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June 2013

June 25, 2013

F-35 Foes Amp Up Protest in City Hall Park


Passers-by cringed and covered their ears as opponents of the F-35 staged a noisy demonstration in Burlington's City Hall Park on Tuesday morning.

It wasn't the chanting and drum-banging typically heard at protests that was causing those within earshot to wince in pain. It was what organizers said was a replication of the roar the F-35 would produce over downtown Winooski at an altitude of 1000 feet after takeoff from the Vermont Air Guard base at Burlington International Airport.

"You're making my walls vibrate!" a nearby resident complained to protest leader Chris Hurd at the conclusion of the six-minute-long blast of sound. David Harrison, who lives at 141 Main Street, told Hurd, "You're disturbing businesses across the street."

A couple of the F-35 opponents gathered for the media event responded in unison, "That's exactly the point."

Continue reading "F-35 Foes Amp Up Protest in City Hall Park" »

Morning Read: Environmental Activists Take Pipeline Protest to Montpelier

VGS_BannerVermont environmentalists are ramping up their opposition to a proposed natural gas pipeline that, if approved, would extend Vermont Gas’s service south into Addison County.

A group of 20 to 30 protesters took to the halls of the Department of Public Service yesterday, asking the DPS to reconsider its support of the project and complaining that the process for approving the pipeline — overseen by the Public Service Board — is neither transparent nor inclusive for Vermont citizens. 

VTDigger's Andrew Stein has the skinny on the protest, which came in response to pre-filed written testimony the DPS submitted to the PSB earlier this month. That testimony, activists claim, doesn't represent the concerns of Vermonters opposing the project. As Stein reports:

“The Public Service Board process is not participatory, and it’s not accessible,” said [23-year-old Vergennes resident Avery] Pittman. “You have to have enormous financial and human resources to intervene. Now, our only recourse is the Department of Public Service, which ostensibly represents the people of Vermont. But the testimony they submitted on June 14 is a complete rubber stamp of this project.”

Continue reading "Morning Read: Environmental Activists Take Pipeline Protest to Montpelier" »

'Nothing to Hide' in Previously Secret Marketplace Memo?

Updated with PDF of legal memo

The Burlington city council voted 11-3 on Monday night to release a formerly secret memo from the city attorney's office defending the constitutionality of the Church Street Marketplace no-trespass ordinance.

Councilor Norm Blais (D-Ward 6), who joined fellow Democrats Dave Hartnett (Ward 4) and Chip Mason (Ward 5) in the minority, said proponents of keeping the document confidential were not trying to hide something. "There's never been anything to hide but always something to protect," Blais declared, referring to the claim of attorney-client privilege.

He said that assertion of privileged communication, which had been used to justify the secrecy of the memo, was based on the council's "duty to protect our ability to converse in a confidential manner with our attorneys."

Blais' claim of "nothing to hide" appears to be largely substantiated by the contents of the 14-page memo written by Assistant City Attorney Gregg Meyer and dated June 12, 2012. Download No Trespass Memo and Proposed Ordinance

One point that could be seen as potentially problematic from the city's perspective is contained in a footnote on page 10, in which Meyer writes that proposed changes he suggests for a draft version of the Marketplace ordinance "could be applied to the city hall park and library ordinances to minimize risk of constitutional challenges as well."

The city council has not amended those earlier no-trespass ordinances to reflect the suggestions Meyer makes. City Councilor Karen Paul (I-Ward 6) says Meyer's footnote was probably the substantive reason why many councilors did not want the memo released.

Continue reading "'Nothing to Hide' in Previously Secret Marketplace Memo? " »

Citing 'Diversity' Concerns, Two Progs Oppose Spencer as Public Works Chief

The Burlington city council seemed set on Monday night to give unanimous approval to Mayor Miro Weinberger's choice of Chapin Spencer as director of the Department of Public Works. In comments on Spencer's qualifications, councilors expressed admiration for his work as director of the bicycle/pedestrian advocacy group Local Motion and for his other forms of service to the city.

