville, Kentucky; and the Florence Correctional Center, in Florence, Arizona.

Prior to joining PLN, Friedmann served 10 years of a 20-year sentence — including six years in a CCA prison in Clifton, Tennessee — for armed robbery, assault, attempt to commit murder and attempted aggravated robbery, all crimes he committed in the late 1980s and early '90s. He is also president of the Private Corrections Institute, a Tallahassee, Florida-based nonprofit watchdog group that opposes private prisons.

 "So, I have an obvious bias in this regard," admits Friedmann, who is 42.

In the years since his release, Friedmann has worked to reform the private prison industry. Several years ago, Friedmann bought a single share of CCA stock so he could attend CCA shareholder meetings. Today, he owns 191 shares, enough to permit him to introduce his first shareholder initiative.

Continue reading "Rape Inside CCA Prisons? Brattleboro Prison Advocate Brings Shareholder Measure Seeking Stats" »

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