Then Councilor Rachel Siegel spoke.

The Ward 3 Progressive caught many in the audience by surprise in announcing she would vote against Spencer's appointment. Like her colleagues who had spoken earlier, Siegel praised Spencer's record and said she was confident he is a good choice to lead Public Works.

"I will vote against the appointment in order to vote against the mayor's process," Siegel explained. 

Continue reading "Citing 'Diversity' Concerns, Two Progs Oppose Spencer as Public Works Chief" »

June 24, 2013

Burlington Council Set to Reverse Course on Secret Memo

KnodellThe Burlington city council appears likely to vote this evening to release a secret document that it had refused two weeks ago to make public.

Written last year by an assistant city attorney, the legal opinion is said to argue that a Church Street Marketplace no-trespass ordinance does not violate rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.

The city council voted 8-5 at its June 10 meeting against releasing the memo. Councilors in the majority said the document should be treated as confidential on the grounds of attorney-client privilege. In this instance, the city council was said to be the client of the city attorney.

But at least three councilors who voted in favor of keeping the memo secret have indicated they will change their votes when the issue comes before the council again this evening. Republican Paul Decelles (Ward 7), Democrat Tom Ayres (Ward 7) and Independent Karen Paul (Ward 6) say they will join the five Progressive-aligned councilors in supporting release of the document.

Such a turnaround would come as an embarrassment to the administration of Mayor Miro Weinberger. While the mayor has repeatedly pledged to conduct city business in a "transparent" manner, the city attorney's office had defended the secrecy of the memo. It appears that at least a few of his allies on the city council are now poised to abandon Weinberger on this issue. And if the council does vote to release the memo, the public will learn whether there are embarrassing aspects of it that led the administration to insist it remain secret.

Pictured above: City Councilor Jane Knodell (P-Ward 2) at a press conference Monday morning.

Continue reading "Burlington Council Set to Reverse Course on Secret Memo" »

June 21, 2013

The Scoreboard: This Week's Winners and Losers

Scoreboard.newWho won and lost the week in Vermont news and politics? 

Race car drivers, Dominican banana growers, dirty hippies, VPR listeners, journalists and more! 

Behold, the Scoreboard for the week ending Friday, June 21: 


Lt. Gov. Phil Scott — No really, he's a winner. With Gov. Peter Shumlin out of town Thursday night, Scott "took the first victory for a Vermont Acting Governor in state history in the 50-lap Late Model Feature" at Thunder Road, WCAX reported. As if there's a lot of competition in the gubernatorial racing realm! You'd have to round up a couple of bears to get Shummy moving that fast. Runner-up losers: Taxpayers, who foot the bill for round-the-clock gubernatorial State Police protection, only to see their acting gov veering around a race track at top speed.

Changes of attitude — After biting the hand that regulates it, the struggling Vermont Health CO-OP adjusted its attitude this week and decided to listen to — rather than fight — the Department of Financial Regulation's criticisms. Runner-up winner: Jerry Diamond, the gov's Dodge-gate lawyer and one of the CO-OP's newest board members. Dude hasn't gotten this much press since running for governor in 1980.

Big Ben — After remembering the Dominican property he left off his 2010 financial disclosures, Shumlin told Seven Days he lets a guy named "Big Ben" grow bananas on the 3/4-acre property for free. Paging Jerry Dodge!

Mark Mitchell — He got un-fired this week — at least for now. Runner-up loser: The VSEA, for obvious reasons.

Howard Dean nostalgia — You have the power (to read a lot of Ho-Ho nostalgia stories this week)! But will Dr. Dean run it back in 2016? I wouldn't count on it.

John McClaughry nostalgia — Because, hey, why not?!

(Safe) hippie sex — Seventh Generation co-founder Jeffrey Hollender is getting into the, um, toxin-free, fair trade condom business, WCAX's Gina Bullard reported this week. Best part of Bullard's story? The hilarious woman-on-the-street interviews on Church Street. Be sure to check it out.

You! — That is, if you go vote for yourself in the new "Best Facial Hair" or "'Daysies Man' Doppelganger" categories in this year's Seven Daysies (Ballots close at 5 p.m. Friday, FYI).

Losers after the break...

Continue reading "The Scoreboard: This Week's Winners and Losers" »

World Refugee Day in Burlington: Bright Lights and Dark Stories

Refugees 006Outside on the Church Street Marketplace, lights shone from crowded bars and restaurants and amplified bands played as the second longest day of the year gave way to evening.

Inside city hall, World Refugee Day was being marked. Survivors of wars in Somalia, Iraq and Burma were telling of their flights to safety in Vermont. All three had lost friends and family members and had experienced extreme violence unimaginable to most Vermonters. Each also mentioned the absence of a convenience — electricity — that was brightly present on the Marketplace.

Zar Ni Maw (pictured), born in the jungle to parents on the run from a military dictatorship, said she had studied the Burmese alphabet in a textbook shared by 15 children. "We could only study in the day," she recounted. "There was no electricity."

Continue reading "World Refugee Day in Burlington: Bright Lights and Dark Stories" »

Morning Read: CNN Reports Howard Dean "Open" to Another Presidential Bid

MorningreadFormer governor Howard Dean has been getting plenty of ink in his home state this week. As he and former campaign staffers prepare to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the speech that launched his 2004 presidential bid, we in the Vermont news media have used the opportunity to take a stroll down memory lane.

Here at Seven Days, we got ourselves in the mood by throwing "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" in our CD player, watching that weird Michael Jackson documentary and dusting off our old "No Iraq War" lawn signs.

We also gave Ho-Ho a call to ask him about the big anniversary. But one thing we and seemingly every other Vermont reporter neglected to ask him: "Would you run again in 2016?"

CNN's Peter Hamby evidently didn't make the same mistake. He caught up with Dean at the Netroots Nation conference out in San Jose and learned that Dean "would consider another run for the White House."

Continue reading "Morning Read: CNN Reports Howard Dean "Open" to Another Presidential Bid" »

June 19, 2013

Leahy Petitions Homeland Security Secretary on Behalf of Undocumented Farmworker Activist


Vermont's most powerful politician has gone to bat for Danilo Lopez, the 23-year-old migrant farmworker activist fighting deportation back to Mexico.

In a letter sent to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Wednesday, Sen. Patrick Leahy writes that the immigration reform bill he is presently shepherding through the Senate "could potentially resolve Mr. Lopez's current immigration case." If passed, the bill would give Lopez "the opportunity to petition for legalization under the proposed Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) program."

But Leahy conceded the bill would not pass or become law before Lopez's scheduled July 6 deadline to self-deport.

"As you continue to consider Mr. Lopez's case, especially in light of pending legislation in the Senate, I urge you to exercise prosecutorial discretion," Leahy wrote to Napolitano, who oversees U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Lopez was placed into deportation proceedings following a traffic stop on I-89 in 2011, but has since become a leader in the movement to organize migrants working illegally on Vermont dairy farms and to pass legislation to improve their living conditions. More background here.

Lopez mailed a final appeal to ICE on Wednesday asking the agency to apply a form of leniency called "prosecutorial discretion" that would allow him to remain in Vermont. That petition has more than 1000 signatures from supporters and dozens of letters.

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Congressman Peter Welch have also petitioned ICE on Lopez's behalf, but both stopped short of explicitly asking the agency to apply prosecutorial discretion to Lopez's case. In a letter sent to ICE director John Morton on Wednesday, Welch asked the official to "carefully review Mr. Lopez's request for reconsideration of Prosecutorial Discretion and give it full and fair consideration under the full extent of the law."

File photo of Leahy by Charles Steck

This Week's Issue: Peter Shumlin Inc., State Police Ink — and More

Cover061913Here's the news from this week's issue of Seven Days, on newsstands and beer-soaked bars now:


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